Wow. This morning Karin Klassen, a writer for the Calgary Herald, said her “final goodbyes” to downtown Calgary. How upsetting, perhaps, for downtown Calgary, but how happy for Canmore, where Klassen would rather meet her downtown Calgary buddy for dinner now.
What was this last straw? you might wonder. No. It’s not all the condos in Calgary’s geographical core, many with their lights out, or the tumble weeds rolling through the streets, or poor urban planning. It’s the fact that last week Calgary’s city council approved a trial run for bike lanes that will run through the downtown core. God forbid.
Klassen seems content with the bike lanes in her district, wherever that is — a community alive with “banana seat meanderers” and “Lululemon moms with baby buggies.” But those lanes that will appear downtown just don’t seem to make any sense. She wonders aloud at the kind of consumers these lanes will attract: bike customers who “strap purchases to their backs with bungee cords, limit their buy to pannier size, dine in tights?” (Imagine the nerve of a cyclist purchasing a small item, especially one as small as a diamond ring: what a colossal drag on the economy). Whoever these peculiar new consumers might be, Klassen will avoid them altogether. She is looking forward to online shopping and “fabulous, cheaper suburban dining.” Plus, she will now drive her SUV on “major arteries” to get from point A to B, and get to point B faster, although these major arteries add “10 times” the physical distance to get there. “So much for using less gas”, she writes, though I’m not sure what she means by this. Is it that the increased downtown traffic congestion that will accompany the new bike lanes will force her to take major arteries and therefore use more gas, or that she will now use less gas because one gets better gas mileage on less congested arteries?
God only knows, but I do think the medical community would concur that bicycling is better for unclogging arteries at any distance than sitting in an SUV for ten times that distance.
But enough about Klassen’s disgruntled adieu to Cowtown’s downtown. Calgary may be going through a “painful process of retrofitting to some idea of what a city ought to be,” to use Klassin’s words, but the very point of contemporary urban planning in cities like London, England, and Vancouver (probably the only city in Canada where Lulumenon-wearers outnumber car drivers), is to restrict the amount of vehicular traffic in central hubs or downtown cores. These cities don’t want people driving their gas-guzzling SUVs into the hub. Londoners are required to pay a Congestion Charge and are therefore encouraged to take the Tube or the double-decker buses. Last time I looked (a week ago) Calgary had an extensive public C-Train system that went through the downtown core. The City of Vancouver charges exorbitant downtown parking rates, thereby encouraging citizens to use public transport.
When someone visits Calgary from elsewhere (except perhaps from T.O.) the amount of vehicular traffic he or she encounters is staggering. SUVs and large trucks are the norm, or at least appear to be by their comparative size. Throughout history the comfortable majority of any society has always been reluctant to give up a little bit of comfort, a little bit of elbow room — a little bit of their rights — to accommodate legitimate interests and liberties of those in the minority. Cyclists will forever remain a minority among road users in North America and elsewhere. That’s as certain as taxes and one needn’t get maudlin or mushy about it. However, to think that this slight accommodation that the City of Calgary is about to afford cyclists — to get around downtown in safety and with no fossil fuel emissions (well okay, perhaps a bit of natural gas through the backside of Lululemons) — could be plainly unacceptable to any Calgary driver is a compelling sign that not all Badlands dinosaurs are mere fossils. Some of them are still alive, squeezed into large vehicles, driving around Calgary with GPS devices, hoping a major artery will get them home sooner than later.