The devil wears cycling shorts

By Dale Miller

Cyclists are not the enemy. As a rule, they don’t hunt down children or the elderly. They aren’t a danger to the city’s bike path users, and you shouldn’t believe the city’s media outlets when they paint them as monsters who hunt down pedestrians for sport.

Two recent bike path accidents have demonized cycling in a city already desperately behind the times when it comes to car-less commuting. People have become afraid of cyclists as a result of this unfair witchhunt.

By comparison, commuting by bike is far safer, environmentally sound and healthier than commuting by car. Unfortunately, Calgary and its car culture make it incredibly hard for this trend to spread.

Granted, Calgary has a substantial 550km network of multi-use bike paths throughout the city. But to the 80 per cent of total users who use the paths for commuting and exercise, the trails are functionally retarded.

Most sections of the paths have a posted speed limit of 20 km-h, while some drop down to 10 km-h. These speeds make it inconvenient time-wise for commuters, and next to impossible for anyone but the most unfit to break a sweat. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see people blasting down the trails trying to get to work on time, or struggling to improve their maximum heart rate.

People see this and remember hearing about a child and an elderly person getting hit by a cyclist in the same month, and start screaming for heads. Hearing their call, the city is more than happy to answer in the cheapest and easiest way possible–a bike path crackdown using a handful of bylaw officers armed with radar guns.

Instead of taking the easy out, making it hard for people to commute and exercise by attacking pathway speeding, the city should address the real problem: Calgary’s lack of bike-friendly infrastructure.

Calgary needs to make paths and roadways where cyclists can travel without fear of getting squashed by cars or bowling over pedestrians. Calgary needs dedicated bike trails separate from pedestrian paths, separate bike lanes on its major roads and dedicated bike streets with road blocks to hinder all but local car traffic. Vancouver has done it, why can’t we?

Admittedly, these upgrades wouldn’t be cheap, but the benefits of such a move are compelling. If more Calgarians are turned onto bike commuting, downtown congestion would be thinned out, our country-topping parking problem would be relieved, our air quality would improve and the overall health of a population group will skyrocket. The rest of the country has realized this, why can’t we?

The next time you hear about an accident on the city’s pathways don’t be fooled into blaming the high speed of the cyclists. Instead, look towards the low speed of Calgary’s progression towards healthy, car-free living.

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