transetting's picture

Help with biking downtown core

Hello there,

I plan to start commuting to work next week. So far I have planned a route from the SW to downtown, but my bikeway ends at 2nd St SW and 11 Ave SW, or 5th St SW and 11 Ave SW. Since I'm a beginner, I have no wish yet to share the road with cars during morning and evening rush hour. Can you offer some advice? Can I go on the sidewalk?




sheik yerbouti's picture

Could you offer some more information.

Where downtown do you need to go.

I often find that 10th ave is pretty safe to ride.

My wife rides from the north, she walks from the eau claire area to her office on 8th.

transetting's picture

Biking downtown core to office

My office is on 5th Ave SW and 6th St SW. I ride from the south, so I'll come north on 5th St until 11th Ave. I'm more concerned about going North-South than East-West. Thank you.

mike runs's picture

If you can get to 5th Street

If you can get to 5th Street and 10th Ave, I'd take the sidewalk on 5th Street under the railroad tracks, cross 9th Avenue, take the sidewalk on the north side of 9th Ave (in front of the Centennial Parkade) over to 6th Street, then up 6th Street to your office.

Once you get more confident in traffic, I'd start avoiding the sidewalks and just take city streets. Think about crossing the railway tracks on 11th street, then going across downtown on 8th avenue.

CL Polk's picture

wait, NORTH?

5th street SW is a one way street headed southbound. you can't do that.

You can take 5th street home, but you can't take 5th street there.

I don't know where you are coming from, but 2st SW is a north south bikeway, and it's fairly light on traffic, at least until about 10th. 10th avenue is another bikeway, but I find the road quality to be crappy.

8th street is busy but I ride it as a fairly cautious cyclist. there's an informal bit of space for riding, and the drivers on 8th don't fail to notice me (unless I'm trying to cross at an intersection with no traffic lights, mind.)

4th street is busy and you might find the traffic lights on that road to actually play to your advantage.

Also the underpass on 5th street: the *sidewalk* is the bikeway. I know the signs are confusing, but it is.

matt's picture

Can I go on the sidewalk?

I'm pretty sure that it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk in Calgary.

Can you offer some advice?

Wear a helmet. Get a bell. Make eye contact with drivers. Have everything you need to fix a flat with you.
rush hour downtown isn't too bad to ride in, as the cars go fairly slow.

GaryB's picture

The sidewalk

The simple answer is 'no'.
You could be charged under the Alberta Highway Traffic Act for failing to operate a vehicle adjacent to the right shoulder of the roadway, as I was when I was hit by a car existing a gas station in Shawnessey last October.
But the City Transportation department takes the view (the civil servants with a favourable outlook on cycling) that cyclists should not be charged for riding on the sidewalk in areas where the road does not safely accommodate a bicycle. Industrial areas would be a prime example. Many arterial roads in Calgary are scheduled for a road diet that will narrow the traffic lanes and include a bicycle lane adjacent to the right shoulder. (This takes effect when the road surface deteriorates enough that it requires repaving i.e. 'do not hold your breath'.) They have informed Calgary Police Services not to bother charging cyclists in these situations. One might argue that cycling on a sidewalk downtown was necessitated by construction but I would only do it if there were minimal pedestrians on the sidewalk, always ride a slow speed, thank everyone for moving over for you (because you are using their sidewalk), and get off the bike and walk if you encounter pedestrian congestion.

wwotl's picture


I'm not sure where you come in from in the SW, but maybe another option is to take 10th Street and then go east on 5th Ave.

I ride in from the SW, and take 2nd Street to 10th or 11th Ave, hop over to 1st Street and take that to my office (on 6th Ave).

Traffic is usually pretty slow during the morning and evening commutes. If anything, it's the pedestrians that suddenly dart out between cars or suddenly lunge off the sidewalk that are more of a hazard than the cars. I also think drivers are more alert for bikes (couriers) and pedestrians downtown than they are outside of downtown.

If you're not comfortable riding in the traffic, you can hop up onto the sidewalk as long as you're walking your bike, but the sidewalks are probably harder to navigate than the roads.

If you can, maybe spend an early Saturday or early Sunday trying a few different routes and becoming comfortable with the turns, etc. That will be one less thing you need to worry about when you start riding with the traffic.


idontgetit's picture

Avoid the rush

If you cannot find a comfortable route, try going before the rush. I used to commute right through the core around 6:30am and found it was no problem. Maybe you could at least go early until you find your route.

kat's picture

I've been there.

I can't offer any suggestions on your route, but would like to offer some support and encouragement.

Up until a couple of months ago I got off my bike and walked whenever I was downtown. Now I'll ride most of the downtown streets at most times of the day in most traffic conditions. Part of the change came as I got more comfortable with my bike and my riding ability. A bigger part of it came one day when I got annoyed with erratic pedestrians on the pathway and opted to ride on the streets where at least the cars are predictable. I've been driving long enough to reasonably predict what a car will do in traffic. Drivers downtown are really used to bikes. Most drivers are not dicks will give you the time and space that you need. There are so many red lights that most cars never get up to speed anyway, so it can be easy to keep up sometimes.

The only spots I'm still really uncomfortable with are the underpasses between 9th and 10th. Unfortunately that's right where you're stuck, so I'm no help at all. Good luck though.

What's the rest of your route like? If you're coming up the river could you just stay on the river until Eau Claire and go south on the roads from there? I know it adds distance but those are nice easy roads that way.

Another thought - if you see cyclists try following them, partly to see what routes they take but also to see how they interact with traffic.

ride's picture

welcome Binh

I see lots of good suggestions already for Binh so I won't repeat any of them.

One comment, 5 St northbound is not very wide, and could be off-putting for a newbie. 2 St from Mission right up to 10 Ave is a marked bike route with wide lanes, so it's a much better choice.

Don't worry if you have to (or choose to) ride on the sidewalk for a block or two. Just be slow, and courteous, and you won't have issues.

As for the railway underpasses: the sidewalk on the east side of the 5th St underpass is actually designated a pathway, so you're welcome to ride on it. For anyone else riding on the street through these scary underpasses, my suggestion is: take the full lane, and just boot it. Don't be hugging the concrete wall - all that does is tempt a driver to try to squeeze past you with inches to spare.

Last suggestion for Binh: get this mirror from MEC and clip it to your riding glasses. It will greatly help you with developing your situational awareness - and that's one of the key skills for being safe and comfortable on the streets.

And if you have more questions, you came to the right place!

CL Polk's picture

that mirror

I bought that mirror and I love it. upped my confidence on busy streets so, so much.

also agree about taking the full lane and giving top effort. I really didn't want to ever ever do this. but in a lot of situations, that's the safest thing to do - because if you stay in the right margin a driver is more likely to decide that there's room and push you even further to the right. But shifting to take a full lane position with a wave will often get you a wave back.

transetting's picture

Thank you

Thank you for all the advice and support. I plan to ride early in the morning anyway, so it sounds very encouraging.

ride's picture


Now there's a different take on the route! I wouldn't have thought of that. Lots of good ideas coming out of this forum thread!

winterrider's picture

That's the one

I was going to suggest something like this. 11th Street has an on street bike lane and makes the best North South route if you are nervous about traffic.

One other option if you are willing is to go north on 11th Street and head East on 8th Ave. 8th Ave is single lane traffic with lots of room for bicycles. Then North on 6th St. To return you could walk one block and head south on 7th St to connect to 8th Ave. Both 6th and 7th street are low volume roads that are fairly comfortable to ride on street with the cars.

Best of luck.

renbot's picture

I'm not sure about the

I'm not sure about the Alberta Highway Traffic Act but I know that in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act as a cyclist, you have a legal RIGHT to take the lane. Whenever I'm riding with vehicle traffic and I feel like my life may be in danger, I take the lane.

Yes, it might piss off some motorists but I find that at the end of the day, I'd rather take the lane and slow down car traffic until I can move to the side and let cars pass me safely.

That's just my tip for riding with car-traffic. Riding on the sidewalk is illegal and it can make pedestrians (understandably so) really angry. Riding on the sidewalk can sometimes be more dangerous because cars aren't expecting to see you on the sidewalk and in the crosswalk.

Fizikz's picture

Sidewalk riding is dangerous

Sidewalk riding is dangerous

Traffic coming out of alleys and turning cant see you and aren't looking for you.

As a pedestrian its really annoying.

Streets are for bikes. sidewalks for pedestrians. You do have the legal right to take the lane in Calgary.

10 ave is a great bike way, if a little pot-holey. getting across 14th is the only headache.

I used to commute from the south, I enjoyed coming into downtown via 7 ST through mount royal. its low traffic, fast and easy and you can duck over to 8 street via tenth avenue to get under the railroad tracks.

BCDon's picture

Yes but

I have a dilemma. Near the end of my commute I have a situation where I need to cross the road. Just before that the MUP becomes the sidewalk. So, I ride for 20 feet on the sidewalk. I'm OK with that and think it is reasonable but that isn't my issue.

I hit the pedestrian crossing light and walk across the road. Now I'm on the other side and have to cycle a block and a half. There is a steady stream of traffic heading in the direction I want to go and no shoulder to ride a bike so I would have to take up the eight most traffic lane. After being a pedestrian (this is not an intersection so I can't make a left turn like a vehicle would). The sidewalk is a double wide so there is lots of room.

To date I've been riding on the sidewalk. Personally, if a cyclist used a crosswalk, walked across and then immediately took the right lane, I'd be pretty pissed. So, in my view, for that block and a half I think it is safer to ride on the sidewalk, at a slow speed and pay extra attention at all potential car points.

Oh, and I get to do it on the way back, in reverse although now I'm using the sidewalk as a contra-flow bike way.

Your thoughts?

mercator's picture

Interesting conundrum

Is this intersection downtown? Without a map or photo, I think my approach would be to not push the crosswalk button, wait for a break in traffic and take the lane - treating it as a regular intersection. I ride downtown daily and find if I wait for the break in traffic, the next bunch of cars only catches me at red lights. Obviously, if the road is a freeway, then your method would be the only choice.

Going home, I'd go over a block, I bet there's a one way street going your way.

BCDon's picture

It's on

16th, the section East of Home road, just before the access to Memorial. I find 16th too narrow and busy to get onto for a block and a half and the entrance to my parking is right off 16th with no back entrance.

At his point I just go slow on the sidewalk.

ride's picture

still unclear

Home Road and 16th Ave aren't anywhere near Memorial Drive. The latter ends at Crowchild Trail. Are you talking about the access to Bowness Road?

ride's picture

the problem with that...

... if you ride your bike through the cross-walk, you are breaking the law. So when the drunk texting on his phone fails to see you and runs you down, he gets off without a charge, and you get to deal with the permanent disability out of your own pocket.

BCDon's picture

Well in reality

I'm either dead or living off everyone else's taxes as I serve out my time for justifiable homicide but that's another story.

The route is when you turn left from home road onto 16th and head downtown, shortly before the exit that you'd use to drive to Edworthy park.

ride's picture

picture of your route

The thousand-word picture, is this it? Everybody here should use for sketching out routes; it's very helpful.

Why not just do what makes you feel safest? At rush hour it's no fun to ride on that section of 16 Ave NW. But, is the curb lane wide enough to share it with a car? If so, wouldn't that be an option for you?

BCDon's picture

Yes it is

Cool, I'll need to figure out how to use (and cut and paste) that software. The curb lane isn't wide enough for a bike and a car. So,I have been using the sidewalk.

ride's picture

so, don't fret about it

One thing I've noticed about the bike community on this forum. As a group we spent a whole lot of time hand-wringing about obeying traffic laws. You know, I have never in all my years sat around a table with any of my friends who drive (like me) and had a discussion about, say, whether we should be turning into the near lane or the far lane at a stoplight. Most drivers just do as they please and don't give it a second thought.

I sure wouldn't lie awake at night worrying about that last block you have to ride on the sidewalk.

winterrider's picture

I would also agree with this

I would also agree with this sentiment. I frequently end my morning commute (and start my afternoon commute) with a short half block on the sidewalk. Just go slow and it's no problem.

winterrider's picture

Why not go one street over,

Why not go one street over, or use the back alley? If you're willing to walk across the crosswalk (I always rode through that one when I used it), then surely moving over one street to be safe and legal is not too much.

On you way back east you also have the option of Bowness Road. It has an underpass below 16th so there are no lights, and you can take the curb lane quite easily since it starts as wide single lane where you would join it. I take this route daily in the morning and given your level of confidence and experience I doubt you would have any problems on that stretch of road. The join the bike path at Edworthy. Of course if you're going up the hill at Edworthy then its probably too much of a detour.