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Your Ride: Edmonton

Jay Smith is a writer who cycles, walks and runs on Edmonton's streets and pathways.

Fear not the icy wind, cyclists, keep riding your bikes in winter

For some reason, we give up on cycling, even though it’s not winter yet.

It is November and practically winter. The radio declares an end of patio season, we grumble because it maybe-might snow and we speak longingly about when the temperature was in the double digits.

And yet for some reason, we give up on cycling, even though it’s not winter yet.
Last week, the city pulled bike corrals that provided extra parking in places like Old Strathcona and 124 Street. It declared it was packing up the corrals for winter.
Sure, it’s getting colder and we have to put on different and more clothes than we used to — but it’s also not winter yet.

Meanwhile, at my kids’ school, on the first day we needed gloves to ride comfortably, the once-pretty-full bike racks were almost completely empty.

The vast majority of these kids aren’t walking now; their parents are driving them to school. Predictably, the thoroughfare in front of the school is clogged with idling vehicles, parents often driving distractedly into the bike lane and through crosswalks.
Is the solution for the next six months to stay cocooned in our houses unless we’re head out in our cars?

Isla Tanaka doesn’t think so. One of two city employees devoted to the Winter City Initiative, she’s observes that the “shoulder” seasons (basically late fall, where we’re dismayed by summer ending, and early spring, when we’re sick of winter) are peak “complaining about the weather” times.

The Winter City Initiative, a 10-year plan now in its third year, wants us to see our winters as a positive part of our city’s identity. Instead of grumbling for half the year about the weather, the initiative aims to help us embrace that our city is covered in snow for half the year.

This transition is particularly stark, Tanaka thinks, since our late summer and fall were so pleasant. But we don’t have to give up on the outdoors.  “Put on a pair of gloves,” she says. “Make sure you have a windproof jacket. Once you get outside, you generate your own heat.”

On the transportation front, Winter City is collaborating with transportation and community groups like the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society to pilot better winter street cleaning for bicycle lanes. “Winter is the best argument for separated bike lanes,” says Tanaka, pointing out that most cyclists avoid streets during the winter purely for safety concerns.

And while the Freezeway, the super popular ice-skate-to-work idea hatched by Matt Gibbs, isn’t going to materialize this winter, at the Victoria Skating Oval downtown, the city is installing a one-kilometre skating loop through the woods. It’s not quite a commuter thoroughfare — and nor is it designed to be — but it’s a way to get around in the winter outdoors. There are lot more ways to get outside and get around these days that don’t involve sitting in a car.

But how to get there? Tanaka admits it’s a process, but she has seen more positive feedback on social media about winter than in any year previous. “It all has to do with stories. We have great stories as kids of playing outside in the winter — how do we keep telling those stories?”

Jay Smith is a writer who has cycled, walked and run on Edmonton’s streets and pathways her entire life.

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