A few weeks ago I was at the Winter Cycling Congress in Calgary. This was the 7th Annual event hosted by the Winter Cycling Federation. I came away with about 40 pages of notes from the event and a fantastic lineup of speakers. Rather than transcribe all of that, i've tried to note the main takeaways from each presentation I attended. These are interspersed with some photos from riding around Calgary and Canmore in conditions truly appropriate for the conference, typically around -20 with an extra -10 added for windchill. Hopefully I don't do anyone a disservice by misquoting you...
The day started with a brief intro from Pekka Tahkola, the Vice President of the Winter Cycling Federation, and a video of kids cycling to school in Finland, one of his photos from twitter is shown below. Around 1,000 kids ride to school in winter in a school of 1,200. They have separated paths to ride all the way to school without even crossing the road. That school is in Oulu, home of the first Winter Cycling Congress. It's a sight to be seen. Might have to book a winter vacation there some day.
Michael Thompson, GM of Transportation, City of Calgary
Michael provided some quick facts about the City's success with changing its mode share, rapidly implementing its bike network, building iconic bridges, expanding LRT, right-sizing roads, etc. Bicycle use is up 252% from 1996 to 2018 into downtown. Car use is down 9%, transit use is up 91%, pedestrian trips are up by 123%. He showed a mode split map demonstrating where people are commuting by bike, the blue section just keeps increasing as more and more people use the bike for transportation. He also talked about efforts to keep facilities clear in winter and how they achieved some of the facilities by right-sizing streets.
Gabe Klein, former Transport Commissioner in Chicago and author of Start-Up City gave the first keynote of the event. He talked about challenges related to transportation which will be familiar to most, pollution, climate change, health, and depression effects of our transportation system. He talked about how we should look to the past to see how cities worked best prior to the introduction of the car. An important concept was the flexibility to make mistakes, learn from them and fix them. He also talked about how induced demand in reverse, i.e. constrain capacity and build active transportation infrastructure. He talked about setting aggressive goals and setting them within a political timeframe such that they can be achieved by current council. Whats coming? Shared, electric, autonomous vehicles, they must understand cyclists, AV's will kill auto sales, reduce traffic fatalities, parking will be repurposed, vehicles will be purpose built, not like regular cars today, innovation will be driven by the private sector, must collaborate with government, human driven cars will be banned from city centres, augmented reality will be used for wayfinding, energy will be free, people will work less, behaviour change will be incentivized, focus on outcomes and happiness.
Danny talked about the preferences of those that don't currently cycle. He interviewed 189 people, 25% cyclists, 75% non-cyclists, about barriers, wants, and infrastructure preferences. The biggest difference between cyclists and non-cyclists was the level of comfort next to cars. 8% of the cyclists stated they were uncomfortable while 55% non-cyclists stated they were uncomfortable. Their wants were better driver behaviour, separation and enforcement of traffic rules, each essentially speaking to a desire for increased safety. He asked each to rate level of comfort with different types of bicycle infrastructure, interestingly the level of comfort didn't vary much for the cyclists with only slight increases in comfort for the separated infrastructure, while for the non-cyclists, the level of comfort increased considerably for the protected facilities. Conclusion, don't build infrastructure for cyclists, build it for those that don't cycle.
Kevin talked about winter weather and undertook a rigorous analysis of cycling volumes and weather statistics on the Peace Bridge and 5th Street in Calgary. HE grouped cyclists into groups based on time of day or day of week, so AM and PM peak were assumed to be mostly commuters, while weekend was assumed to be mostly recreation, midday and evening was assumed to be more social. Commuters volumes were found to vary less with bad weather such as rain, snow, or cold temperatures. Wind was found to have little effect. Recreational riders increased significantly on warm days. lack of daylight in winter led to a small reduction. December to March see lower volumes than other months.
F. Sadeghpour & J.D. Hunt
This presentation talked about measuring preferences in cycling infrastructure. They tried to determine the value of investment for facility types, comparing cost v utility. For example a Sharrow has a very low cost, but also very low utility, a cycle track is the opposite. They used stated preference surveys to play games with respondents examining different scenarios. 1,800 people played the games 4 times, unsurprisingly, the safer separate infrastructure provided better utility and happiness, those with poor conditions reduced utility and happiness.
Tom is the author of Frost Bike, for his keynote he asked some friends to explain what they like about their cities in winter. In Winnipeg there was a protected bike lane with space for snow storage. In Montreal, the cycle tracks are cleared overnight and snow banks are removed regularly to avoid buildup, noted that painted lanes disappear when theres snow. In Minneapolis, he noted we should consider everyone, for example those with cargo bikes or trailers. In Tilburg in the Netherlands, bike and pedestrian tunnels provide a brief respite from the winter, but need to feel safe with good lines of sight and lighting, furthermore, good indoor bike parking and end of trip facilities make it easier. In Oulu, Finland, they have cycle superhighways with no at-grade road crossings, rather than clear the snow, they pack it down to create a nice surface for riding on. Make it safe, fast, and easy and people will do it.
Lesley provided the first of several stories about how winter biking, in her case, how its a beautiful and peaceful experience, almost never fails to be amazing, how cycling keeps her sane, and how you can thrive by overcoming challenging conditions. She also noted that winter cycling is often seen as extreme but we think nothing of people skiing or snowshoeing. Winter cycling is growing in popularity through, bike shops are seeing winter as a new market, as products evolve to better manage the conditions. Just like in summer, it helps you get ready for your day int he morning, or forget about it int he evening.
Carly is the bike traffic reporter on CJSR radio, you can listen to some of their discussions here https://soundcloud.com/cjsrfm/sets. This started as a parody of regular traffic reports but has evolved to cover all sorts of bicycle related topics. Look for the bike related content in the link above.
Marie-Helene just completed her masters project to study winter cyclists in Montreal. She was interested in the concept of Nordicity, or the physical and mental requirements to live in a nordic country. Her focus was on the lived, perceived, and imagined experience. She noted that people often asses beauty of place by the proximity to nature and that winter brings nature closer to the urban environment by coating it in snow. Of the physical experience, the snow can add a sense of fun or adventure that is different from the normal experience riding a bike. The perception fo cold is often subjective or imagined if dressed appropriately.
Candace talked about how she was inspired by the Dutch to be a winter commuter. They still ride no matter the weather, an example of providing safe infrastructure and people will ride. Weather is not the primary factor in deciding whether to ride.
Tegan was representing the Peterborough Bike Association, she talked about the advocacy puzzle, and to focus at the municipal level where efforts are most tangible, in that you can make things happen on the ground. They focussed their efforts on making sure they were talking tot he right people and set up a system to track interactions. They leveraged excitement about new facilities and competition with neighbours.
Kylie represents the Living Streets Alliance in Tucson, Arizona. They formed as the existing advocacy committee were mostly retired and favoured recreational projects, they were not supportive of urban bicycle infrastructure for transportation. The stressed the advocates need to be representative of the whole community, not just their own pet projects.
Lars is the Vice President of the European Cyclists Federation. In an interesting take, he suggested when any new council is elected, advocates should work with the most receptive member to make them the hero of the story. He also talked a little about moving beyond vision zero, in other words, not just saving lives, but enhancing them.
Sue talked about the Winter City YEG initiative to embrace the winter. As a nation Canada used to pride itself as the land of ice and snow, but there's an increasing tendency to complain about the cold and stay inside. Locking ourselves up for several months of the year can have a negative effect on our mental health. Winter festivals embrace winter and outdoor public life. Current patterns are dictated by the current system, change the system and we can change behaviours, for example protected cycling infrastructure thats ket clear or heated transit shelters. Don't make winter seem like a second class season.
Robin talked about winter wellbeing. Different seasons bring different amounts of light and many people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). His initiative to bring SAD lamps to library's got people out of the house and experience the effects of these lamps. It also emphasized the importance of getting people out and being social. Getting out is important to our mental wellbeing and if people can't get out their mental health will suffer. People lose their dignity and could be trapped for days, even weeks, if sidewalks are not cleared. The quality of snow clearing is important too, ruts in partially cleared snow present great difficulty for people with wheeled mobility devices or even those unstable on their feet. Its not a nice experience when it feels like the city is trying to kill you. Snow clearing is not just about accessibility, it affects peoples mental health.
Paul is the CEO of The Forks North Portage Partnership in Winnipeg. He also presented stories of how they are embracing winter. Their site was abandoned by a railway int he 60's and was a wasteland until they took it over and redeveloped it as a cultural centre for the City. Their formula is easy, bring exciting things to the City, attract people, they spend money, creates revenue that's reinvested in exciting things. The centre wasn't initially busy in winter but in 2000, they decided to embrace it with skating, snow sculptures, winter trails, longest river skating trail and winter warming huts. Worldwide competition now has architects designing new warming huts every year. They are now so successful they are trying to get people out fo their cars and onto other modes through building their own bike infrastructure.
Don talked about a culture of safety, while 94% of deaths are due to human failure, thats just the last causal event, design led up to it. Police reports tend to attribute blame rather than look at underlying causes. Shared responsibility is not a valid argument for road safety until design considers all modes equally. Speed limits must reflect design, not vice versa, and Level of Service is not a standard, its just a guideline. Safety is more important.
Tony talked about the evaluation of safety benefits in the City of Calgary. He stressed it's important to tell better stories through better evaluation. Evaluation was a key part of the Safer Mobility Plan for the City. The cycle track network was implemented rapidly because there was so much opposition, it had to work. Prove how successful it is, report safety benefits in terms of collision reductions and reductions in severity, and with regard to disruption report limited travel time disruption.
It's actually legal to text and drive in 4 US states. Texting has been shown to reduce collisions in 0 US states. We believe we pay more attention than we do. When driving we look for other cars more than pedestrians or cyclists. Familiarity also reduces attention. Target low driver performance with design. Humans make mistakes and if they're comfortable or aren't afraid they won't pay attention.
Justin talked about striving for shared streets, if we mix modes it provides efficient use of streets. 80% of streets in the Netherlands are shared use streets, importantly they are all 30 km/h zones. Infrastructure is predictable, if you are in shared space, the speed limit is 30 km/h or less. The car is a guest. If you're on a higher speed street there is separated infrastructure.
Chris and Melissa Bruntlett
Chris and Melissa Bruntlett recently wrote the book 'The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality - Building the Cycling City', I posted a review of that a few months back here but they covered a lot fo the topics in this session. Without repeating the entire book here, some key things, it's not just because it's flat in the Netherlands, it's because they have the infrastructure. Fortune favours the brave, build iconic and high quality infrastructure and you can put your city on the map. There are no negative outcomes, streets are safer, people are healthier and happier, and its often better for drivers too. The best time to build a cycle track is 20 years ago, second best is now.
Winter Riding in Calgary and Canmore
And with that we ended with a cycle track tour of Calgary at -19 (feels like -28), we used the lime electric bike share bikes, albeit I think mine was lacking in battery power as it seemed like pretty hard work. Probably the first time riding a bike where my eyelids were freezing up. Feet were a little cold, but probably only because we were stopping to look at things.
We added on a day in Canmore which was even colder at -22 (feel like -36) where we learned about Canmore's work to improve travel choices with many new pieces of protected cycling infrastructure recently implemented, being implemented or planned for implementation. We learned about the towns Cycling Without Age program which is having a profound effect on the lives of Canmore's elderly population and we heard from Community Cruisers, a local bike advocacy group who gave us some insights into their work to increase cycling with various events and safe routes to school programs.
In went on a tour around Canmore in the morning to view some of the infrastructure and in the afternoon did some fat biking on the trails around town.
All of my photos are on my flickr page.
Winter Riding Back in Vancouver
Well Burnaby... The conference was quite timely, back home I'd been riding in shorts before I left. A few hours after I landed back in Vancouver, the snow arrived, and has not really left. Inspired by the conference, and poor SkyTrain service when it snows, I've been ploughing through fields of powder on my way to work. The ebike makes surprisingly short work of a few inches of snow!