Calgary Traffic 101: How to Get Around Calgary Like a Pro
Navigating the roads of Calgary, Alberta, is an experience filled with stunning views and bustling cityscapes. Whether you're a local, a visitor, or considering moving to Alberta and researching different communities, understanding the ins and outs of driving in this vibrant city is essential. To get you up to speed, some essential tips and insights into Calgary's driving rules, road conditions, and peak traffic hours ensure a smooth and safe journey for all motorists. From scenic routes to navigating during winter months, get ready to master the art of driving in Calgary.
What to Know About Driving in Calgary
Traffic is part of life in virtually every major city globally, but congestion in the city of Calgary is much more manageable than motorists will find elsewhere in Canada. Research by navigation and mapping company TomTom has shown that Calgarians spend significantly less time on the road than Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal residents.
The most congested roadway in Calgary is Deerfoot Trail between Memorial Drive and 16 Avenue Northeast. This major highway sees an average of 170,000 vehicles every weekday, so an alternate route can greatly help.
Weather Defines Driving Experience
One of the first questions everyone asks when moving to Calgary is, "What's the traffic like when it snows?" During a big snowstorm, the city begins plowing and snow removal operations within 36 hours. During this time, parking bans are in effect along major roadways. Citizens can sign up for text message alerts on parking bans with their Calgary MyID. Commuters can also check the city's Road Conditions Map and Traffic Cams to decide whether they need to take an alternate route to work on a snow day.
The city does not clear snow from most residential streets. Many of the newer developed areas and gated community neighbourhoods will pay for street clearing through HOA fees. Residents are required to clear snow from sidewalks in front of their homes or private businesses.
Tips for Driving in Inclement Weather in Calgary
- Do a winter systems check of the vehicle in the fall before the first snowfall.
- Have four winter tires installed.
- Carry an emergency kit with blankets, jumper cables, water, snacks, and road flares.
- Remove snow from the vehicle's windows, roof, hood, and headlights before driving.
- Plan a commute ahead of time, check routes, and check local weather reports.
- Allot extra time the first day or two after a heavy snowfall.
- Keep cell phones fully charged in case of an emergency.
- Avoid using cruise control.
- Slow down, give extra space to stop in icy conditions, and avoid braking suddenly.
Major Roads to Know in Calgary
Calgary is the biggest city by area in Alberta and the third-largest in Canada. At 825 square kilometres, it can take some time for motorists to learn their way around Calgary’s best neighbourhoods and the surrounding area. Here are some of the key roads to know about in the city, some of which are likely to be a part of every motorist's commute.
Key North-South Roads
Highway 2 (Deerfoot Trail) is Calgary's most important north-south road. It intersects with Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Hwy) in the North Calgary area and runs past the zoo and the Calgary International Airport. This road continues north to Edmonton. Macleod Trail Southeast runs through the southern neighbourhoods of Calgary to the downtown area.
Crowchild Trail Southwest runs from southwestern Calgary to north across the Bow River and then runs past the University of Calgary before continuing northwest out of the city. Highway 201 is a bypass road that encircles the city on all four points of the compass.
Key East-West Roads
Highway 1, best known as the Trans-Canada Highway, runs east to west through the city just a few blocks north of downtown Calgary. Highway 1 runs east past Chestermere and through the town of Strathmore on its way to Saskatchewan and west past Canmore before eventually leading to British Columbia. Since it crosses all of Canada on an east-west trajectory, this route sees major summer tourism and is an important roadway year-round for Calgarians.
Highway 8 (Glenmore Trail) is an east-west thruway that runs from Highway 22 to the west of Calgary and to the suburb of Langdon in the east.
Driving During Rush Hour in Calgary
Rush hour happens every weekday in Calgary in the mornings and the afternoons. The morning rush lasts from 7:00–9:30 a.m. The afternoon rush takes place between 3:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. The average length of a one-way commute in Calgary is about 27 minutes, which is about four minutes longer than the national average and comparable to commuting in Edmonton.
Calgary's heaviest and most congested traffic happens during the Thursday evening rush. Rush hour traffic also gets more congested every year in the afternoons when school lets out, as parents are figuring out schedules for picking up their children. People often expect that finding a shortcut through backroads will shorten their commute time, but that's not always the case in Calgary. Trying to find a shortcut can add as much as 50% more time to the duration of a commute.
Commuters can run into heavy traffic on all the major roads in Calgary during rush hour. The roads that tend to be most congested are Deerfoot Trail (Highway 2), Crowchild Trail, and Stoney Trail (Highway 201).
Parking in Calgary
Calgary Parking enforces parking downtown and in certain residential neighbourhoods. There are multiple options for on-street parking in Calgary, which include metered parking, paid parking lots, parking garages, long-stay parking, loading zone parking, and more. There is even limited free parking in the downtown area. In certain parking lots, commuters can park for three hours for free with validation.
Loading zone parking is allowed for 20 minutes. Long-stay parking is allowed for up to 9 hours in certain zones. Otherwise, look for signage to indicate how long you can use a parking space, parking lot, or parking garage and at what rates. Here’s the schedule for paid street parking in Calgary:
- Monday-Friday: 7:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
- Saturday: 9:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
- Sunday and holidays: Free
- Evenings after 6:00 p.m.: Free
People who work in Calgary’s City Centre will find that either a monthly pass or a flex pass is the best options to pay for parking. Surface lots are cheaper to park in than parking garages. A monthly pass guarantees one parking stall that is valid 24 hours a day. A flex pass offers a stall to park in for 10 days a month, for those who don't need daily parking.
The city also enforces certain residential parking zones (RPZs). These residents-only parking areas are designed to discourage non-residents from parking their vehicles and taking up valuable space in certain areas of the city.
Public Transportation in Calgary
The city has a very good public transportation system that is operated by Calgary Transit. More than 1.4 million people live in Calgary, and roughly 400,000 of them use some form of public transportation every day. Calgary Transit operates buses, light rail, a free urban tram downtown, bus rapid transit, and para-transit.
The C-Train light rail system is one of the oldest in operation in North America. Numerous C-Train stations allow commuters to ride between outlying Calgary neighbourhoods and downtown. Each train station has a Park-and-Ride lot located nearby.
There are currently 150 bus routes that serve virtually every corner of the city in addition to Calgary’s best suburbs. The Calgary Transit website is the best way to plan a trip. Leashed dogs can ride for free on Calgary Transit vehicles.
Calgary Transit Fares & Passes:
- Single Trip Adult 18+: $3.70
- Single Trip Youth 13–17: $2.50
- Single Trip Kids Under 12: Free
- 10 Trips Adult: $37.00
- 10 Trips Youth: $25.00
- Day Pass Adult: $11.60
- Monthly Pass Adult: $115.00
- Day Pass Youth: $8.50
- Monthly Pass Youth: $82.00
- Seniors 65+ Annual Pass: $154.50
- Low-Income Seniors Pass: $31.00
Commute Times from Suburbs to Downtown
Calgary also has some beautiful suburbs within a reasonable distance from the city. Here are some of those communities and their commute times to downtown Calgary.
The Airdrie community is located about 35 kilometres directly north of downtown Calgary. It's a self-contained city of about 80,000 people but allows for more of a small-town feel than living directly in the much bigger city. Commuting from Airdrie can take up to 45 minutes if the traffic is congested and there is fresh snow on the roads. The quickest route is to take Highway 2 south from Airdrie. Take Exit 256 in Calgary and travel west on Memorial Drive. Use the two right lanes of traffic to follow the road across the Bow River and into downtown Calgary.
The Intercity Express (ICE) is a public transportation option between Airdrie and Calgary.
The town of Cochrane is about 36 kilometres northwest of Calgary. The most straightforward route between the two cities is to take Highway 1A (Bow Valley Trail) eastbound from Cochrane. This road becomes Crowchild Trail once it crosses into the Northwest Calgary area. Continue until the road crosses the Bow River, and then take the Bow Trail SW exit, which is unnumbered. Follow Bow Trail eastbound to reach downtown Calgary. This commute takes about 30 minutes during light traffic and up to 50 minutes during rush hour.
On-It Regional Transit provides bus service between the town of Cochrane and Calgary four times per day.
The town of Okotoks is an upscale, quickly-growing suburb located less than 50 kilometres south of downtown Calgary. The fastest commute route is to take Highway 2 northbound into Calgary from Okotoks. Take Exit 256 to Memorial Drive. Follow Memorial Drive across the river until it becomes 4 Avenue Southeast, and follow the road to downtown Calgary. The drive takes between 35 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the time of day, and with the growth and amount of new construction homes in Okotoks, that commute could get longer over time.
On-It Regional Transit also provides bus service between Okotoks and Calgary.
The thriving Chestermere community is a lakeside suburb located less than 20 kilometres east of downtown Calgary. The luxury waterfront homes in Chestermere provide popular alternatives for homebuyers considering moving to the area, and the suburb is, therefore, a major commuter city.
The fastest commute between Chestermere and downtown Calgary is to take Chestermere Boulevard/17 Avenue Southeast eastbound. Take the exit to Highway 2 and drive for about one kilometre, and then take Exit 256 to Memorial Drive. Follow Memorial Drive until it becomes 4 Avenue Southeast and continue to downtown Calgary. This route takes between 22 and 50 minutes, depending on the time of day.
Public transit between Chestermere and Calgary is available twice daily during peak traffic times.
Taming the Roads in Calgary, Alberta
Mastering the roads of Calgary, one of Alberta's best places to live, means more than just getting from point A to point B; it's about embracing the journey with confidence and awareness. Armed with knowledge about motoring around Cowtown, drivers can easily navigate Calgary's streets, making every trip not just a commute but a smooth and enjoyable part of their day. So, buckle up and take the wheel with assurance as Calgary's roads open up to offer both the vibrancy of city life and the tranquillity of its picturesque surroundings.