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 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
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 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 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
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.
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.
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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