A summer of bicycle commuting

Driving and riding a bike never came naturally to me. I am grateful to my father for all his patience in teaching me these essential activities. I imagine there are some kids that get on a bike for the first time and are off to the races. I doubt I was one of these. However, I learned and continue to ride a bike, not because it is a natural thing for me to do but because it is very useful — and because breaking out of your comfort zone is often a worthwhile endeavour.

Last summer was the first time I ever rode with cars. I was out for a ride with a friend who works as a bicycle mechanic and was far more confident than me. The every time that cars whizzed by us or impatiently waited behind us I thought to myself, “I am going to die, I am going to die, I am going to die.” But then I didn’t. It was actually quite fine. And actually quite fun.

Then this summer I got a job downtown. I had originally planned on taking the bus but was alarmed by how expensive Calgary Transit is after having effectively free transit through my university tuition. They do not offer student passes and $90.00 a month to sit on a crowded lurching bus seemed a bit steep.

Then it occurred to me: bikes are free and they never leave without you. Thus began my summer of cycling to and from work.

The first time I rode to work was scary. I didn’t know the route very well, or what to expect. I also didn’t feel comfortable riding with cars, not that there were a whole lot of them in residential areas in Calgary’s inner city in the morning hours.

Every day I got better and more confident. Awkward pedal strokes became confident, and I stopped noticing what I was doing. Riding on the road became second nature to me — for the most part, there are some roads I choose not to ride down because they are either too fast, or too narrow and busy for cyclists — it was something I just got up every day and did without thinking about it.

The other upside is that I no longer worried about finding time to go to the gym or feeling lazy and inactive. I worked out for an hour every day and never had to consciously make an effort to be fit. My commute became my workout. It was a much more comfortable and effective use of my time. It also took me less time to ride my bike home from work than it took to ride the bus home through rush hour traffic.

I had five near collisions this summer — as in ones that given a few inches and seconds could’ve resulted in at minimum road rash. One was with a car that ran a stop sign. I managed to swerve and avoid them with only a bruised leg. This was the only time I came close to being hit by a car. Other cyclists were responsible for two. The most frightening part of my commute was hyper aggressive cyclists who ignored speed limits (yes they have these in busy areas), didn’t own or use bells, lacked patience, and passed when they had no business doing so. The other two were pedestrians who were not paying attention to their surroundings and were either on the wrong side of the pathway or stepped right in front of on-coming traffic. I also almost hit an off leash dog in a high traffic area. In some ways Calgary’s pathways can be more trying than riding on the roads. During rush hour they are extremely busy multi-use areas that are more likely to create mishap than the roads are.

Tenth Street bike lanes

The Tenth Street bike lanes have come under a lot of fire from various people in N.W. Calgary but I actually quite like them. They are a whole lot better than having nothing in place — and this is true of most places where bike lanes have been put in however excellent they are. They take a road that would be intimidating to ride down and making it comfortable. You have enough space that you are out of the way and the only concerns you have are people turning, hopefully stopping at stop signs and buses.

As a driver I love bike lanes because it means that cyclists are nice and off to the side and I don’t have to worry about passing them or getting caught behind them going five km/h.

Buses are the biggest downside of this kind of bike lane. It forces cyclists and buses to share a space that really shouldn’t be home to both of them. Cyclists in other cities (London, U.K. comes to mind) have been trapped in bus blind spots, and injured or killed.

There is also the annoying tendency for drivers to ignore the existence of bike lanes and act like they are right hand turn lanes. They are not. Unless your car is a transformer and can magically resemble the bicycle symbol stay in the car lane.

The bike lane disappears in Kenzington and is quite confusing. This design does not make sense. It is not intuitive, and thus is not effective. The lane also only goes one way in Kenzington. That is the big problem with the Tenth Street bike lane, the lay out doesn’t always make sense. It is confusing to drivers, with lanes coming and going in strange ways and bike lanes moving over a street with no clear link between the two.
Divided bike lanes may be nice one day but undivided ones are a whole lot better than nothing. In the meantime Calgary should do what it can to make cycling as safe as possible. It’s not very hard to put down some paint to create this type of bike lanes and they do help.