Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City!

Yesterday I got a twitter saying the Copenhagenize 2013 Index of  the top 150 bike-friendly cities was out, so I quickly checked to see which cities were listed.  At the top were the usual suspects - Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I was surprised only one North American city - Montreal (tied at #11 with Munich and Nagoya), Tokyo and Rio were also in the top 20, all others were from Europe.  No Vancouver, Portland or Melbourne!  Given the domination of European cities one has to ask what are the study’s objectives and criteria for determining a city’s bicycle-friendliness? 

The study’s objective is clear – “the index looks only at each city’s efforts towards reestablishing the bicycle as a feasible, accepted and practical form of transport.”  To me, the Copenhagenized Index is not a true measure of a city’s bicycle-friendliness as it doesn’t look at all aspects of a city’s bike culture. 

To me, a bike-friendly city is more than just having roads with bike lanes, bike share programs and modal splits.  It is also about the diversity of biking opportunities in a city from velodrome, touring and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.   And from opportunities for the weekend warriors, family wanders, the fanatical and the fair weather cyclists. 

I truly would love to cycle to and from my daily meetings and activities as they are almost all within 10 km of my house, but for at least 7 months of the year it is too cold and too dark. Call me a fair weather cyclist, but I am not cycling when it is cold and there is snow and gravel on the road.  Even today, the end of April, when I left in the morning it was too cold for me to bike and was still too cold at noon. And then there are days with back-to-back meetings with a squash game or yoga practice added to the mix that makes cycling just not a viable option. This relegates me to a recreational cyclist status.

There were 13 criteria for the Copenhagenize Design Co. study, with each city given 0 to 4 points in each category, plus up to a 12-point bonus for particularly impressive efforts. This works out to a maximum of 64 points, which is then translated into a number out of 100.  While every attempt is made to make the study objective, there is still a lot of subjectivity. How do you measure Social Acceptance, which they define, as how do drivers and the community at large regard urban cyclists? Or the degree of  “passionate political involvement?”

I'm not naive to think Calgary will score high on the list of the top 150 cities, but I think for a cold prairie winter city  (as opposed to a cool coastal winter city) we are very bike- friendly.  And if our recreational cycling culture and facilities were given equal status to the transportation side of cycling I am sure we would do better. But lets not get caught in the trap of “best practices.”  No city can be the best at everything. 

In some cases, geography and climate will limit a city's ability to perform in certain areas.  Also, you simply can’t afford to be the best at everything. Cities need to pick one or two things to excel at, and be good at most of the other things which make a city attractive to live, work and play while limiting the negative impact of its weaknesses (cities will always be weak at some things).

Perhaps Calgary is not the best place to ride your bike to work or for shopping, but I still think we can promote Calgary as a bike-friendly city for citizens and tourists wanting to explore our extensive urban parks and pathways (which are truly some of the best in the world (Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways blog). 

Also in what other major city do drivers stop to let cyclists and pedestrians cross the street? This behaviour ironically would be rated as a negative in the Copenhagenize Index as the “transportation” cyclist doesn’t want any special treatment.  But I expect the family out cycling to the playground, park and pathway appreciate having Calgary drivers giving them the right-of-way.

The fact we are in the top 150 in the 2013 Index should be celebrated. Calgary can’t be in the top 10 on every world ranking. Below is some of the information I have collected on Calgary as a bike-friendly city.  As I am still working on this document, feedback is welcomed. 

Calgary’s Bike Friendly Stats-At-A-Glance:

From the BikeCalgary website I got that 40,000 Calgarians ride their bike regularly for transportation spring, summer and fall or about 6.5% of our 618,000 workforce. In addition, 140,000 ride their bike recreationally at least once a week and another 400,000 ride occasionally.  I am not sure how that compares to other cities.  And I am also told the Calgary numbers and those collected by other cities are not always collected in the most comprehensive and scientific manner.

From the City of Calgary website and Tom Thivener, City of Calgary, Bike CoordinatorI got the following factoids:

  • 712 km of multi-use pathways
  • 328 bikeways
  • 23 km of bike lanes 
  • 300 km of snow cleared pathways
  • 80 underpasses and bridges
  • 5,018 private bike parking stalls in Downtown (62% weather-protected)
  • 10,000 to 12,000 cyclists commute to Downtown in prime cycling season ( mid April to mid October) or about 7.5% of the downtown employees
  • 14.5 bike injuries/yr/100,000 and declining (2009)
  • City employs Cycling Coordinator, Bike Traffic Engineer and Cycling Education/Encouragement Coordinator.
  • Comprehensive Cycling Strategy approved by Council in June 2011. In it a citywide survey indicated 2% of Calgarians are Fearless Cyclists (share the road with cars) 20 are Confident Cyclists (moderately comfortable sharing the road), 51% are Interested Cyclists (not comfortable sharing the road) and 28% are Reluctant Cyclists (not interested in cycling).

From the City's 2011, Cycling Strategy report noted the following: 

Calgary’s multi-use pathway and on-street bikeway network has almost doubled from 550 kilometres in 1999 to 1,067 kilometres in 2010. In 2010, Calgary had 712 kilometres of multi-use pathways and 355 kilometres of on-street bikeways, 328 kilometres of which were signed bikeways and 27 kilometres of which were bikeways with pavement marking — bike lanes and marked shared lanes. From City of Calgary Cycling Strategy document page 17

From chatting over the past few months with 10+ avid cyclists from different sectors of Calgary’s bike culture  the following strengths and weaknesses of cycling in Calgary have emerged:  

Strengths:

  • Excellent recreational cycling paths for families and beginners
  • Good mountain biking for beginner and intermediate cyclists within the city – Canada Olympic Park and Nose Hill Park
  • Excellent road cycling routes along secondary roads just outside the city.
  • Excellent cross-cycling routes within an hour of city limits – Bragg Creek and Canmore Nordic Centre
  • Excellent BMX bike park – Shaw Millennium Park
  • Excellent mountain climb hill – Edworthy Park
  • Strong club scene with over 30 different bike clubs registered with Alberta Bike Association
  • World Class mountain biking a 3 hour drive (Panorama or Fernie)
  • World Class new professional road cycling event - Tour de Alberta

Weaknesses:

  • Pathway system doesn’t connect directly to major shopping or workplace destinations
  • Lack of a bike sharing program
  • Lack of dedicated bike lanes on major bike routes  

ound this image on the Copenhagenize Design Co. website. While for many "bikes for transportation" advocates this is the vision i.e. roads crowded with people using their bikes for everyday activities.  However, I am not sure this would be attractive to many of the Calgarians who are currently reluctant to use roads and pathways as it is too crowded.  It would be interesting to show them this picture and say would you be wiling to ride on this bike lane.   I

t will take a huge paradigm shift in the thinking of Calgarians to move from recreational to transportational cycling.  The creation of new bike lanes to link the current pathway system to key destinations is a great place to start.  

But we need to be realistic in our expectations of the numbers who will be prepared to make the change and this is not going to happen overnight.  

ast Word

Big Blue sits in the garage. Used only occasionally unfortunately. In my teens and early 20s I used my bike for "transportation" , but once I got a car it was more convenient and comfortable to drive rather than ride (see blog on Comfort and Convenience).  

I did ride my bike to work in my 40s when I worked downtown and my life was more downtown centric. Today my live, work, play is all over the place and changes hourly.   

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Bike Expert:  75 Most Bike Friendly Cities In The World (Dec 2016)