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The Calgary cycling community is calling for more bike lanes downtown.
Sarah Dorchak/the Gauntlet

Cyclists unite to advocate common interests

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With a bright sky and sunlight dancing on bicycle spokes, the Calgary tour de nuit Society kicked off their second annual Ride the Road event last weekend. The race, along with a bike festival, aims to promote the Calgary cycling community and advocate for more cycling-focused infrastructure.

"There are few other organizations around the world like us," said Calgary tour de nuit Society event co-ordinator Amy Babiak.

According to Babiak, the society was formed in early 2009 by the cycling community, inspired by similar organizations in Melbourne, Copenhagen and Montreal.

Many other cycling organizations were invited to the race including Bike Root, a University of Calgary club.

"We've been working on this event with them a little bit," said club co-ordinator Lance Ayer. "They are really involved with City Council and advocacy. We're more the community shop."

Bike Root encourages healthy lifestyles, a sense of community and environmental sustainability by providing members with the tools, space and expertise on how to build and maintain bikes. They also have build-a-bike and bicycle library programs.

"Bikes are just so in right now," Ayer explained. "When you're biking around, you're much more connected to what's going on, you're not in some bubble. Bikes are just coming into mainstream and are viewed as inherently good. That's a pretty unique sell to people."

U of C English professor and cyclist Frances Batycki agrees.

"Cycling is a culture and lately that culture has opened up to all levels of riders," said Batycki.

She added that new cycling magazines are being printed "for all of us who fall between flashy lycra and mountain bikers."

While Batycki regularly bikes in the country, she often finds herself confined to her vehicle within city limits, even though she lives only 11 kilometres away from campus.

"The current conditions for cycling as commuting are treacherous," said Batycki. "The only road the city says is forbidden is Deerfoot, but you wouldn't catch any sane person trying to go straight down Crowchild Trail."

"Even bike routes or paths sometimes just end and you have to try to pick up a trail somehow or even ride on sidewalks to get to the next leg."

Gordon Miller, a 54-year-old accountant, regularly commutes to work on his bicycle.

"I think we have very good recreational paths," he said. "But that's not as good for people trying to get somewhere, getting to work, to do errands."

"If Calgary could develop the infrastructure more that would be helpful," said Miller. "It's a question of deciding where priorities lie."

Miller said it's a priority that has fallen between the cracks in Calgary.

Despite currently having 707 kilometres of pathways, 260 kilometres of on-street bike routes and the third highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the country (1.5 per cent), Calgary still trails behind in bicycle infrastructure development compared to cities such as Vancouver or Montreal according to the cities' online cycling information.

The tour de nuit Society developed a solution called the Road Diet. The diet proposes narrowing one way avenues in the downtown business district and dedicating the new space to a bicycle lane. The lane would be located on the left side of the avenue so transit stops remain unaffected. A portable, concrete barrier separates and protects the bicycle commuters from the main flow of traffic. No major construction is required, which reinforces a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable mode of transportation in the city.

With more people supporting the growing cycling community, Calgary's priorities may shift from car-centric attitudes to a more viable transportation method.

"The city is still trying to separate bikes and cars, but that's not the way to go," Ayer said. "To me, bikes are traffic and more needs to be done to make it a viable way to get around the city."

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