Calgary traffic almost at pre-pandemic levels; downtown traffic, parking, transit still down

Highway traffic moves into Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. New census data shows the population of the metropolitan area of Calgary outpaced the national growth rate over the last five years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Traffic levels throughout Calgary have largely returned to pre-pandemic normals.

But according to data collected by the city, Google and Apple, transit use and traffic patterns in and out of the city’s downtown are still well below 2019 levels.

City officials told the transportation and transit committee on Wednesday they expect the shift in commuter vehicle traffic patterns to be part of a greater downward trend.

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“That peak does spread out and so travel behavior is not as confined to a single hour at the beginning and end of the day,” said Ryan Vanderputten, the city’s director of transportation planning. “Users will choose to use the capacity that’s there at other times of the day in their travel choices.”

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Vanderputten said a “new normal” of transportations patterns is emerging.

“We will have a new normal and I think the pandemic is giving us an opportunity to create this new normal in a way that we’re really looking to create something different for our city.”

Amended before the pandemic, the municipal development and transportation plan provides direction for how the city will help Calgarians get around.

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“That provides a long-term vision of creating a greater focus on travel options for all Calgarians, creating a city where the automobile is not the preferred method of travel, nor is it an actual requirement for people to travel around for their daily needs,” Vanderputten said. “And we do remain committed to that vision.”

Street parking usage is back to pre-pandemic levels and surface lot parking is at 70 per cent of 2019 levels, but downtown parkade use remains “extremely low.”

The ongoing pandemic has hit Calgary Parking Authority’s bottom line.

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Policies governing the authority mandate that the city receive either 65 per cent of net parking revenues or $11 million, whichever is greater.

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“We’re projecting that 2021 revenues will only be 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. That results in a $25-million impact to our revenues for 2021 alone,” Jared Foulds, financial services manager with the parking authority, told the committee.

Through the pandemic, the city has extended free parking at the vaccine clinic in the Telus Convention Centre and 15 minutes of free on-street parking in business improvement areas/zones. Adding shifted evening rates and rush hour enforcement and taking up on-street parking with temporary patios resulted in a $3.4-million estimated impact on parking revenues.

Click to play video: 'Southwest Calgary residents concerned with speed, traffic from ring road' Southwest Calgary residents concerned with speed, traffic from ring road
Southwest Calgary residents concerned with speed, traffic from ring road – Jul 30, 2021

After finding $63 million and $52 million in savings in 2016 and 2019 respectively, the CPA was able to find $4 million in savings during the pandemic.

The committee endorsed Foulds’ recommendation to allow the Calgary Parking Authority to forgo the $11 million return.

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City council still needs to give the parking authority permission to not meet their obligations. The next council meeting is Sept. 13.

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The city’s transportation and transit committee also heard a proposal to widen Country Hills Boulevard to meet expected demand.

But the premise of meeting expected demand in light of the climate crisis and the road planning principle of induced demand received pushback from the committee.

“We’re in a climate emergency. Do you anticipate the need to change how people travel considering automobile use is contributing significantly to greenhouse gases?” Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell asked pointedly.

Area councillor Jyoti Gondek said the singular focus on the east-west roadway doesn’t do enough to address the needs of the surrounding communities.

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“I don’t feel we got the best possible outcome for the community and it’s by virtue of how the process is set up,” the mayoral hopeful said. “It is a single project, it is looking at a single process, and the only way that we’re going to build better communities is to look at the context of everything that’s going on.”

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Gondek said the argument that the road needs to be expanded for more east-west movement of people and goods ignores the raison d’etre for nearby Stoney Trail.

“We just need to keep pushing for more and better. We need to make sure that the folks that are doing community planning are able to have as much say as the folks that are doing transportation, planning and Country Hills Boulevard is a testament to what we have done wrong traditionally.”

The committee recommended city officials rework the plan and return to a committee meeting by mid-2022.

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