City turns construction detour into downtown bike route

The City of Calgary says it is turning a detour into a street-building opportunity. 

Planned construction at the end of 2020, and flood mitigation along the Bow River Pathway in the Eau Claire area, will force pathway traffic onto nearby streets. 

Instead of simply building a detour plan to take those users around construction, the city decided to do something more permanent along 3rd Avenue between 1st Street S.E. and 8th Street S.W.

With many stakeholders to please, the consultation for the 3rd Avenue walking and wheeling upgrades consultation is going to be a tough balance.

The plan is to connect pathway users to the downtown cycle track network, and improve walkability.

“We’re providing an opportunity for an improved pedestrian and wheeling experience which really allows for a broader user group,” said Eau Claire Area Improvements Program Manager, Joyce Tang.

“For people who used to only use the Pathway system … there will be those opportunities for finding a new restaurant or finding a new shop that you wouldn’t have noticed if this wasn’t created.”

Three zones planned

The plan is being split up in three zones, each with a number of options depending on limitations of the existing road. 

There could be a cycle track, or sharrow lanes (a combination of bike lane and arrows on the pavement). The city’s also looking at parking changes, like angle parking to increase capacity. 

Other plans include upgrading the sidewalks to make them more accessible, and adding pedestrian signals.

The plan being split up in three zones, each with a number of options depending on limitations of the existing road. There could be share-o lanes, or a cycle track. The city’s also looking at parking changes, like angle parking to increase capacity.  (City of Calgary)

Bike Calgary President Gary Millard said it’s encouraging to see this kind of project from the city.

“It’s due for an upgrade in regards to active transportation,” Millard said. “We think it’s an excellent indication that the city is paying attention to both the recent behaviours and what people have been doing.”

But he hopes the city will stop proposing sharrow lanes — or as they are called in this proposal greenways — as a viable and accessible cycling improvement. Millard said studies have shown they don’t improve safety and are designed for quiet residential roads.

“We are a little disappointed that some of the proposals really are outdated and ineffective,” Millard said.

Project concerns

Tang said at some points along 3rd Avenue, there is enough nearby parking to sacrifice some spots for a bike lane, other sections of the road are too narrow and cannot have a protected cycle track — there are some sacrifices that need to be made to keep the road accessible for users and useful for the nearby businesses.

“In some situations we may not be able to accommodate the ultimate desired design cross-section,” Tang said.

On the east side of the project, after Centre Street, one of the options includes turning 3rd Avenue into an eastbound one-way street to accommodate parking and cycling infrastructure. 

Annette Fung owns and operates the Silver Dragon. The plan to look at one-way traffic came as a surprise, and she’s very concerned.

“No one talked to me, no one consulted me that this project was coming,” she said. “I got really upset and worried.” 

Fung said taking away traffic will cripple her business, which has already suffered a number of blows before and during the pandemic. 

Fung is worried having a one-way road will reduce accessibility in the area and discourage visitors from coming to Chinatown.

Business owners worried

Terry Wong is the executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area. He’s heard similar worries from other business owners in the community. His group presented an alternative to the city.

“Taking parking away from Chinatown will not improve Chinatown whatsoever,” Wong said. “We would like to see them make a diversion heading over through Eau Claire, towards the riverfront, along Riverfront Avenue to East Village.”

Wong said these ideas and concerns were provided in April. And he’s wondering why those ideas weren’t made part of the public engagement. 

“There’s been a lot of emailing back and forth, but there doesn’t seem to be the will to sit down and talk this through,” he said.

“We’ve pushed back on the idea of a bike path a long time ago and that bike path argument is still there today. Why do we have to move forward. If they’ve waited 20 years to do this, why can’t they wait a few more months and do proper consultation?” 

Feedback will help determine final outcome

Tang said the city explored options and alternatives on nearby roadways, but noted that 2nd Avenue wasn’t a favourable choice. When the closures on the river pathway begin, she estimates 5,000 users will be directed through 3rd Avenue, and it is best to have a straightforward path to follow.

Still, Tang said feedback will help shape the final outcome on 3rd Avenue. 

The first round of consultation just started  with another round slated for October. Tang says the area is a hotspot where Calgarians flock to from across the city, so there’s a lot to consider.

“We’re happy to get all of the feedback and then kind of bring it all together … we’ll come up with the best solution going forward,” she said. “Certainly I can appreciate that what is best for one group might not be best for the other.”

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