I just returned from California where I nearly cried with envy at bike paths equal width to car lanes. We were in West Lake Village, the 8,000-person town Wayne Gretzky calls home, and Carlsbad, north of San Diego.
Both towns had wide sweeping paths as part of major thoroughfares. True, I saw no Gretzkys on the paths, but was still enamoured with the asphalt.
Upon return to Calgary, I took a renewed interest in our bike paths. Our tax contribution to bike lane development this year is rather paltry — just $1 million.
But by the end of the year, you should see road bike lanes through West Hillhurst and Kensington, at 50th Avenue SW, from Mount Royal College to Centennial High School, in the neighbourhood of Balmoral and around the University of Calgary.
In the city centre, there will be newly defined lanes on 11th Street SW between 5th and 13th avenues. Optimist Park at 26th Avenue SW gets a new connecting bike lane leading to a pedestrian pathway over Sarcee Trail.
(There’s not much in the northeast, but the Parks Foundation just succeeded where the city’s own staff couldn’t, extracting another $2 million of city funds toward a northeast bike path.)
These improvements come with challenges. Firstly, bike paths on city streets need 1.2 to 1.5 metres of space.
Unlike those I saw in California, our roads are being retrofitted with bike lanes, so there’s not a lot of room. As well, there’s no bylaw against motorists crossing the solid line into a bike lane and claiming it as their own. Currently, the City of Calgary is trying to develop a bylaw that guarantees the safety of cyclists. It should.
Get ready for a wheel clash. Many motorists think they own the road. My neighbour, Paula Kane, wrote a letter to the editor, written angrily but never sent, to those complaining about aggressive cyclists: “In this fair city, I have been almost killed by at least six city vehicles (buses and service vehicles), where they just couldn’t wait to get around me.
“And ... at least once a day, someone tells me to ‘get the (expletive) out of the way.’ It is my right to be on the road, and it is my right to have safety. And by law, my friends, you have to pass me like any other vehicle. You can’t just skim us — just as you couldn’t another vehicle. ”
No one wants to get overly litigious. But clear codes protecting cyclists are needed. Protection in these on-road bike lanes is a first step. Let’s end the skimming. Cyclists may not be perfect, but by my book, if they’re commuting by bike, they’ve taken the high road.