City lags behind on modern transportation, says enthusiast

THE NUMBERS

In Calgary there is a growing number of cyclists that are willing to face the harsh winters in order to get in exercise, skip the bus, save a buck or save the environment. But the city needs to provide an extra something in order to keep that number on the rise.

Richard Zach, the vice president of Bike Calgary, said that the trend of winter cyclists in Calgary has been on the rise in the last five years. According to statistics released by the City of Calgary in 2011, the number of cyclists in 2010 increased nine per cent from 2002.

The data showed a yearly total of 9,438 cyclists commuting in and out of the central business district within a 16-hour period. The numbers are expected to continue climbing.The bike racks on Stephen Avenue were nearly full despite the snowy weather in November.

Photo by Caitlin Clow

In Copenhagen, Denmark, also known as the City of Cyclists, the number of cyclists triumphs Calgary.

In 2010, with a population of 1.08 million people, 50 per cent of residents in the Greater Copenhagen area commuted by bike, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize.eu, creator of Cycle Chic — a photo blog that portrays stylish women on bicycles, and who is often referred to as Denmark’s bicycle ambassador, said that he recently saw stats that showed the Yukon and the Northwest Territories had the highest bicycle commuter statistics in Canada.

“I’ve never been there,” he laughs, “I thought it was pretty funny.”

The 2006 census released by Statistics Canada reports that 2.6 per cent of people in the Yukon commuted to work by bicycle and 2.0 in the Northwest Territories, compared to the 1.1 per cent in Alberta in the same year.

The fact that citizens of Yukon and Northwest Territories are commuting by bicycle during the harshest of Canadian winters suggests that Calgarians can get away with cycling year round.

STEP 1: INFRASTRUCTURE

In order to encourage more winter cyclists, cities like Calgary need to provide people with a place to do it. That can be done by adding cycle lanes on busy streets, providing locations to securely store bikes and gear, setting up showers and other amenities for those with longer commutes, as well as maintaining paths and lanes.

“Infrastructure makes people feel safe, it also keeps them safe,” Colville-Andersen said.

Cycle tracks, or barricaded lanes on busy streets that separate cyclists from traffic and pedestrians, are an example of this kind of infrastructure.

The City of Calgary is looking to install the first phase of cycle tracks in spring 2013. According to their website, the tracks will be set up on 6th Street and 7th Street S.W.

Colville-Andersen said that it’s important for cities to ensure proper winter up-keep of the cycling tracks.

He said that in Copenhagen, if snow is forecasted, all of the tracks are salted and prepped. When the snow hits, the lanes are quickly cleared.

“If it’s a snow storm you can see these little bike lane cleaners buzzing up and down six or seven times before the roads are even touched.”

In Canada, Colville-Andersen said he thinks it shouldn’t be difficult to keep up maintenance and snow removal of the tracks thanks to the “arsenal of snow clearing machinery that Canadian cities have.”

Despite this though, Colville-Andersen said that he thinks some Canadian cities aren’t making the effort to clear the bicycle lanes.

“Snow plows just shove it rudely off to the right and it usually ends up in the bike lane.”

Calgarians bundle up and bear the cold weather in order to get from A to B as quickly as possible.

Photo by Caitlin ClowSTEP 2: STREAM LINE ROUTES

To encourage more people to take to the pedal-powered vehicles, cities like Calgary need to recognize that people are looking for the fastest way to work.

Colville-Andersen said, “All we want is a quick A to B; this is universal with Homo sapiens. We’re like rivers we’ll always try to find the quickest route.”

He said that because of this, bicycle routes need to be streamlined to cut down the travel time for those using them.

But in Calgary this may be difficult because of the city’s size.

Bicycle commuter Max Shultz said “One thing about Calgary compared to European cities is that we’re super spread out and we’re not very cycle-friendly.”

Colville-Andersen said that the city can help streamline bicycle routes by putting them on main roads rather than residential routes.

By adding cycle tracks, he says that he thinks more people will take their bikes, even on cold, wintery days.

STEP 3: EDUCATION

Richard Zach, vice president of Bike Calgary, said that education is also a big factor in encouraging winter cycling.

He said that he thinks it makes citizens more confident while cycling — especially in tough, winter conditions.

That’s why he said he thinks bicycle education “should start in the school but it should also be a part of drivers education.”

WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

Colville-Anderson said encouraging cycling in Calgary is important because bicycles have become the symbol of a modern city.

Using Paris and New York as examples, he said, “Modern cities now are the ones that are prioritizing bicycles, public transport, pedestrianism, and trying to take away car trips. This is the new normal.”

Colville-Anderson says he thinks a lot of Canadian cities are lagging behind in terms of making them themselves more bicycle-friendly.

“This is what cities are doing. Period,” Colville-Andersen said. “There’s no place for automobiles in the big cities, or in our future.”

cclow@cjournal.ca