Talking About Bicycle Superhighways

Bicycle Superhighways are specialized pieces of cycle infrastructure which were first pioneered by Denmark and the Netherlands. Since the early 2000’s, Bicycle Superhighways have become an innovative method of bicycle transit emerging in many countries overseas, typically in countries with milder climates.

Bicycle highways differ from the typical North American bike lane given that they are areas designated solely for cycle travel and typically function independently of vehicle infrastructure. Think Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Lane, but dedicated specifically for cyclists. These routes allow for efficient, high speed travel that ideally (although not always) avoid crossing the paths of existing vehicle roads and highways.

 Five Fast Facts 

  1. Some superhighways include infrastructure similar to vehicle infrastructure, including signaled stops, and painted lanes for through and turning bicycle traffic. Bicycle highways decrease collisions between cyclists and vehicles sharing high traffic space, and make traveling by bicycle quicker and easier. Where cycle routes must cross vehicle-dedicated streets in Denmark, Dutch engineers have installed hand holds and running boards so that cyclists may wait for traffic to cross without having to put their feet onto the road. Some bicycle highways even change the way vehicle travel is permitted, banning vehicle turns across bicycle highways which could be dangerous to cyclists.

  2. Funding for bicycle superhighways is typically more available in areas with milder climates and increased numbers of bicycle commuters. Many countries face officials who feel investment in infrastructure should be focused on roads and rail lines, which are more commonly used during the icy winter months. Calgary faces the same pressure being a winter city, however, cycle infrastructure when available isn’t only useful for commuting to and from work. Areas with bicycle superhighways have witnessed an increased number of short and medium length trips indicating that residents are more willing to use their bikes more often when safe, convenient infrastructure is available, even in the colder months.

  3. At last count (2013), Calgary has 1032km of bike trails: 578km multi-use trails, 7km separated bicycle lanes, 36km of marked painted lanes and 411km of signed bicycle stretches. Calgary is lucky enough to have more multi-use trails than any other studied city in Canada, including Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.

  4. Data from the Pembina Institute indicates that Calgary has, on average, 4 cyclist-involved crashes per 100,000 trips. According to the 2011 Civic Census data, approximately 19,476 daily bicycle trips are made by Calgarians. Theoretically, this assumes that in a 5-day span, 4 cyclist involved crashes occur. With protected bicycle infrastructure, this number could possibly be reduced.

  5. Per hour, in a 3.0m lane, 600-1,600 private motor vehicle trips can be supported OR 7,500 cycle trips on a two-way protected bike lane. That’s food for thought when investing in bicycle infrastructure.

Common reasons for bicycle commuting include a desire to stay in shape and a desire to avoid high downtown parking fees. In terms of the applicability in Calgary: a superhighway could offer more efficient travel to and from some areas, and would funnel out to bike lanes and trails moving outwards from the downtown core. Again, as with all cycle infrastructure projects, snow clearing and harsh weather events experienced in Calgary must be considered at the outset. Given that snow clearing and winter maintenance is often a point of contention associated with the installation of bike lanes, physically wider pathways dedicated for bicycle travel would make snow plow clearing much easier.

Celia LeeANC, bike