Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cycling for you Commutes

Photo Courtesy of

It wasn't until last year when I truly noticed the benefits of bicycles.  I had lived in downtown Edmonton and had a job that was 20 minutes walking and 8 minutes transit away.  So I lived too far to walk everyday, and too close to justify spending $80 on a bus pass every month.  I decided to try taking my bike out, I was fortunate to live a block away from a designated bikeway, so I wouldn't have to try and navigate the treacherous Jasper Ave.  I was amazed with how quick it was to get to work, with a travel time of 6 minutes.  Ever since my bike was my main choice of transport anywhere in the vicinity of downtown.  If I was volunteering at the Folk Fest I took my bike.  If I was meeting people at the Hawrelak park for a picnic, I took my bike.  If I was going to an event at Churchill Square, I took my bike. Bicycles are a steal of an investment at only $400.  By utilizing my bike as my main mode of transportation I was able to forgo the cost of a full bus pass,  for bus ticket booklets at a quarter of the cost. 

Some of the other benefits of bicycles include:

  • Since a bicycle consists of very few moving parts (wheels, brake mechanism, gear system, chain) your only maintenance costs every year are very minimal  and basically only include lubricating your chain
  • Since a bicycle is human powered, you are getting exercise.  Since you are getting more exercise this means that you will less likely develop health problems.  If more people would choose to bike for their commutes this would result in lower costs for the health care system, since less people are going in for health problems and being unfit.
  • You can get where you need to quicker than commuting via automobile sometimes, you heard me right.  Given the slim profile you have while biking, often you can glide past parked traffic at a light.  Since cars take up so much space, and since they have the power to kill with their weight, drivers don't have much maneuverability when they approach a red light.  Often cars will pass me, and often when they are parked 10 cars deep at a light I can pass them to get right up to the intersection.  Routes for bikes often travel through areas that a car is not given access to, such as parks and greenways.
  • Since bicycles are human powered this means that there are significant reductions in harmful emissions and pollutants.  By having cleaner air less citizens are visiting the doctors due to asthma or breathing illnesses.
  • The small size of bicycles also mean that you do not have to have a garage or driveway to store it.
  • Parking is free, there is no required vehicle registration, or insurance.
  • If you need storage capacity on your bicycle, cargo bikes are available which could allow you to transport belongings, pets and children if needed.
Cycling in Alberta

As it stands right now Edmonton's and Calgary's bike networks are in need of large improvements.  Edmonton has 835 km of installed bike routes and paths while Calgary has 990 km, giving Calgary a slight edge.  However as you can see, both networks are quite fragmented.

You will also notice that the existing bike routes tend to follow the river valleys or green areas.  There are a few problems with this, one being that cities are sending the message that they do not consider bicycles as viable form of transportation and are only encouraging people to use bikes for recreation. These recreational routes twist and turn and are not practical for getting somewhere quickly.  In order for people to want to cycle to work, direct and quick routes need to be provided.  Routes cannot be planted in the middle of nowhere with no connections to anywhere else.  This is necessary for safety reasons, as cars and bikes require slightly different infrastructure needs, and cyclists are putting themselves in danger by utilizing unmarked paths due to the odd driver that doesn't respect the rules of the road. Our governments have to show that they are serious about cycling as a form of commuting, and they can do this by designating bike lanes along major arterial roads, and establishing a seamless pan-city network.  If you design a bike network properly like cities in Germany, cyclists can cross the city scape in half hours.

Both cities need to really to step up funding cycle infrastructure and it especially looks bad when according to the City of Edmonton to install 489 km (essentially increasing our existing bike network by 50%) of new bike routes over 7 years would only cost $14 million per year.  The budget for Edmonton's roads per year is $421 million, in 2008 only 1% of the total transportation budget went towards cycling and sidewalk infrastructure.  This means that our governments do not even divert the necessary 3% (a small amount) of the total transportation budget in order to proved cyclists with a safe and efficient network.

Calgary's Bike Network

Edmonton's Bike Network

Edmonton 102 Avenue Bike Route
Proper Bike Route Design

There are also problems with the existing designated bike routes.  A few of Edmonton's bike paths are designated as "Bike Routes," such as the one I used to commute to work.  These routes simply consist of a widened lane and a blue sign indicating that it is in fact a bike route.  The fact that the bike route signs are only posted every couple of blocks does not provide drivers with the constant reminder that cyclists are on the road.  Most drivers do not understand that the extra width to the lane is for cyclists.  Debris and gravel constantly poses as problem, as it usually is pushed aside into the bike lane. 

Segregated Bike Lanes
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The ultimate solution for these routes and all bike routes would be to have segregated bike lanes as shown above.  Segregated bike lanes provide the most protection for bike cyclists due to a raised curb, or some form of physical barrier.  The barrier prevents irresponsible drivers from trying to cut into the bike lane without looking.  The barrier also prevents illegal and dangerous parking as shown below, when a cyclist is faced with this dilemma they have two choices cut around into a busy street which is dangerous for the cyclist or cut onto the sidewalk which is dangerous for pedestrians.  Segregated bike lanes provide the quickest and safest option.  At the very least the large arterial roads with heavy traffic should have segregated lanes to ensure that the quickest routes are available.

Dangerous Parking on Bike Lane
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Segregated bike lanes may not be suitable for every bike route since the barriers cost more money, and the car traffic in certain areas is not significant enough to pose a threat to a cyclists safety.  As an alternative bike lanes should be built as shown below. The bike lane is indicated with a bright fluorescent reflective paint, that way any drivers on the road are constantly reminded of the presence of the bike lane.  The reflective paint also helps illuminate the bike lane at night time similar to the lines that separate car lanes.  At any intersection the bike lane should extend to cover the whole lane as shown below, this is necessary to stop drivers from trying to make right turns and potentially injuring the cyclists.  Many drivers do not understand that cyclists are allowed to own the part of a lane like any other vehicle.  And thus the highly visible design is necessary to protect cyclists rights and safety, it is also pleasing on the eyes.

Proper Bike Lane and Intersection Design
Photo's Courtesy of &

Bike lanes should always be built alongside the curb, this way it is one less time that a car would need to enter the bike lane.  For example if you designed the bike lane to be on the nearer the center of the road outside a parking lane, this means that  cyclists constantly have to worry about drivers entering or leaving a parking stall.
 Roads should also be designed to slope towards a central drainage, therefore cyclists do not have to wade through the large puddles that accumulate during rainy days.  Copenhagen slopes the bike lanes quite drastically with respect to the car lane as a protective measure since cars do not want to drive on a slant.
Example of a Bike Lane on the Inside of a Parking Lane
Photo Courtesy of
 Roads should also be designed to slope towards a central drainage, therefore cyclists do not have to wade through the large puddles that accumulate during rainy days.  Copenhagen slopes the bike lanes quite drastically with respect to the car lane as a protective measure since cars do not want to drive on a slant.

Bike Parking

There needs to be more of it, period.  There should be bike racks for every block.  It should be mandatory for businesses to provide bike parking stalls/racks.  They do not have to be fancy, but why can't businesses take up one parking stall to provide a bike rack for cyclists.  Cyclists should not have to get creative by locking up their bikes to trees, road signs and take up what little room there is available on sidewalks. 


There are several legislation that are detrimental to encouraging cycling.  Helmet laws should not be implemented except for the youth.  By making helmets mandatory you create portray that image that cycling is dangerous creates a culture of fear towards cycling.  I personally do not wear helmets as they will not save your life from a collision with a vehicle.  On that note, the media needs to stop playing up a cycling death as the result of an individual not wearing a helmet.  The penal system needs to be adjusted to be harsher for drivers that cut off cyclists and cause injury, or death.

Cyclists and pedestrians should have their own separate traffic laws.  It is not practical to expect a cyclist to stop at each and every light or stop sign.  The rules that cyclists and pedestrians have to follow are designed for automobiles, whose drivers are shielded from the elements.  When a cyclist or pedestrian has to wait longer when it -30°C or raining it affects them more profoundly, where a driver is able to stay dry and warm in their vehicle. The traffic legislation should be rejigged to provide cyclists with yield rather than stoppage laws and priorities over vehicles at the majority of intersections.

The best way to make cycling safer is to get more people cycling.  The more that cycling becomes mainstream, the more that drivers are accustomed to watching out for cyclists.

For the Cyclist

If you are worried that drivers will be able to get away with bad behavior towards cyclists while you are out and about, there are cameras that you can purchase.  These cameras can be installed forward, backward or both directions and come with black box features, in that the data will not be lost in the case of an accident.  There was recently a case of a cyclist using a camera in the UK where a accident was caused by a driver due to him threatening the cyclist.  Due to the camera the cyclist was able to prove that he was not the cause of the accident.


  1. I should point out that cycling still declined when the helmet law was passed for children. The Dutch do just fine without a law for even under 18s. As you said, helmets will do little if anything to protect against cars, and my best research tells me that to reduce the remaining crashes, we'd have to have things like reducing the number of bollards we use and angle the curbs next to our streets and cycleways.

    I also point out that you propose solutions most similar to Denmark, Copenhagen in particular. The Dutch are even better at this. You can build the bike network extremely quickly under the Danish model, a string of plastic bollards and paint with those little parking lot style curbs will make a network within a few months, but the ultimate plan should be to expand it to permanence and like how sidewalks usually have a good verge from the road. You also need to highlight the roads that are not collector roads or arterial roads which would get protected bike lanes and cycle tracks, they need 30 km/h limits and low volumes. You can do this with painting those advisory bike lanes like you see what the Dutch do on their rural 60 km/h roads as well and using angled parking, not perpendicular, and alternating sides of the roads every say 100 metres to create chicanes that are really good at reducing speeds, and then you can use access restrictions with paint, signs and flex bollards to create thousands of kilometres of this within months.

    And you also need to reform the urban landscape and buildings, the distance makes it harder to convince people to cycle and it's easy for the wind to flow by. If you add those small 10-25 metre/side 2-4 story buildings next to the street, it makes it feel like a people's place.

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