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©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013“2014-02-05:  Engaging both new and seasoned cyclists of all ages, as well as those who want to bike but may not feel comfortable, is what the city centre cycle track network is all about, according to Ryan Murray, a spokesperson with the City of Calgary.

“The cycle tracks we’re proposing, they’re really built for everyone. We’re not just looking for people who have a bike in their garage now,” he said.

“With cycle tracks, it’s a new way of thinking about transportation in Calgary and it’s an important way to think about transportation in Calgary. We want to offer that choice that doesn’t exist now . . . Cycle tracks are built for people to use who are eight to 80. It’s really transportation for all.”

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Community gardens can satisfy more than just their gardeners’ nurturing  instincts for food and Nature. They add instant visual beauty and interest near 

Leslie St. community allotment gardens in light industrial area by Toronto's Waterfront bike-pedestrian path beside entrance to Leslie St. Spit. Gardens in existence over past 15 years. 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Leslie St. community allotment gardens in light industrial area by Toronto's Waterfront bike-pedestrian path beside entrance to Leslie St. Spit. Gardens in existence over past 15 years. 2011. Photo by J. Chong

 bike and pedestrian routes.  After all, car drivers are usually moving  too fast to encourage up close lingering and reflection on budding plants and garden art.   Sample approaches of community gardens in relation to active transportation routes, will be highlighted for cities of  Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

A Bright Spot in Industrial Area by Leslie St. Spit- Along Toronto’s Waterfront Bike Route

Leslie St. community gardens protected by fence on right. Waterfront bike-pedestrian path connects between Beaches area, east Toronto and along Lake Ontario into downtown Toronto by Harbourfront.

Leslie St. community gardens protected by fence on right. Waterfront bike-pedestrian path connects between Beaches area, east Toronto and along Lake Ontario into downtown Toronto by Harbourfront. Road is heavily used by trucks during work week 2011. Photo by J. Chong

 Fifteen years ago, before community gardens became the blooming rage for growing local food and flowers, I used to cycle to work daily and pass a large community garden along Toronto’s Waterfront bike route  –not far from the Leslie St. spit.  At that time, this garden had a low wire fence where one could look over top to see a profusion of plants, compost piles and garden lawn chairs scattered about for resting.

Now, the Leslie St. Allotment Community Gardens are protected by higher secure fencing.  But these gardens still thrive in the same location.  They have expanded and matured with some lawn grass rows and ever-thickening 

Well-loved new community gardens along abandoned Molson rail branch line off the Arbutus abanonded rail corridor.

Well-loved new community gardens along abandoned Molson rail branch line off the Arbutus abanonded rail corridor. At rail line corner stop on lst St. on bike route connecting between Granville Market and Burrard St. Bridge separated bike lanes. Vancouver BC 2011. Photo by J. Chong

 bushes.  Most likely, the choice location wasn’t because of the bike path location. It was  the reality, that sometimes people could drive and stop briefly to unload soil and other gardening tools.  Besides, the location was on a convenient plot of public land across from a light industrial area that continues to have flotillas of trucks rumbling on the road.  Thank goodness for a marked bike and walking route.  Without the Leslie St. allotment gardens and signed pathway, this area would be dull, bleak and an area to avoid.
 

lst St. community gardens line abandoned Molson rail branch line. To right of rail, is on-road bike lane. Vancouver, BC 2011. Photo by J. Chong

lst St. community gardens line abandoned Molson rail branch line. To right of rail, is on-road bike lane. Vancouver, BC 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Vancouver’s Spirited Reclaimation of Abandoned or Underused Land
Some Vancouver community gardens display creative reclamation of abandoned public right of ways and other underused land plots, such as traffic calming circles.  Just a 5-minute walk from the Granville Public Market, lst Ave. near Fir St., are recent new community gardens lining the  abandoned Molson branch rail line from the Arbutus Corridor, another abandoned rail line.

The gardens line a well used bike route that feeds to and from the popular Burrard St. Bridge separated bike lanes that are 2 blocks away. The Burrard Bridge separated bike lanes have a daily average of 5,300 cyclists. (2011)

Davis St. Village community garden in heart of Vancouver BC at Burrard and Davie St.

Davis St. Village community garden in heart of Vancouver BC at a busy corner of Burrard and Davie St. Cyclists transit, cars and pedestrians converge in this area. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 You can’t help but stop by to marvel bright red poppies, miniature tongue-in-cheek, homemade transmission line art and jewel-coloured floral annuals dotting  decorative grasses, ground cover plants and some veggies, including tomatoes.  It’s a brave garden: it has no fencing –yet. There’s even an arbour built right by the rail crossing sign.  Certainly cyclists have to slow down anyway to look,  in order to angle their wheels safely across the rail line.

One of several traffic calming circles which contain community gardens. Ontario St. bike route, Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by J. Chong

One of several traffic calming circles containing community gardens. Ontario St. bike route, Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by J. Chong. A road centrepiece that slows down cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

 After cycling another 10 minutes north on the separated bike lane via the Burrard St.  Bridge, you will reach the Davie Village garden. 

This community garden is planted right in the heart of downtown Vancouver,  at a street corner thronging with people, car traffic, buses and bikes during the day.  The garden has overtaken land where there was once a gas station. The land was specially prepared to contain soil contamination for gardening on top.  There, sunflowers rise like smiling, calm faces to greet the harried crowds and traffic.

The City of Vancouver had only discovered within the last few years, that its cycling network had some major routes close to a wide range of community gardens. Here are maps that combine its bike routes and community gardens.

Bright Spots in Calgary– A Prairie City
Calgary has less of a lengthy history and number of community gardens. People tell me it’s the shorter warm growing season since it is over  400 km. north or 8 

Community garden behind Fort Calgary, historic former Northwest Mounted Police site. Along Riverside bike-pedestrian path by Bow River. Calgary, AB 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker.

Community garden behind Fort Calgary, historic former Northwest Mounted Police site. Along Riverside bike-pedestrian path by Bow River. Calgary, AB 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker.

 degrees latitude north  of  Toronto.   While Vancouver has over 2,500 community garden plots, Calgary has 30 community gardens with over 115 garden plot allotments.

So the expectation to find many of Calgary’s community gardens near its signed bike routes and paths, is a bit premature at this time.  The most obvious community garden would be a large full community garden behind Fort Calgary along the heavily used Bow River bike path in the downtown core.  If it 

Toy piglet garden amulets adorn a temporary community garden in East Village while area is under construction. Calgary AB 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Toy piglet garden amulets adorn a temporary community garden in East Village while area is under construction with new condos, parkland in downtown Calgary AB 2011. Photo by J. Chong

  weren’t for the occasional concert and staging area for annual Calgary Stampede, this flat prairie parkland is otherwise underused. The community garden is a bright spot under the blazing hot, naked sun.
 
As you continue along the path and near the heritage Simmons Bedding Factory which now house architectural offices, there are temporary community gardens in the rising, rehabilitated East Village area.  The gardens pop cheerfully and humbly amongst the construction flurry of condos, a new Central Library and more. 

Food, flowers and visual interest at Leslie St. Allotment Community Gardens. Toronto 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Butternut squash, tomatoes, flowers and visual interest at Leslie St. Allotment Community Gardens. Toronto 2011. Photo by J. Chong

 Community gardens and bike-pedestrian routes, if well-positioned and integrated into community design, enhance neighbourhood property values, health of its residents, and promote conviviality among people in shared outdoor activities.

Further Reading and More Photos of  Other Community Gardens
Calgary Horticultural Society.  Community Gardens.  List provided with links.

Chong, Jean.  People’s Oases: Community Gardens. In Cycle Write Blog. Apr. 9, 2010.

Chong, Jean.  Touring Vancouver’s Community Gardens Along its Bike Route.  In Velo-city Global 2012 Conference Blog. Apr. 15, 2011.  Includes community gardens on front lawn of Vancouver City Hall.

City of Vancouver.  Community Garden Walking and Cycling Tours. Includes maps.

Toronto Community Garden Network.  Community Gardens in Toronto and GTA. For unknown reasons, Leslie St. Allotment Gardens are not on this list.

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Bike to Work Day. Calgary, AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike to Work Day. Calgary, AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 May 6, 2011 was Bike to Work Day in Calgary, Alberta.

Cycling from bike station to bike station with a pancake top-up along the way, a reoccurring question came forth again. Who are the customers of these bike stations and of Bike to Work campaigns conducted on streets?

Three scenarios seem to come forth: 

  • These bike or celebratory stations are intended to be encouragement for current commuter cyclists.
  •  Bike to Work is intended to draw out people who are new to commuting. So these stations are a way to encourage them to cycle to work and are a sort of a positive “you have done well” slap on the back to make them feel that they are not alone but part of a cycling commuting community. 
  • The Bike to Work stations are there to appeal to drivers to give cycling to work a try as an alternative to driving. The cyclists stopping at the stations are there to show drivers that it can truly be done.

Each of these scenarios has effect on location selection, on orientation of bike stations to drivers and to cyclists, and on signage.

Promoting cycling. Eau Claire Market bike commuter stop. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Eau Claire Market bike commuter stop. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

  For significant cycling mode share growth, drivers are the most promising customers for marketing pitches to make a modal shift to cycling or combine mobility with transit and cycling. If properly oriented and signed, bike to work stations can be a powerful tool for marketing to drivers, especially locations where a lot of cyclists congregate.

Cycling turnover is a potential for losing some gains of the already achieved modal conversions to cycling. A cycling planner in a mid-sized European city with a 25% cycling mode share estimated that if social marketing programs should end, the cycling mode share would deteriorate by 2% to 3%.  This estimation would support cyclist-focused bike stations.

Eau Claire Market Square commuter bike stop. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Eau Claire Market Square commuter bike stop. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by J. Chong

  If data was captured at these stations, on the percentage of cyclists stopping versus continuing past the station and supported by a simple survey, then some assessment could be made on the importance of these stations on dedicated and committed commuter cyclists. The survey should test for time span and commitment to commuting cycling.

With the goals in mind for cycling within a liveable city-community, then a strategy for bike station location can be developed  to support the city’s goals with an appropriate focus on drivers, on newbie commuter cyclists, and on dedicated commuter cyclists.

Bike to Work Day. Calgary, AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker. Set-up just after 6:00 am.

Bike to Work Day. Calgary, AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker. Set-up just after 6:00 am.

  By observing locations of the Calgary stations, it was not clear what the objective of the day was.  Anecdotally by observing the passing cyclists, they seem to be dedicated commuters, not sensitive to the elements or snow unless it gets too deep.  Winter studs on their tires are not something foreign to them.  They seem to be hardy cyclists dressed for the weather, not for cycling chic.  Helmet use was very high.  Cycling speed was fast where trip time is a consideration.  One of the cyclists noted that he does a 30 kilometres trip each way from home.

Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Prince's Isand commuter bike stop. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Prince's Isand commuter bike stop. Photo by HJEH Becker

  Friday, the 6th of May, 2011
 Observations – Calgary Bike to Work Day
Seven bike stations were distributed around the downtown core of the city.  Four of the stations were along the bike path systems of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.  These paths are part of the major arterial cycling network for commuters, all year round.  One of these stations was adjacent to an arterial road.  The other 3 stations were on the corners of arterial roads on the periphery of the downtown core. 

At the most westernly station, cyclists flew across a narrow pedestrian and cycling bridge positioned under the C-trains as they make their crossing over the Bow River.  As they approach  the riverbank, the brakes are applied fully so that a tight right turn could be maneuvered in time to hit the brakes even harder to stop in front of the bike station tent for an apple.  This station was not visible to car drivers or to C-Train passengers.  The station just served commuter cyclists.

At the next station, the location was removed from view of passing motorists in the middle of an island.  Again definitely there for commuter cyclists, the station was minimal and without a tent.   However, Eau Claire Market was just a short ride away over a bridge. 

Eau Claire Market Square main commuter stop station. Bike to Work Day. Calgary, AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Eau Claire Market Square main commuter stop station. Bike to Work Day. Calgary, AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 Eau Claire Market is well hidden from car commuting traffic and located on a residential street.  Wonder if the early music woke up the residents across the street.

The next stop was off the path and on the south-west corner of 2nd Ave as Centre St bridge dropped to the south side of the river into downtown, guarded by the lions well featured in some movies, including one where a car was “blown up” on the middle of the bridge.  This location was well situated to send a message to drivers on the 

Centre St. & 2nd Ave. SW. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 4, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Centre St. & 2nd Ave. SW. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 4, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 arterial road while cyclists flew by the station.  As one volunteer said, with speed of cyclists approaching 40 kilometres per hour, it was no a wonder that there were few stopping.  However, from a messaging perspective for motorists, this site was well located.

Commuter bike stop Edmonton Trail- 4th St., Memorial Dr. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB  May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Commuter bike stop Edmonton Trail- 4th St., Memorial Dr. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

  4th Ave and the Edmonton Trail, a couplet of high-traffic, one-way, multi-lanes arterial roads intersect Memorial Drive on the north side of the Bow River, then pass over the bike path and continue on two bridges to the south side. The bike station is located about 20 metres from the bridge end down a small knoll.  The visibility of the location is not ideal for either cyclists or for motorists.  Southbound cyclists are a bridge away, maybe 40 metres or so.  Cyclists along the river path are on their way down the underpass under the couplet roads by the bridge.  Since the path to the station includes a small hill climb, it is possible that the cyclists may not see the station.  The station is beyond the view of passing motorists on this linear park. This site does not seem to serve promotion of cycling to drivers or to cyclists very well.  With more volunteers, then one could have spotters at the side of the road with a bike to work banner and spotters on the path encouraging cyclists to visit the station.  After all, high cycling volume at stations is good advertisement to the drivers.

Commuter bike stop at Fort Calgary. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB  May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Commuter bike stop at Fort Calgary. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

  At Fort Calgary further along the path on the Elbow River, a station was set up close to an intersection of a cycling underpass and a surface path leading to a bridge on 9th Ave. SE.  The location did not serve cyclist well as they had to swoop up the underpass and divert out of their way to get to the station.  Meanwhile, the drivers coming over the bridge had their view blogged until the last minute by the structure of the bridge.  The location did not allow the volunteers to greet cyclists emerging from the underpass who were continuing along the trail in the opposite direction or wave to motorists with a huge grin as cars pass by.  Marketing opportunities were lost.

Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

  The next station is well located for high visibility for both motorists and cyclists.  It was perched on the sidewalk on the northeast corner on 10th Ave where 4th St starts its decline under the railway tracks into the downtown core.  The cycling traffic was significant on these roads.  10th Ave is a designated bike route on a collector street with capacity for 4 lanes depending if any cars are parked along the curb.  4th St is one of the few streets, which cross the railway tracks.
 

Stopping cyclist with goody bag at commuter bike station. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Stopping cyclist with goody bag at commuter bike station. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 The last station was also very well positioned right on the sidewalk and by the curb on 8th and 8th.  It would be hard for the motorists going downtown on either street to miss the bike station. Two volunteers were positioned across the street with their easy chairs, stopping cyclist, and giving them their bag of goodies. 

Enthusiastic volunteer at bike commuter stop. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Enthusiastic volunteer at bike commuter stop. Bike to Work Day. Calgary AB May 6, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 Other Observations
The Bike to Work Day event was well planned and carried out.
Many fast, dedicated cyclists whisked by the stations, calling out that they were committed cyclists or had forgotten to add extra time to their journey for a stop.  Others had stopped.  Some gave their bikes to the mechanics for a quick adjustment.
 
The cyclists were hard-core commuters and reaching their destinations was a prime driver.  The bicycles were not your daily commuter bikes having weathered many years.  Very few cyclists were women.  Parents towing children was a rarity.

The stations were somewhat visually sparse in appearance to attract you to them.  An estimate for activity levels at all the stations seems to be 1,000 cyclists stopping by.

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During the winter my cycling habits do get abit stuck in a snowbank whenever there is snow or ice.  In Toronto, my bike never saw sunlight from within the 

Bike parked in snow bank. Leavenworth, Washington 2009. Photo by J. Chong

Bike parked in snow bank. Leavenworth, Washington 2009. Photo by J. Chong

bike storage cave for the whole winter.  But then, I lived 16 kms. in the suburbs, away from downtown and separated by ravine parks and a cold lake waterfront where snow and ice stuck around for awhile.  

In Calgary, I’ve only kicked out my winter cycling abstinence by a notch:  I will cycle for grocery shopping,  if the pavement looks reasonably ice-free without me wandering out into the middle of the road to avoid an ice patch. The City does try to clear snow off its downtown riverside bike and pedestrian paths close to home.   Drier prairie air means drier snow for easier removal.

Winter Use of Bike Lanes:  Cycling Count Statistics vs. Flash Observations

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Mar. 2010. Opened a few weeks after Winter Olympics ended. Photo by HJEH Becker

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Mar. 2010. Opened a few weeks after Winter Olympics ended. Photo by HJEH Becker

In Vancouver, I  cycle-commuted to work  when I worked downtown on certain winter days. Otherwise, on weekends,  I ventured out for a brisk bike ride usually under 15 kms. at near freezing temperatures..  I confined my bike routes where possible, to quieter roads and bike paths (where there were just less pedestrians and joggers anyway). I preferred bike lanes. 

Snowclearing machine or perhaps, a big snowbrush for dry, prairie snow on bike-pedestrian path. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Snowclearing brush machine for removing dry, prairie snow on bike-pedestrian path. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 So is it really true that bike lanes are severely underutilized  in bad weather when there is heavy rain, some snow or ice?  It’s a favourite rant among drivers and other observers, especially when a separated bike lane was implemented by reassigning part of the road pavement real estate. 

Yes, right:  If this  short 1-3 min. observation was from a  driver waiting at a traffic light or whipping along the road.  Some cynics proclaimed their observations during the first year in Vancouver for  separated bike lanes on:  Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir St. and perhaps, Hornby St. 

Vancouver cycling count statistics for 2010 proved otherwise for sample separated bike lanes:

  • Burrard Bridge: Bad weather days – 300 to 400 cyclists daily. Otherwise, normal winter days range – 800 to 1,000 cyclists peaking to 3,000 daily (Winter 2009-Mar. 2010 including during the Winter Olympics with road closures starting, Nov. 2009-Mar. 2010.)
  • Dunsmuir St.: 1,000 to 1,600 cyclists daily (Oct. 2010)
  • Note: Vancouver installs bike counter equipment which generates data to support implementation of new cycling facilities. This cycling metrics program has been in place for last 2 years.

    Winter cycling on bike-pedestrian access ramp. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

    Winter cycling on bike-pedestrian access ramp by Bow River. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

     Is this cynicism really a motorist-blinkered perception?  Do they realize that residential streets and some downtown streets, are often at true traffic peak volume for approximately 1 hr. each during morning and late afternoon.  Meanwhile for the rest of the day, car traffic peeters out to occasional cars ambling calmly down the road every few minutes.

    That’s a short amount of daily optimal road use by cars for alot of wide, long pavement real estate.

    In fact, in engineering circles, there is a common design principle for roads designed to accommodate peak car traffic volumes for approximately 1 hr. each day. (Several decades ago, peak car volume was 15 min. or so. It must have been shortly just after the car speedsters were still celebrating after the horse and buggy disappeared.  Or perhaps when cities and towns were smaller.) 

    Downtown Calgary 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

    Downtown Calgary 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

     Bike Commuting Away from Peak Rush Hours
    Based on my daily cycling patterns during off-peak hours on business days over several months, most definitely there were streets simply safer and quieter to cycle.  My cycling schedule was oriented around  cycling during lighter car traffic periods after 9:00 am or before 7:00 am.  I avoided impatient car commuters and the congestion of parents dropping off their children at school.  In Vancouver, I had been living downtown for several years.

    One job required a long,  multi-modal commute of cycling, transit rail, bus and then a walk to work site.  I wrote about this commute in an earlier blog article.   But my bike ride was stress-free, since I started early morning at 5:30 am and later, homeward from the transit bike locker after 6:30 pm.  At both ends of the day, I dealt with little car traffic even though the bike commute did include some major road intersections.  The route did include a blend of bike lanes, multi-purpose bike-pedestrian paths and quiet residential streets. Major commercial streets only covered less than 5 kms. of a 13 km. one-way bike route.

    Hornby St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Dec. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Bike lane opened after considerable debate and public consultation with business owners and general public.

    Hornby St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Dec. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Bike lane opened after considerable debate and public consultation with business owners and general public.

     Just like car drivers testing out new roads and bridges, it takes several years for cyclists to change their riding routes to integrate sections of recently built bike lanes. So don’t be surprised that winter and rainy season cycling traffic is lower but growing. After all, with Vancouver’s winters far more balmier than most other Canadian cities, there is good reason that bike lane use will increase.

    After all, go to the website, Copenhagenize, where during the winter months there are many photos of Copenhageners cycling through snow and rain. The city makes it a priority to clear their separated bike lanes over cars, because their daily cycling volumes are high. 

    Within the last few weeks, snow-removal of bike paths and lanes was a hot Internet topic on a North American listserve for the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Perhaps this reflects an increased appetite for winter cycling.

    Further Reading:
    City of Vancouver.  Bike Vancouver for updated cycling statistics on key bike lanes and routes. Including Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir and Hornby separated bike lanes.

    Chong, Jean.  Biking to Work in More Challenging or Isolated Work Areas.  May 22, 2010.

    Copenhagenize web site.

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