Building a Biking Network Downtown

bicycling in winnipeg

If you build it, they will come.  Famous lines from a baseball movie, which ring very true for Winnipeg’s downtown cycling network.

At a time when the City of Winnipeg, Economic Development Winnipeg and business leaders in our community are focused on promoting our downtown as a great place to work, shop, and live, the building of a downtown biking network just makes good sense.

At a time when other Canadian cities like Calgary and Edmonton are already “out of the gate”, Winnipeg remains stuck in its tracks in the slow lane.

As an example, in December, 2016, Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi and City Council voted to make Calgary’s 2015 Pilot Project of a downtown cycle track PERMANENT, based on the results of the pilot project which revealed that 67% of Calgarians were in support of the project (click on the image below to increase its size):

 

calgary cycle track project

What do you think?  Is Winnipeg behind the times?  Does City Hall need to change its way of thinking as well as collecting feedback from its citizens?

My thanks to the Winnipeg Free Press for reporting on this initiative.


Winnipeg stuck in slow lane

Winnipeg to build third of Calgary’s network in triple the amount of time

Civic leaders often compare our city’s progress to Calgary and Edmonton but when it comes to building bike networks, the experts say Winnipeg has a lot to learn from its western counterparts.

Calgary has been cited for the speed with which it built a world-class, 6.6-kilometre bike lane network through its downtown — four months in the spring of 2015 at a cost of $5.45 million. Edmonton is on pace to do an even bigger network (7.1 km) in three months, with a price tag of $7.5 million.

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, city officials are boasting about how they will build 2.2 km of separated bike lanes in downtown over a three-year period. Construction on the first leg, along Garry Street, is expected to start later this month. Work is to be completed in 2019. A civic spokeswoman said it was unable to provide the cost of the downtown network as it’s part of an overall upgrade to several streets and water mains and separate costs for the bike lanes are not available.

“I’m just really impressed with the Calgary network more so than almost anywhere,” said Tom Bertulis, a Boston-area traffic engineering consultant and an expert in multi-modal transportation design. “It’s one of the most impressive projects in North America. Even when compared to places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen — you look at Calgary and say ‘wow, this is really amazing what they’ve done.’

“If there’s any model to follow for Winnipeg, I recommend the Calgary model.”

Bertulis, manager of traffic engineering for Design Consultants Inc. of Somerville, Mass., said the traditional approach to constructing bike networks has been to do them piecemeal, a branch at a time, over several years — an approach that Winnipeg is taking.

<p>A portion of 106 Street in Edmonton, which features the easy-to-do, separation materials: precast concrete curb stops, paint and plastic flexible bollards.</p>
SUPPLIED:  A portion of 106 Street in Edmonton, which features the easy-to-do, separation materials: precast concrete curb stops, paint and plastic flexible bollards.

 

But the lighting speed with which Calgary built its network — and is now being duplicated in Edmonton — has shown municipalities there is a more cost-efficient and timely method.

Instead of digging up roads and pouring new concrete curbs to separate bike lanes from vehicular traffic — a labour- and time-consuming process that slows traffic flows during construction and leaves no room for design errors — Calgary opted for a lighting quick approach: design the network on paper, paint lanes on the streets, put down pre-cast concrete curbs inside the painted lines, and then place green plastic bollards on top to highlight the bike lane to motorists.

To make it look nice, add a few decorative planters at key locations and intersections. Adjust traffic signal timing, where necessary, to lower the chance of collisions between riders and motorists. Highlight troublesome spots — intersections, driveways — with green road paint.

“You can do a lot of planning and design to estimate what the usage and behaviour (of a bike network) might be but once it’s in place there might need to be tweaks,” said Tyler Golly, a member of the Stantec consulting team that designed the Calgary downtown network and the network now being built in Edmonton. Golly dubbed it the “test and tweak” method.

“Using these adjustable materials allows municipalities to implement something fairly quickly because it doesn’t take a lot of time to construct and you can make adjustments by moving the barriers and changing signal timing to make it operate better for everyone,” Golly said. “Ultimately, when you’re rebuilding those roads, you can upgrade the network with permanent materials.”

Calgary originally put its network in place in what was then an-unheard-of-record pace of four months in the spring of 2015 on a 18-month pilot basis, arguing that since it used “adjustable materials” they could be taken out if the public didn’t like it.

Winnipeg

  • Building: 2.2 km of separated, protected track
  • Cost: Refuse to disclose
  • Separation material: principally poured concrete, low-profile, metre-wide curbs, with occasional decorative planters and other features.
  • Time to build: 3 years, 2017-19

Calgary

  • Built: 6.5 km of separated, protected track
  • Cost: $5.45 million ($1.45 million under budget)
  • Separation material: combination of low-profile pre-cast concrete curb stops, flexible green bollards, some self-watering planters, green and white road paint
  • Time to build: 4 months, March 2015 to June 2015

Edmonton

  • Building: 7.1 km of separated, protected cycling track
  • Cost: $7.5 million ($4.2 million allocated to modernize traffic signals, $3.3 million for the bike network)
  • Separation material: combination of low-profile pre-cast concrete curb stops, flexible green bollards, some self-watering planters, green and white road paint
  • Time to build: 3 months: April 5 to July 17, 2017 (expected completion date)

 

Bertulis said the disadvantage of building a network on the traditional piece-meal basis is that it usually fails to connect to the rest of the community, fails to attract the number of riders anticipated and then is branded a failure unless there is a strong political will to maintain it.

Over the 18-month test period, ridership on all legs of the Calgary network increased. There were 100 adjustments made to the layout of the corridor based on feedback from riders, the public and adjacent property owners. The network attracted more women cyclists and more children.

Some civic politicians who were initially opposed to the test program switched their votes when Calgary council voted in December to make the pilot permanent. The “adjustable” materials will remain for now and might be upgraded in the future with permanent fixtures when the roadways or underground infrastructure are upgraded.

“I was a person that didn’t support this in the beginning,” Calgary Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart told the Calgary Herald following the Dec. 19 council vote. “I thought this was madness. But to see how it’s evolved, and how it’s working and to see how people are starting to get the fact that this is shared public space.”

After trying the traditional, one-leg-at-a-time approach, Edmonton hired the Stantec team to design and implement its downtown bike network.

Work on a 7.1-km network started April 5 — of this year — and is scheduled to be completed July 17.

“We are poised to be one of the fastest implemented bike networks in Canada,” said Olga Messinis, Edmonton’s downtown bike network project manager.

Civic leaders often compare our city’s progress to Calgary and Edmonton but when it comes to building bike networks, the experts say Winnipeg has a lot to learn from its western counterparts.

Calgary has been cited for the speed with which it built a world-class, 6.6-kilometre bike lane network through its downtown — four months in the spring of 2015 at a cost of $5.45 million. Edmonton is on pace to do an even bigger network (7.1 km) in three months, with a price tag of $7.5 million.

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, city officials are boasting about how they will build 2.2 km of separated bike lanes in downtown over a three-year period. Construction on the first leg, along Garry Street, is expected to start later this month. Work is to be completed in 2019. A civic spokeswoman said it was unable to provide the cost of the downtown network as it’s part of an overall upgrade to several streets and water mains and separate costs for the bike lanes are not available.

“I’m just really impressed with the Calgary network more so than almost anywhere,” said Tom Bertulis, a Boston-area traffic engineering consultant and an expert in multi-modal transportation design. “It’s one of the most impressive projects in North America. Even when compared to places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen — you look at Calgary and say ‘wow, this is really amazing what they’ve done.’

“If there’s any model to follow for Winnipeg, I recommend the Calgary model.”

Bertulis, manager of traffic engineering for Design Consultants Inc. of Somerville, Mass., said the traditional approach to constructing bike networks has been to do them piecemeal, a branch at a time, over several years — an approach that Winnipeg is taking.

<p>A portion of 106 Street in Edmonton, which features the easy-to-do, separation materials: precast concrete curb stops, paint and plastic flexible bollards.</p>
SUPPLIED:  A portion of 106 Street in Edmonton, which features the easy-to-do, separation materials: precast concrete curb stops, paint and plastic flexible bollards. 

But the lighting speed with which Calgary built its network — and is now being duplicated in Edmonton — has shown municipalities there is a more cost-efficient and timely method.

Instead of digging up roads and pouring new concrete curbs to separate bike lanes from vehicular traffic — a labour- and time-consuming process that slows traffic flows during construction and leaves no room for design errors — Calgary opted for a lighting quick approach: design the network on paper, paint lanes on the streets, put down pre-cast concrete curbs inside the painted lines, and then place green plastic bollards on top to highlight the bike lane to motorists.

To make it look nice, add a few decorative planters at key locations and intersections. Adjust traffic signal timing, where necessary, to lower the chance of collisions between riders and motorists. Highlight troublesome spots — intersections, driveways — with green road paint.

“You can do a lot of planning and design to estimate what the usage and behaviour (of a bike network) might be but once it’s in place there might need to be tweaks,” said Tyler Golly, a member of the Stantec consulting team that designed the Calgary downtown network and the network now being built in Edmonton. Golly dubbed it the “test and tweak” method.

“Using these adjustable materials allows municipalities to implement something fairly quickly because it doesn’t take a lot of time to construct and you can make adjustments by moving the barriers and changing signal timing to make it operate better for everyone,” Golly said. “Ultimately, when you’re rebuilding those roads, you can upgrade the network with permanent materials.”

Calgary originally put its network in place in what was then an-unheard-of-record pace of four months in the spring of 2015 on a 18-month pilot basis, arguing that since it used “adjustable materials” they could be taken out if the public didn’t like it.

Bertulis said the disadvantage of building a network on the traditional piece-meal basis is that it usually fails to connect to the rest of the community, fails to attract the number of riders anticipated and then is branded a failure unless there is a strong political will to maintain it.

Over the 18-month test period, ridership on all legs of the Calgary network increased. There were 100 adjustments made to the layout of the corridor based on feedback from riders, the public and adjacent property owners. The network attracted more women cyclists and more children.

Some civic politicians who were initially opposed to the test program switched their votes when Calgary council voted in December to make the pilot permanent. The “adjustable” materials will remain for now and might be upgraded in the future with permanent fixtures when the roadways or underground infrastructure are upgraded.

“I was a person that didn’t support this in the beginning,” Calgary Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart told the Calgary Herald following the Dec. 19 council vote. “I thought this was madness. But to see how it’s evolved, and how it’s working and to see how people are starting to get the fact that this is shared public space.”

After trying the traditional, one-leg-at-a-time approach, Edmonton hired the Stantec team to design and implement its downtown bike network.

Work on a 7.1-km network started April 5 — of this year — and is scheduled to be completed July 17.

“We are poised to be one of the fastest implemented bike networks in Canada,” said Olga Messinis, Edmonton’s downtown bike network project manager.

Messinis said Edmonton council had relied on the traditional approach to building a bike network, installing permanent lanes when rebuilding or upgrading roadways or underground infrastructure, but it was taking too long and failing to attract the expected ridership increase.

“That failed for us miserably,” Messinis said, adding that Edmonton politicians were convinced to follow the Calgary model and gave the go-ahead in October 2016 and construction began in April.

Messinis said the $7.5 million price tag for Edmonton’s downtown bike network is misleading, explaining that $4.2 million is being spent to upgrade and modernize the city’s downtown traffic signal network — which leaves the bike network cost at $3.3 million.

The success of what’s happened in Calgary and Edmonton is frustrating for St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes, who was unsuccessful in convincing either the public works department or her council colleagues on the public works committee to simply study what those two communities have done and determine if it can be done here.

Lukes said she was convinced Winnipeg could do better after safely riding through downtown Vancouver on its elaborate bike network while attending a conference in September. When she heard of what had been done in Calgary, she proposed a similar approach be studied here.

Winnipeg adopted its cycling and pedestrian strategy in 2015, which outlines a 30-year plan to construct cycling routes across the city. Council approved the traditional, piece-meal approach for the bike network, approving routes each year.

Lukes suggested following the Calgary model for the downtown segment, pointing out the city’s own 2015 strategy had recommended something similar — quickly building a complete downtown network — but public works staff ignored that portion of the report and Lukes’ proposal.

Coun. Marty Morantz, chairman of the public works committee, earlier this week defended the decision to ignore Lukes’ proposal, incorrectly stating her idea is a breach of the city’s adopted strategy.

“I thought we were all about innovation and new ideas and adopting best practices,” Lukes said. “It’s beyond frustrating.”

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca   Read more by Aldo Santin.


Enlightened thinking key to city’s progress

It wasn’t too hot, or too cold, or too windy.

The evening was bright, with just a smattering of high clouds smeared with the pastel colours of the sunset.

 For all those lucky enough to attend Saturday night’s Table for 1200 in the Exchange District, just east of Main Street, it was truly a moment of utter perfection.

The annual pop-up dinner — organized by StorefrontMB, a group that advocates for architects, designers and planners — was quite a sight. A single row of 150 rectangular tables, each set for eight dinner guests, stretched the entire length of Rorie Street, from Market Avenue all the way to Lombard Avenue and then through the plaza that separates the Richardson Building and the Fairmont Hotel, eventually curling around to barriers at the southeast corner of Portage and Main.

For those who have never attended the Table for 1200, this event is a clever mashup of fine dining and a pleasantly rowdy wedding social. Chefs Ben Kramer and Mandel Hitzer, two of Winnipeg’s culinary superstars, wooed the attendees with all manner of fresh and elegant tastes. The wine flowed freely.

Throbbing club music pulsated up and down the line of tables, echoing off the facades of the glorious turn-of-the-last-century buildings that lined Rorie. The patrons were resplendent in their mostly white attire — a Table for 1200 tradition — and wandered freely up and down the street with the adult beverage of their choice.

A perfect event like this doesn’t happen by accident. Architect David Penner, a mainstay of almost everything StorefrontMB does, is the event’s curator. He is kept busy during the year between events picking the location and planning out the logistics.

Penner also serves as the “guardian of the location.” Attendees are not told exactly where they will be having dinner until the afternoon of the event.

In the commission of his duties, Penner must contend with many logistical challenges, including the need to acquire permits from the city to close down streets, bridges and other public spaces. And, of course, get permission to serve alcohol.

Food is most definitely the main attraction, but the booze is a critically important opening act. There’s nothing quite as empowering as sampling a petulant Argentinian Malbec in the great urban outdoors, wandering right down the middle of a downtown street.

There was a time in this city, not so long ago, when events like this were much more difficult to pull off. Provincial liquor laws were so antiquated, the whole idea of alcohol being served in a relatively unsecured environment was heresy. The city can, sometimes, make it a real chore to get the appropriate permits to close down a street.

It really takes people like Penner and groups such as StorefrontMB to push the edge of the envelope and help government see the reward that comes from taking a chance here and there. Winnipeg is host to a growing inventory of bold and fun events, from the downtown arts festivals to the pop-up markets that now invade Exchange District alleyways.

The city is not the enemy of this kind of fun, not really. City council, and the bureaucrats that support them, often want the very same things as the movers, shakers and event organizers. It’s just that the city is much more risk averse, and as a result, takes much longer to get things done.

An important case in point can be found in the city’s approach to growing its network of dedicated bikeways.

As reported last week by Free Press city hall bureau chief Aldo Santin, the city is embarking on a plan to build 2.2 kilometres of new bikeway — dedicated lanes protected by poured-concrete curbs — throughout downtown over the next three years. By all measures, it is a remarkably underwhelming accomplishment, both in terms of size and length of time to complete.

Other cities with the same objective have done so much more, in much less time, and for less money. Calgary and Edmonton, for example, were able to build three times more dedicated bikeway in four months or less, using pre-cast concrete barriers instead of going through the time and expense of digging up the roads and pouring concrete barriers.

St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes, for one, believes the Calgary/Edmonton model is the better way to go. Unfortunately, the rest of the city’s decision-making hierarchy isn’t so sure.

Lukes was told that using pre-cast barriers contravened the city’s existing policy for the bikeway network. To date, however, no one from city hall has been able to provide a rationale for why the Winnipeg approach — a strategy that has been mostly abandoned by more progressive cities — should be maintained. Or why the Calgary/Edmonton approach is inferior.

The default setting for most bureaucracies is to say ‘no’ to new ideas. That is why the elected officials are so important. They are supposed to vet new ideas and then signal to the bureaucrats when it’s time to embrace change and innovation.

On the bike-lane file, Winnipeg city council has failed profoundly to seize a new and clearly cost-effective idea that not only would create a valuable new transportation asset but also help build the appeal of a neighborhood still struggling to re-establish its viability.

The organizers of Table for 1200, with the full support of city hall, created a moment of perfect happiness. A downtown street that typically would have been quiet and dark was instead transformed into a magical celebration of food, drink, music and, most importantly, the true potential of downtown.

Let’s hope some of the people responsible for plotting the future course of the bike lane network were at that dinner, and are inspired to apply some urgency and boldness to their endeavours.

Perfection is often just one enlightened decision away.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca   Read more by Dan Lett.


Award-winning proposals for cycling plan ignored

Winnipeg Free Press   By: Aldo Santin    Posted: 06/2/2017 9:54 PM

 

City officials this week put the brakes on a proposal from Coun. Janice Lukes to fast-track the downtown segment of the city-wide bike network, ignoring the recommendation of its own award-winning 2015 cycling strategy and what’s being done elsewhere.

Coun. Marty Morantz, chairman of the committee, cited the administrative report which said city hall should follow a “balanced” approach to building its city-wide bike network.

“When Coun. Lukes says we should ‘rush’ to implement a downtown cycling grid, we have to be careful,” Morantz told reporters following the public works committee meeting. “That’s a new issue outside the pedestrian cycling strategy.”

Lukes said it appears that Morantz hasn’t read the 2015 strategy very carefully, adding it actually recommends building the downtown portion as quickly as possible.

The strategy on page 312 recommends Winnipeg “should focus on a number of ‘quick wins’ to move forward with implementing the strategies immediately and to build momentum,” including the downtown network.

Lukes said she can’t explain the administration and Morantz’s opposition to an approach that has been recognized around the world.

Transportation consultant Tom Bertulis said when cities are building a cycling network, they should concentrate on building the downtown segment first, citing the Calgary approach.

Bertulis said the downtown area is where cyclists congregate, adding it’s important to build a network of protected bike lanes to attract riders.

“If I were to start somewhere, I would start downtown where you have your highest volume streets,” Bertulis said.

Morantz also questioned the need to build protected bike lanes, even though that is a core component of the city’s cycling strategy. Morantz cited the work of pioneering cycling proponent John Forester, who has argued that separate lanes aren’t necessary to ensure cyclist safety as long as cyclists are following the rules of the road.

Bertulis said Forester’s work was ground-breaking in the 1970s when dedicated bike lanes were first contemplated but it’s no longer appropriate.

“It’s very outdated thinking,” Bertulis said. “When Forester was big, it was the ‘70s, there were very few bike facilities and it made sense to be aware of the road and sharing space with cars…We live in a different world now where we actually have really, really safe cycle tracks. It was a great idea at the time but 2017, it’s no longer a good idea.”

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca   Read more by Aldo Santin.

 

 

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