When I first moved to Calgary in mid-August I put on my helmet and found the nearest bike path. Coming from an über-bike-friendly city like Vancouver, I was wondering how Calgary would compare for this two-wheel fanatic. I cycled from Edworthy Park to downtown along the stunning Bow River Trail and said to myself, It’s going to be OK. There was that crisp, dry Albertan tinge in the air and it made me feel as if I had come home. (I would later discover that this nostalgic climate also necessitates bottles of body lotion).
I was saddened to discover that following Monday that I couldn’t get to my new place of work on public transit, as there literally are no buses that go to there. So I had to find out the hard way that Calgary is also one of the most traffic congested cities in the Canada. Surprisingly it’s only the fifth most congested city in Canada, being trumped by Vancouver as number one then followed by Toronto and Ottawa. Sitting in an idling vehicle during rush hour is my idea of hell and so I found five more enjoyable ways to get around Calgary.
To initially orientate myself I picked up a swanky copy of the City of Calgary’s Pathways and Bikeways map which can also be found online (there is also an app “Bike YYC“). Upon first glance I was quite impressed by the number of bike routes in the city. I had heard that Mayor Naheed Nenshi, aware of Calgary’s problematic automobile-oriented nature, is a fellow alternative transit supporter and has created more bike lanes. I put the map to the test found that Calgary is actually quite bike friendly, aside from the fact that downtown is in a valley so Renfrew to Marda Loop is a definite workout. The Bow Valley Trail is extremely bike-friendly as it is well laid-out, scenic, away from traffic, and has lanes for both directions. The downtown trails are there, but precariously situated alongside busy roads, and some with time-of-day use restrictions! I’m looking at you 10th ave. BUT they are there and bicycle commuting is a definite option here, at least until we have to swap our bikes for cross-country skis (stay tuned for that posting?).
This seems like an obvious second choice and even first choice at times (rainy days, romantic endeavors). Aside from scenic bike paths, Calgary is pretty pedestrian friendly. Centre Street Bridge and the new Peace Bridge allow for easy access into the downtown core and Prince’s Island Park. Stephen avenue is a totally car-free section of the city with terraces spilling out onto the street which makes for an inviting, European stroll.
OK, so I’ve technically only traveled with Calgary’s “C-Train” once, but the fact that it’s here and that people are using it more and more is awesome. When I “rode the rails” it was an overcast Sunday afternoon and it started to downpour so I took my bicycle on the train at Centre Station. Aside from the stale booze smell and the dirty looks we were getting because of the space we were taking up with our bikes, the train ride was, well, a train ride. It makes me happy when I see the Park and Ride parking lot full and brief-cased people staring out of their humble transport. It just makes a lot of sense. A thumbs up to all of the extensions and new stations that are opening up.
Truthfully, it’s oftentimes faster to take a car in this city as the bus are often running behind schedule. BUT, out of principle, taking a bus also makes for a feasible alternative to driving because its more economical, better for the environment and the vehicle is headed that direction anyway. In some cities, like London and, I imagine, a hip city like Berlin, taking the bus is done by Joe Everyman and is therefore almost glamorous. OK, I’ve gone too far but bus culture in Europe and even some larger Canadian cities does not carry the same stigma it does here (check out this sexy Danish public transit ad). But for some reason, cities like Edmonton and Calgary attract a certain bus clientele that leaves much to be desired. It must be because all the cool people are biking?
They’re not paying me to say this, although they should. It’s rumoured that Car2Go is this innovative idea Mercedes came up with because their SMART cars weren’t selling. It is a car-sharing service where you sign up, get mailed a key card, and are charged 35 cents per minute that you drive (plus gst), that’s it! Car2Go is new to Calgary as of this summer and is only in two other Canadian cities. You can already see them being used all over town. The idea lends itself to not having to own a vehicle, worry about the maintenance yet, at the same time, have access to a vehicle when you need one, ie: for grocery shopping or when you’re running late for a Van Morrison concert.