Calgary in the Snow

In a city like Calgary, which I visited last week, opportunities to create world-class bicycling conditions abound. 

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail

First, they have a world-class network of off-street paths; this provides the foundation upon which they can create a connected on-road bikeway network of bike lanes, neighborhood greenways, and cycle tracks. 

Second, there’s plenty of right-of-way on an extensive roadway network to allow them to accomplish the latter, particularly in downtown, with three- or four-lane + parking one-way streets laid out in a one-way grid. Conditions are ripe to create a bikeway/walkway similar to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, or cycle tracks like in New York or Vancouver BC or now in lovely Long Beach

One-way cycle tracks can be a smart complement to one-way downtown streets.

Third, the three critical human components are in pace. These are: political leadership (the exciting new young, funny, educated Naheed Nenshi and numerous Aldermen); advocates organized under the non-profit Civic Camp; and well-trained, well-supported, energetic and dedicated bureaucratic staff (including traffic engineers who ride bikes at least some of the time). In my experience, all three of these being in place simultaneously are necessary. 

Fourth, an excellent bike plan, in the form of the soon-to-be adopted Cycling Strategy. A sneak preview revealed a very sophisticated level of thinking, predicated on a survey that validates Portland’s typological grouping of cyclists and potential cyclists

  • 1% strong & fearless
  • 8% enthused and confident
  • 60% interested but concerned

My suggestions: on the facilities side, focus on neighborhood greenways as a strategy for reaching that large “interested but concerned” population. Use the off-street network as the foundation of the system, and introduce public bicycle sharing in the next couple of years. On the encouragement side, focus on three major components: large car-free events like ciclovias, one-on-one personal travel encouragement programs (a.k.a. Smart Trips), and Active and Safe Routes to School, with bike safety education and encouragement incorporated into primary school education. 

Calgarians: I understand you come from a rather spread out, auto-oriented set of land-uses and habits. You are not unique in this. You can make progress toward a more balanced transportation system in which bicycling is an integral part of daily life. 

Let’s talk weather. Over and over, people told me that it snows a lot and is very cold. “No one will bike,” was expressed repeatedly; yet in each audience, I heard from residents who already bike year-round, similar to residents of Anchorage, Minneapolis, Montreal, and Oslo. Over and over, you told me that the bikeways will be covered in snow and ice. The answer: if you want to commit to bicycling as a year-round form of transportation, then you commit to removing the snow from on-street bikeways, just as you already do on your off-street paths, just as our friends in other cold climate cities do. 

In Anchorage, the winter bike commute numbers are as high as the summer numbers a few years ago. In the early years of our work in Portland, people told me that I was wasting government dollars because people won’t bike in the rain. (If we let the rain bother us, we’re not going to leave the house.) And we’ve shown a similar trend to Anchorage, with winter numbers as high as summer numbers not long ago. 

As I said in Joyride, p. 129: 

Whatever the weather, we amazing humans somehow go about our lives. So the question becomes, given that there is no avoidance of the sky’s daily mood and not a blessed thing that we can do to control it, why do we let the weather keep us from moving our bodies by bike? Do we let the weather control our choice of transportation or do we open our faces to the sky and let the pure rainwater nourish our souls? 

Calgary: I love your spirit, momentum, and potential. The time has come. The time is now. Focus. Adopt that cycling strategy, and go like hell until you can’t go no more.

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