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Business Cycle: Why do you support bike lanes in Calgary?

“The car isn’t the status symbol or priority it used to be," says Calgary Economic Development's Bruce Graham

May 13, 2014

by Max Fawcett

13_verbatim_story
Bruce Graham
PHOTGRAPH A.J. valadka

Who: BRUCE GRAHAM
Age: 53
Position: CEO, Calgary Economic Development
Bike: SPECIALIZED ROUBAIX

Route: From Strathcona Park to Bow Trail bike path. Through Edworthy Park to Bow Trail, eastbound. South on 1st Street to Stephen Ave.

Bruce Graham doesn’t bike to work every day, but he does when he can. And as the CEO of Calgary Economic Development, that says a lot – almost as much as the recent column he wrote in which he went to bat for a proposed two-lane bicycle track in the southeast of the downtown core. Ordinarily, such a minor piece of urban infrastructure – the project was pegged to cost an estimated $3.7 million – wouldn’t attract much attention. But bike lanes polarize people. In the end, the proposal split Calgary city council – four votes for, four against. A few weeks after the vote, he sat down with Alberta Venture.

“We’re a growing city. We added 15 million square feet of office space in the last 10 years here, and we’re not building any new bridges across the river. I think it’s critical that we look at ways to optimize our transportation infrastructure – and that includes public transit, walking and using bicycles.”

“We have the benefit of looking at the adoption in other jurisdictions. There is evidence that, contrary to what might be expected, the vibrancy and volume of retail activity is increased by accommodating additional modes of transportation – in particular, biking. It might be a little counterintuitive at first.”

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“The car isn’t the status symbol or priority it used to be. Younger people tend to want to live closer to their places of work; they are more suited to using forms of transportation other than the car. As you look at the millennials and the workforce of the future, having a modern and sophisticated city that’s adopted cycling as a mode of transportation perpetuates that. It appeals to that emerging workforce, and we know workforce issues are among the most critical that businesses want to be able to address.”

“This is one area where Calgary can define itself and change perceptions. Being an energy city, a city that produces commodities that are used for transportation, by and large, it can change how we’re perceived. We have to position ourselves as competing with global jurisdictions.

We are in New York talking to the finance community, and encouraging them to set up operations here. If they’re going to have the best and brightest people that can conceivably work in that market do finance-related work in, they expect a modern and sophisticated city. ”

“There’s a learning curve and an adoption process the city needs to go through. That can be addressed through pilot projects and temporary measures that will start creating the right environment. Part of the challenge is that people that would consider using this infrastructure aren’t using it because there are concerns about safety and [social] acceptability. What we’re seeing is early adopters that, in the case of bikes, are more comfortable in managing traffic. But if we want to truly make that transportation mode accessible to the broader public, and part of the fabric of living and working in Calgary, it’s going to take time.”

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