Will cycling in Calgary stay on track?

When I think of cycling in Calgary it brings back memories of another debate: fluoride (yes I predict that fluoride will be back on tap at city council in this term). It’s divisive there are studies on one side and studies on another there’s science and of course there are references to Portland and Europe. Add in the popular “subsidy” argument and you have an issue ripe for long committee meetings and some fireworks in the council chamber.

So the big question is: will council approve the downtown cycle track network on April 28? Will the jewel of the cycling strategy established by the former city council get the green light or be put back in the bike rack?

I’ve watched a lot of issues float through the council chamber in Calgary and this one is tough to read. We know who won’t be voting for it (Ward Sutherland Joe Magliocca Sean Chu and Shane Keating although Keating is likely open to compromise) and we know who will be voting for it (Evan Woolley Andre Chabot Naheed Nenshi Druh Farrell Brian Pincott and Gian-Carlo Carra). The focus is on the councillors in the middle (Richard Pootmans Diane Colley-Urquhart Ray Jones Jim Stevenson and Peter Demong) who haven’t stated a public position — they could give the whole thing a flat.

The undecided councillors are listening closely and likely seeing how best they can compromise. At least one is likely to introduce an amendment for further study of more cost-effective alternatives to the proposed $9.3 million cycle track test initiative and another to suggest limiting the scope of the cycle track test in an attempt to reduce the sticker shock.

For proponents of the cycle track there have been some setbacks. It doesn’t help when the costs of the cycle track pilot project wobbles a few million dollars in either direction especially given the sensitivity to cost on the issue. Those undecided folks on council probably aren’t feeling very comfortable about that. Oh and let’s not forget the one per cent capital arts funding policy which requires one per cent of the cost of capital projects to go towards public art. After that was left out of the West LRT budget council quickly asked whether it was included in the cycle track capital funding request.

The proponents of cycle tracks haven’t always taken a constructive approach. This has resulted in the issue being framed as a win/lose and the result is the inability to compromise with opponents who might otherwise be looking for a win/win. It has also shown a lack of understanding that the budget is currently being developed within the city for the next four years so an attempt to snuff funding for the entire cycling strategy come November is a very real possibility no matter what happens when the current proposal goes to council for judgment this week.

So here’s my prediction for the cycle track decision on April 28: The proposed First Street S.E. will be part of the compromise — it just won’t happen. I also think the scope of the suggested cycle track test will be reduced through a series of amendments and in the end the pilot project will be approved with a budget of just under $5 million.

Regardless of what happens the real decision on the future of the cycle track network will occur at budget debates in November. Advocacy efforts will need to focus on the decision made then or risk having the funding substantially affected.

After all what good are approved reports when there isn’t any money to make them happen?