News / Calgary

Calgary's 'car culture'? Make that creative commuting

Calgarians need new language to describe how we get from A to B.

It’s often said that Calgary has a “car culture.” The implication is that everyone drives everywhere rather than walking, cycling and taking transit.

That’s not entirely baseless: A Statistics Canada study based on 2005 data found 75 per cent of Calgarians made all trips exclusively by car. Compared with cities like Vancouver (at 69 per cent) and Montreal (65), the “car culture” label seemed to fit.

But that was eight years ago, and now we see many signs of Calgary moving beyond “car culture.” That term feels dated. It’s easier than ever for Calgarians to use alternatives to their motor vehicles.

You don’t have to look far to see examples. Calgarians still drive a lot but they also bike on freshly minted cycling infrastructure, ride the train and walk to smart cars they don’t own.

Sometimes they do a mix of these. In 1999, 42 per cent of downtown commuters during rush hour were drivers, according to city data. By 2010 that had dropped to 35 per cent. The percentage of transit users, pedestrian commuters and cyclists all increased during this time.

In the last year alone, Calgary has seen its first separated cycle track, a major new LRT leg and the introduction of a sophisticated car-sharing system, car2go, that began in cities such as Düsseldorf, Germany, and Austin, Texas, before coming here.

Just over a year after the launch, Calgary is the fastest-growing car2go city worldwide. Last week, car2go revealed that it now has 400 cars here, up from 150 when it launched.

The company has pointed out (accurately, I think) that it’s almost as if Calgarians had been awaiting such a service. It’s interesting to look at how people use car2go. Use it exclusively and it gets expensive quick, but add it to the mix with walking, transit and use of owned vehicles, and it can be more than worthwhile.

We are shifting from “car culture” to a culture of creative commuting.

Our language should reflect this. If we talk about ourselves as creative commuters, rather than car addicts, that opens up possibilities and gets people thinking about how they get around.

Driving our cars is just one option in a cornucopia of commuting choices.

In this climate, it’s especially absurd to portray people who use one mode of transportation against those using another. For example, one sometimes hears of a so-called “drivers versus cyclists” fight — as if people exclusively use one mode of transportation and despise those who use others. That narrative doesn’t fit the Calgary of today.

Drivers and cyclists are often the same people. I drive the kids to daycare. I bike to work. Like many others in this city, I sometimes end up using three or four modes of transportation in a single day.

That’s creative commuting. We’re only going to see more of it.

More on