Calgary's winter cyclists band together to tweet pathway reports
Downtown cycle tracks are plowed right away, but other pathways take longer
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Kevin Schlauch calls himself a lazy bike commuter; if he’s breaking a sweat getting to work, even in the snow, he’s trying too hard.
“I’ll check Twitter to see what people are saying the conditions are, because there’s no other way to get to the pathway conditions,” said Schlauch, who has a five-kilometre commute to work. “I’m going to bike regardless, no matter what.”
His wife Jenny, who works near Chinook Mall, turned down a car ride Monday morning in favour of a bike commute – and she had her co-worker beat for travel time.
Although it’s not every biker’s dream to pedal through powder, some Calgary cyclists like the Schlauchs are taking it upon themselves to scout road conditions on the way to work, acting as their own network of traffic reporters and tweeting under the hashtag #yycbike.
Sunday’s winter blast closed Deerfoot Trail for hours, and on Monday, a city-wide parking ban along snow routes netted nearly 700 tickets in the first five hours. But as the city’s bike commuters suited up for their morning ride, parking their wheels wasn’t a worry.
Kimberley Nelson, who used to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to do a 20-kilometre commute, started reporting biking conditions in 2008 to let people know what was going on.
“There are different service levels around the city,” said Nelson, who still commutes to work, though it is a much shorter distance.
In her experience, the downtown Bow River Pathway is often in mint condition, but when she lived in Linwood, the pathway through Beaver Dam Park was a completely different experience.
“I got in trouble from councillors Brian Pincott and Gian-Carlo Carra because I was out shovelling the pathway that ran along Ogden Road, because I was terrified I was going to fall into the river at 5:30 in the morning.”
The last significant snowfall in December was a headache for Nelson, who said the city should have called a snow-route parking ban to deal with the buildup on roads – snow that’s still packed on city windrows after a freeze-thaw cycle. She said the 40 Avenue bike lane didn’t get plowed until last week.
“This time they’re getting out in front of it,” said Nelson. “Maybe this will be the way forward.”
Downtown, the city’s cycle tracks are considered Priority 1, which means they are to be cleared within 24 hours of a snowstorm. They’re followed by marked on-street bike lanes, which are Priority 2 routes and must be cleared within 48 hours. There are reference maps online that show when a route is supposed to be cleared.
According to the City of Calgary’s data, 30 per cent of summer cyclists bike in the winter, too.
Nelson and Schlauch hope their road reports not only encourage more bike commuting, but help people decide what route to take, how many layers to wear, and what kind of bike to ride.
Aaron Stayner, who began reporting winter biking conditions last year, sat out Monday’s commute, but is itching to get back in the bike saddle. Normally, he ride nine to 11 km from Sunnyside to Northeast Calgary, which is close to McCall Lake Golf Course.
“This year I’ve been trying to go daily if the conditions allow me to,” Stayner said.
He finds it faster, comfortable and more peaceful to hop on a bike and get moving, rather than scraping off his car and waiting for it to warm up.
“It’s not crazy at all. It’s actually quite easy to do,” Stayner said. “I’m warm within minutes, I was colder driving in today.”
Not everyone has the luxury of biking paths all the way to work. Schlauch’s final stretch is along 42 Avenue in the SE. The biggest obstacle isn’t the snow, it’s the cars sliding alongside him.
“The roads get narrower in the winter,” Schlauch said. He takes up a lane of traffic to travel in the right-most wheel well created by vehicles.
He’s only had one trip where the traffic made him hop off his bike and walk.
“When I’m on the roads, taking up a lane, I wish I was on the pathways.”
If you're thinking about trying winter cycling, this Friday, Feb. 9, is Winter Bike to Work Day.