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)

Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in North America?

I am working on a story on Bike Culture in Calgary and one of the topics that has grabbed my interest is the number and diversity of bike shops in the city.  I have visited lots of other cities and I don’t recall seeing the number of independent bike shops that there are in Calgary.

The one that most intrigues me is Bow Cycle in Calgary’s west side working class community of Bowness (for more history and pics you can go to My Beautiful Bowness blog).  On their vintage main street is the largest bike shop I’ve ever seen.  A quick email to Bow Cycle got a quick response saying that their shop was 24,000 square feet with another 16,000 square foot warehouse

Bow Cycle retail store on Bowness Road in Calgary is 24,000 square feet devoted entirely to bikes and accessories. 

This was my benchmark.  Let the googling begin! 

Lots of sites claimed to be the largest in the state or largest in online sales and selection but nothing about size of building.  

R&A Cycle in Brooklyn indicates on their website that they are the “World’s Largest Bike Shop” but when I emailed them their response are “the largest Professional bike shop in the world. Not in square feet as there are shops who are larger but they carry mostly bikes under $2,000 in value. As the world’s largest Professional bike shop, we have on display we have over 50 bikes with an average price tag over $4,000, with 800 frames and over 500 bikes in stock” says Philip Cabbad, Sales Representative

So I decided to contact Bow Cycle again to see how they compared as a professional bike shop.  Darrell Elliot quickly responded that “we have easily over 75 mountain bikes over $4,000 and easily over 50 road bikes over $5,000 on display. In fact, at a quick glance, we have over 10 bikes over $15,000.”  

Darrell went on say “I think when you are looking for the world's largest bike shop, world's best bike shop, etc., you need to have some parameters or guidelines as to what qualifies the shop as the largest or the best. Is it square footage? Overall sales figures? Bike sales? Parts sales? Accessory sales? Internal labor sales? External labor sales? Clothing sales? Bike fitting sales? Service school sales? Event sales (our shop hosts over 10 bicycle races each year)? Number of employees? Community involvement? Industry involvement? What does it take to be the world's largest/best bike store? Without blowing our horn too loud, we are probably the largest single location bicycle retail shop in Canada - perhaps even in North America - we haven't done the research on single location bicycle shops to see who in fact is the largest. It is not that important to us, we just want to meet the needs of our community.”

Yikes…I thought this would be simple - do a bit of research and write a story…I think the chain just fell off this project.  Today I spend some time at Calgary Cycle and Road sister bike shops on Centre Street North.  R&A Cycle came up again as one of the biggest and best bike shops in USA.  I was also directed to check out Colorado bike shops at is it where the USA Olympic bike teams play and major bike manufacturers are located there. 

So I need your help. Does anyone know of a single bike shop with over 24,000 square feet of space (not including warehouse space).

Calgary Cycle one of Calgary's many specialty bike shops.  Calgary has a strong bike culture perhaps as a result of having the world's most comprehensive urban pathway system at  700+ kilometres. 

About Bow Cycle:

Bow Cycle has a long history dating back to 1957 when the shop opened as a general sporting goods store by Jim Sibthorpe Sr. By 1980, the business morphed into two businesses a bicycle shop and a motorcycle shop in separate buildings on Bowness Road aka Main Street Bowness. The two businesses were successfully run by the two sons of Jim Sibthorpe (Brian and Jimi) until both were sold independently. Bow Cycle (bike shop) is now owned by five long-term employees (Kevin Senior, David Leung, John Franzky, Darrell Elliott and Kurt Christensen) who all work full time operating the business.

The retail bike store was designed by Brian and Jimi Sibthorpe the original owners. Completed in 2004, it was designed as a purpose-built bike shop, with an open design to display thousands of bikes with lots of natural light.   

Going into the season, Bow Cycle stocks about 6,000 bicycles, which indeed gives them one of the largest selections of bicycles in Canada, North American and maybe worldwide. Bow Cycle, is a family bicycle shop that caters to all types and abilities of cycling enthusiasts has a staff of 125 people, 4 shops and 30 workstations.

View from the loft level at Bow Cycle of the thousands of bikes in all shapes and colours.