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Mike Issakidis/the Gauntlet

New Google bike routes help winter riders

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A new biking icon can now be found next to the bus, car and walking options on Google Maps, encouraging local cyclists to plan their routes better. Google Maps added biking routes to select regions in Canada, including Calgary, on Dec. 2.

Calgary tour de nuit Society president Gary Beaton said the new Google Maps application helps cyclists avoid risky commutes during the height of winter storms.

"It's a great addition for Calgary cyclists trying to find a route," said Beaton. "Anybody who is new to the city or just trying to take up cycling will find it very useful."

The Calgary tour de nuit Society was inspired by a Montreal organization and founded in 2009 to promote bicycling in Calgary.

The Google Maps biking option was launched in the U.S. at the beginning of 2010 and recently expanded into the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Kelowna, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Gatineau and Waterloo. The option is similar to the walking, driving or transit route listings but hills and biking suitability are taken into consideration for the chosen route and marked accordingly. A dark green line indicates a bike-only trail, a lighter green line indicates a bike lane along a road and a dotted green line indicates roads that are suitable for biking, but have no designated bike path. Like other Google Maps directions, routes can be customized by users.

Bike Root volunteer Robbie Wilson said the new Google Maps option will be a great tool for recreational bikers planning new routes.

"Calgary has a lot great paths that are pretty unknown," said Wilson. "It's good to get off the roads and onto paths."

But extreme weather conditions during the winter add an extra risk factor for cyclists not indicated on the Google trails.

Wilson said biking on main roads can be dangerous with poor winter road conditions and drivers not paying-attention.

"Drivers are less aware of bikers in winter because it's pretty counterintuitive," said Wilson.

As a regular winter biker, Wilson said the weather should not deter cyclists. They must, however, use more caution during the winter months. In addition to the regular use of safety equipment, cyclists must have properly tuned bikes, reliable winter tires and extra lights because of the shorter days.

Beaton said lack of snow removal is one of the biggest deterrents for avid cyclists.

"I was driving down 10th Ave SW, which is a posted bike pathway," he said. "You would think that it would get extra care from the city but the normal biking path was just covered in slush."

While efficient snow removal is a constant topic at City Hall, Beaton said that he has yet to see results. Trying to rally for more bike paths throughout the city, he said city planners should take into consideration that during the peak of cold weather bikers travel faster than gridlocked cars.

Second-year English student Jacob Sewell said he notices bikers on the road even during winter months.

"I don't think anything will stop them from biking," said Sewell. "I am always extremely cautious when driving near bikers, but many times I have come really close to hitting one. The majority of bikers I have seen could show a lot more caution, we have to share the road."

Sewell said the Google Maps bike routes could be useful to both drivers and bikers if people used it. Many cyclists already have their route planned, so he doesn't think they will alter them too much.

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