In 1992, two avid cyclists began clearing snow from their commuting route along the Bow River Pathway using a homemade plow. Now, the City of Calgary plows 300 of the pathway system’s 800 kilometres. Snow and ice clearing are also key considerations in the City of Calgary Cycling Strategy, created in 2011.
Tom Babin is a bike commuter who literally wrote the book on winter cycling, Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. Here are his thoughts on the development of clearer pathways in the city.
“There was a pretty decent pathway network [in the early 1990s], but cycling just shut down in the wintertime. Colynn Kerr and Jeff Gruttz [who became a founder of Bike Calgary in 2005] started clearing the path with a homemade plow. That went on for five years or so, and then the big St. Patrick’s Day snowstorm came in 1998 — the biggest one in a century. The volunteers tried to clear the pathway, but the snow was just too deep.
“Apparently, City Hall got a bunch of complaints because everyone had assumed it had been City workers clearing the paths. This was the turning point. There was a big public hearing at that time and it was just flooded with pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, people with strollers — all saying, ‘This isn’t just summer recreational stuff, this is infrastructure. It keeps us healthy. It gets us outside.’
“From there, the City started plowing a small section around downtown, and every year they’ve taken responsibility for more and more paths.
“It’s so important to the growth of cycling year-round to have these cleared routes. Anecdotally, the growth [in all-season cycle commuting in Calgary] has been amazing.
“Because more and more people are doing it, the attitude is more accepting. People don’t think you’re nuts; they consider it a viable thing.” —as told to Julia Williams
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE CALGARY HERALD
Colynn Kerr with the plow he built to clear the Calgary pathways back in 1992.