Calgary better than Vancouver for cycling?

“A friend emailed me your Calgary Herald article about the Beltline vs West End just now, and I loved it. While some might think your article pretty kind to the Beltline, I'd back your thesis that Calgary’s City Center communities are both very affordable and attractive compared to other major North American cities like Vancouver.” Roy Brander (Everyday Tourist reader)

He then goes on to say what makes Calgary’s City Centre so attractive is “the cycling is better than in Vancouver.”

Link: Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Livability

It is a bit of free-for-all along Vancouver’s pathways says Everyday Tourist reader Roy Brander (photo credit: Roy Brander)

It is a bit of free-for-all along Vancouver’s pathways says Everyday Tourist reader Roy Brander (photo credit: Roy Brander)

Brander much prefers Calgary’s City Centre pathways because they are less busy and have separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians in many cases. (photo credit: Roy Brander)

Brander much prefers Calgary’s City Centre pathways because they are less busy and have separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians in many cases. (photo credit: Roy Brander)

Calgary’s City Centre Cycling network includes both dedicated bike lanes and multi-purpose pathways.

Calgary’s City Centre Cycling network includes both dedicated bike lanes and multi-purpose pathways.

Brander says…

From 2008 to 2012, my commute from Montgomery to the Water Centre in Manchester was through the Beltline.  So, I watched the Beltline grow up from just a few shops and bars to something that reminds me very much of Vancouver’s West End. I now live in Vancouver’s West End across the street from Stanley Park so I have a good appreciation of both.

As you stated the Beltline is "landlocked," not because of its lack of access to a waterfront, but also it has no easy access to a big park like Stanley Park, those who live in Vancouver West End do.  But there is a huge benefit to living in Calgary’s City Centre that I'm coming to appreciate more and more - the cycling.

Yes, Calgary’s City Centre is a better place to cycle than Vancouver’s!

For the most part, Calgarians seem to be able to share the river pathways.

For the most part, Calgarians seem to be able to share the river pathways.

Calgary’s City Centre river pathways are popular weekdays and weekends.

Calgary’s City Centre river pathways are popular weekdays and weekends.

Calgary’s City Centre pathways are child-friendly.

Calgary’s City Centre pathways are child-friendly.

Calgary’s pathways can get busy especially in the Eau Claire and East Village areas.

Calgary’s pathways can get busy especially in the Eau Claire and East Village areas.

What, am I mad? 

Vancouver is so pro-cycling.  How could Calgary be better?  What I miss is working up a sweat, which is not easy in Vancouver’s City Centre, especially starting from the West End.   Cycling in Stanley Park and along the famous seawall, from Canada Place to Stanley Park and around False Creek is frustrating - there isn’t enough capacity to handle all of the traffic. Meandering around tourists and recreational cyclists and pedestrians,means you are lucky if you can go 10 km/hr. 

Sure, one can work up a sweat going up and down hills in Stanley Park, but I quickly tired of it - Stanley Park is just over one square mile, and the cycling paths are few and far between - just a few kilometres.

By contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow River pathways have the capacity to allow for cyclists to average 25 km/hr for most of their commute without endangering others. FYI, I often would stay late to avoid the rush hour cyclists and pedestrians.  My commute from Shouldice Park (through Lowery Gardens) to the Water Centre involved not a single light and rarely dropped below 20 km/hr. I arrived grinning at both work and home every day.

Calgary's pathway system is a remarkable achievement.   

While Calgary has just these two “thin strips” of water, nothing compared to Vancouver having the Fraser, False Creek, Burrard Inlet, and the Pacific Freaking Ocean, they have absolutely maximized the contact a Calgarian can enjoy with a green, fragrant river valley in a dry land that is brown for much of the year.

Because of our free place at my mother-in-law's place in Calgary’s Shawnee community, I still spend weeks at a time in Calgary, and last fall bought an "ebike" and I simply love it.  I still get the same workout, it doesn't make you lazy - it just allows a cyclist to cover more ground.   

I'm starting to question why would I bring my ebike to Vancouver because an ebike is best at covering long distances which Calgary’s pathway system allows.  When I visit Calgary now, I love taking 40 or 50 km trips from Shawnee to downtown and points north. Calgary, with all its hills, is perfect for an ebike - way better than Vancouver.   

I can hardly believe I said that.  Somewhere in Vancouver City Hall, a bike infrastructure coordinator is crying.

During my recent March/April stay in Vancouver, I didn’t find their pathways as busy as I thought they would be. This is a nice Sunday afternoon in Coal Harbour.

During my recent March/April stay in Vancouver, I didn’t find their pathways as busy as I thought they would be. This is a nice Sunday afternoon in Coal Harbour.

While the pathway near Canada Place was busy, there was still lots of room for everyone. However, I did notice there weren't a lot of cyclists, so maybe they just avoid the waterfront pathways.

While the pathway near Canada Place was busy, there was still lots of room for everyone. However, I did notice there weren't a lot of cyclists, so maybe they just avoid the waterfront pathways.

In My Opinion (Roy’s)

With the plans to redevelop Stampede Park, Beltline residents on the east side will have better access to the Elbow River pathway and those on the west side aren’t that far from Bow River pathway.  For most Beltliners, this means 7 months a year they can be on the pathway system in minutes and enjoy an experience that rivals Vancouver’s Stanley Park or Seawall for fragrance, green space and the sounds of moving water.

Richard, If you aren't a cyclist, partner with one and do an article on Calgary’s pathway system - it's a jewel!

When in Atlanta in the April 2018, I was shocked at the traffic along their Beltline pathway system. Its was the first time I have ever felt unsafe as a pedestrian. Cyclist when whipping by without any notice, Brenda was so uncomfortable she turned back after just 15 minutes. Unfortunately cyclist and pedestrians don’t mix well when multi-use pathways get busy.

When in Atlanta in the April 2018, I was shocked at the traffic along their Beltline pathway system. Its was the first time I have ever felt unsafe as a pedestrian. Cyclist when whipping by without any notice, Brenda was so uncomfortable she turned back after just 15 minutes. Unfortunately cyclist and pedestrians don’t mix well when multi-use pathways get busy.

Sunday afternoon on Atlanta’s Beltline pathway is chaos.

Sunday afternoon on Atlanta’s Beltline pathway is chaos.

Pedestrians in Calgary like to walk side-by-side while chatting often taking up the entire pathway and frustrating cyclists.

Pedestrians in Calgary like to walk side-by-side while chatting often taking up the entire pathway and frustrating cyclists.

Everyday Tourist Note:

While not an avid cyclist, I am a “fearless” cyclist (as defined in the City of Calgary’s 2011 Cycling Strategy (see chart below) as I am just as comfortable riding on city roads as I am on the pathways. I once cycled from Mount Royal University to my home in West Hillhurst via Crowchild Trail and would do it again if need be. 

I also do have family and friends in Calgary who are avid cyclists with at least one owning an ebike and have heard similar comments i.e. Calgary’s multi-use pathway system makes urban living in Calgary very attractive.  

Ironically, on the same day I got this email from Vancouver, I also received an email from a friend who was cycling with his son in New York City and he too said Calgary has a much better pathway system than NYC. This might surprise some, as NYC like Vancouver, is considered to be a leader in cycling infrastructure.

I realize Calgary’s pathway system and cycling infrastructure isn’t perfect, especially when it comes to sharing the pathways between those who are using them as a means of transportation and those who are out for a recreational ride or walk. However, it is better than many would have you think. 

Hmmm…perhaps I was right when I did my blog title “Calgary: Canada’s Bike Friendly City!” back in 2013.  

Link: Calgary: Canada’s Bike Friendly City

 

From City of Calgary’s 2011 Cycling Strategy

From City of Calgary’s 2011 Cycling Strategy

If you like this blog you might want to read the Calgary Herald piece that was the catalyst for Brander’s email to me:

Link: Calgary Herald: Calgary Affordability & Liveability