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End coming soon for Calgary’s notorious bus traps

The last of Calgary’s original model of bus traps could be gone in the next year or so.

The traps — essentially a pit dug into a road that prevents anything but a transit bus from passing through — have been a fixture in Calgary since the 1970s.

The City of Calgary has been gradually converting them in recent years, paving over the pits and using alternatives like automated gates to control access.

But plans are now afoot to decommission the last seven bus traps (officially known as vehicle traps) and come up with ways to allow other authorized vehicles like emergency responders to get through the pinch-points.

Any young driver in Calgary over the past 50 years has heard the warnings from a parent or a driving instructor: do not try to drive through a bus trap, because you can’t.

That reality hasn’t stopped people every year from attempting the feat, which only results in a damaged vehicle and a call to a towing company.

Traps not perfect

The city notes that bus traps have drawbacks.

When unauthorized vehicles drive into them, that can block access for buses.

The traps can damage passenger vehicles, and a city report notes they can also cause “potentially physical and psychological trauma” to drivers.

The city says that traps can damage passenger vehicles, and a city report notes they can also cause ‘potentially physical and psychological trauma’ to drivers. (City of Calgary)

The city’s director of roads, Troy McLeod, said the vehicle traps are outdated and there are better ways of accomplishing what they are intended to do.

“These locations really set people up for failure if we continue to leave them open, and we want to make sure that we just use existing technology and avoid this incident,” McLeod said.

Others may be allowed through

Upgrading the traps will allow the city to give access to other authorized users.

“We’re looking at a way that we can make that accessible for emergency services but not accessible for regular vehicle traffic. So it’ll still have its same purpose.”

McLeod said that can be done by using radio frequency identification tags or camera technology, which could result in tickets being sent to drivers who aren’t authorized to drive through a transit-only gate.

The city is doing a scoping study on the best option, and McLeod said the costs will be factored into this fall’s civic budget.

He expected that the conversion work will happen in 2023 and 2024.

Removal possible

McLeod also said it’s possible the city could respond to requests from some communities to remove the transit-only lanes.

Coun. Andre Chabot said a community in his ward, Pineridge, is ready to see the end of the bus trap on 26th Avenue N.E., just west of 56th Street.

He said decades ago when the community was newer, the bus trap was useful in limiting drivers trying to short-cut through the area. 

Numbers one through seven mark Calgary’s remaining bus trap locations. (City of Calgary)

But Chabot said the original purpose of the bus trap no longer applies.

“Once the community was fully built out, there were other routes: 52nd Street has been upgraded to four lanes, as an example; 68th Street, same thing,” said Chabot.

“There was a whole bunch of reasons why people wanted to use those routes as cut through, but they’ve pretty much been eliminated.”

Chabot notes the way the bus trap limits access also frustrates some businesses as it forces customers to drive farther to get to their front door.

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