More than 280 cycling advocates, engineers, academics and planners from around the world will be in Calgary over the next couple days as the city hosts the 2019 Winter Cycling Congress.
It’s the seventh annual international event, which discusses opportunities and best practices for cycling in cold climate cities, and Tom Thivener, active transportation projects coordinator with the City of Calgary, said it’s the perfect time for the event to be held in Calgary.
“It’s a privilege to host it – the first time in Western Canada,” said Thivener.
Thivener said the city has come a long way in providing alternative modes of transportation over the past few decades. Starting with the CTrain in the 80s, the extensive pathway system through the early part of the new millennium and now the extension of that system to the on-street cycling network.
“Low and behold we have 90 kilometres that have been created or modified since the cycling strategy took hold,” he said.
“If you look at where we’ve come from and where we’re headed, it definitely a good time to bring the Congress to Calgary.”
The city’s fickle winter climate does pose challenges other cities don’t face – Chinooks melting snow, creating ice patches that can be tough for city crews to track down – but it also provides the benefit of being able to ride year round, often in milder temperatures.
Thivener said when you compare it to a place like Finland, where they often ride on packed snow, avoiding frequent icy conditions, Calgary is a unique place to cycle in winter. Other cities deal with icy rains and freezing temperatures which make winter riding uncomfortable and wet at the best of times.
When diving into Calgary’s winter cycling data, Thivener said the one thing that stands out to him is the fact that there are more cyclists using the on-street network in the winter now than there were cycling on Calgary streets during the summer prior to the cycle track.
“It’s a really a credit to the infrastructure, but also the determination of riders to want these transportation options and want them to be available year-round.”
He did note that winter trips are 30 per cent of those on a typical summer day but attributed that to the likelihood that the same riders were still out there, just limiting their trips by bundling outings together.
“In the winter it’s a fair number of the same people. Only a certain number are fairweather cyclists out there,” he said.
Still, Thivener acknowledges ongoing challenges with maintenance, especially in areas where they can’t respond immediately, or where there are gaps in snow clearing. One area in particular they’re addressing is in clearing bike boulevard connectors on some of the city’s dead-end streets where larger equipment can’t turn around.
He said a recent boost to the operations budget for pathways and the cycling network should help them address some of the shortcomings – hopefully in time for next winter.
“The river pathway system stays busy year round and the on-street stuff is no different. We’re trying to level the playing field by getting similar quality maintenance protocols on each so people can predict them,” he said.
While some may question the need for cycling infrastructure given Calgary’s northern climate, Thivener said the city’s made major strides in providing more transportation options.
“We have to step back and see how far we’ve come. We can debate about how fast we’re moving, and that’s healthy debate, but in the end, we’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple decades around sustainable transportation.”
The Winter Cycling Congress runs from Feb. 6 to 8 at the new Central Library.