This is a great article on the pathway system that many people use through-out the city. Newcomers to Calgary are often surprized at how extensive it is.
PATHWAY COMMUNITIES ATTRACT BIKE COMMUNTERS
Experts say city needs to better integrate cycling infrastructure in increase riders.
Article by Tom Babin – Calgary Herald Dec 11, 2011
Margeaux Myers says there are a number of reasons she rides her bike to work downtown every day. It’s fun, it’s inexpensive and it keeps her in shape. And for her, it’s easy. Two blocks from her Parkdale house is the Bow River path that takes her straight downtown in minutes. Sure beats the daily traffic battles, she says.
“Parking and driving is not an option for most people who work in the core,” Myers says. “(By cycling), I can take my own schedule. I come and go when I need to. It’s not expensive, and it’s pretty quick and easy.”
Myers isn’t alone. According to data from the 2011 civic census, compiled for Project Calgary, Parkdale is home to one of the highest percentages of bicycle commuters in the city, at 5.3 per cent. It may come as no surprise because the Bow River pathway that abuts Parkdale is one of the few pieces of infrastructure in the city exclusively for cyclists – it’s segregated from cars on the road and from the parallel pedestrian pathway. Point Mckay, West Hillhurst, Hillhurst and Wildwood are all in the top 10 for proportion of bicycle commuters in Calgary, and all are in the vicinity of the river pathways.
In fact, the communities with the most bicycle commuters all tend to be those with strong downtown-oriented bicycle infrastructure, such as multi-use pathways and on-street bike lanes.
For Richard Zach of advocacy group Bike Calgary, which was a proponent of the city’s newly adopted cycling strategy, which will add cycling infrastructure for commuters in the coming years, the data is a sign that bike infrastructure works.
“It’s when and where infrastructure exists that more people will consider biking,” Zach says. “I don’t know how big the effect (of the strategy) will be, but we hope for more.”
As the popularity of cycling as a form of transportation, rather than recreation, has increased across North America over the past few years, the city has been under pressure to add cycling infrastructure. While measures that add space on roads for bikes by taking it away from cars remain controversial, the documents guiding the city’s growth all encourage cycling as a more affordable, sustainable and safe alternative to driving. City Hall’s transportation plan calls for spending 48 per cent of its budget on transit, 35 per cent for goods and auto movement, 14 per cent for maintenance, and three per cent for cycling and walking.
The census data in Calgary seems to reinforce a notion put forth by Mikael Colville-Andersen, the former Canadian behind the blog Copenhagenize, which encourages cycling as an everyday transportation option. He recently told the Herald that his fellow Europeans don’t bike for environmental or social reasons. “If you make cycling the quickest and easiest way to get somewhere, people will do it,” he said.
As the momentum behind the cycling movement increases, however, there are many questions about how to do that.
Ahmed El-Geneidy, an assistant professor in urban planning at McGill University, who co-wrote a paper earlier this year encouraging municipalities to take a more scientific approach to locating cycling infrastructure, says if cities want to improve access for cyclists, it’s important to build connections. Pathways and onstreet roads often exist in isolation. Simply connecting them will make the infrastructure more functional.
“Nobody has been thinking of bicycle (infrastructure) as a network. They are usually just responding to a problem, or putting something where the cyclists are asking for it,” he says.
El-Geneidy wasn’t surprised that the largest number of Calgary cyclists live in areas where there is strong infrastructure for them. He agrees with the if-you-buildit-they-will-come mantra of many cycling advocates, but says the impact of new bike lanes is a more long-term proposition. His work has shown that people interested in cycling tend to move over time to areas where they can access bike lanes and paths.
“Many people have been exaggerating the impact of the built environment,” he says. “When a bike lane is built, in the short term, you won’t see a huge increase (in use). In the long term, when you have the infrastructure, people will self-select those communities to live in.”
The city is already addressing some of the issues around cycling infrastructure. The new cycling strategy calls for the creation of a new pathway and bikeway implementation plan beginning in 2012. The city has plans in place to improve connectivity, and add cycling infrastructure over the coming years, which may create more communities where cycling is an easy commuter option.
That may enable more people to made decisions like Myers – she moved to Parkdale from Silver Springs partly because commuting by bicycle is easier. She thinks better infrastructure in other communities would encourage more people to ride, something she sees as a positive for the city.
“It’s not going to happen until the pathways are better,” she says.
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