The following opinion letter recently circulated among the Bike Calgary Board of Directors and Community Reps, and later appeared in the Newsletter of the Elbow Valley Cycle Club. We thought it might also be of interest to our members:
"As someone who lives in the suburbs, I feel that sometimes the discourse about encouraging cycling often discounts us. Too often the sentiment emerges, particularly by inner-city residents who have not lived in the suburbs, that the peripheral communities are a write-off when it comes to biking, but nothing could be further from the truth. I live in Tuscany, which is Calgary’s third-largest community by population, second by area, has more kids than any other community in Calgary, and also has the distinction of having more km's of bike paths than any other community in Calgary. In fair weather, the bikes come out en masse in Tuscany, as I witnessed one Saturday this February when we took the kids for a bike around the community, or earlier last fall, when I posted shots of the mass of bikes at our new middle school that literally fill every bike rack and tree within immediate sight of the school.
I bet the proportion of residents who own a bike is as high in Tuscany as any other community in Calgary./p>
But it is certain that there is less desire for people to commute to work by bike from Tuscany, because our places of employment are almost never in the community (aside from a strip mall, we have no business district), we only have one pedestrian bridge out of the community, and no real bike facility out of the community. But there are lots of daily trips to be made by bike, such as moms (and dads) getting their kids to school in the morning, getting a jug of milk at the local grocery store, or dropping by the local coffee shop (onone Saturday, there more than a dozen bikes parked at the Tuscany Starbucks when we left).
Andre Chabot probably nailed this the best of anyone I have spoken to – he said to me that the suburbs are great places to encourage cycling because these communities are often very amenable to biking with all their greenspaces and pathways (and despite what so-called ‘grid pattern density’ connectivity indices suggest). Further, people in peripheral communities tend to be younger and more likely to have kids that have a desire to bike to school or ride with their families on the weekends. It takes very little effort (or infrastructure) to encourage cycling and create cycling enthusiasts in these neighborhoods, yet the City and the cycling advocacy groups don’t seem to be interested in going after this low-hanging fruit.
I agree. If we want to create a true bike culture in Calgary, I think we sometimes overlook the opportunity to engage our peripheral communities, which is a shame because if we got more people “biking in the ‘burbs”, I am certain it would stimulate more people like me that are enthusiastic about commuter cycling. Most would not commute by bike, but if their weekend bicycle or kids’ bikes saw a bit more use and a bit more love, I would bet that they would be a lot more empathetic to the inner-city cyclists who also love to bike, but for whom daily trips to work are possible. If more people connected with the activity of biking, particularly daily trips by bike no matter how small, city-wide support for cycling would be substantively improved.
Promoting within-community bicycling may not be Bike Calgary’s original vision. But I believe that encouraging city-wide citizen cycling would be one of the best things we could do to help change the car-focused culture of our city and increase acceptance of the bike, which frankly, is the most substantive and difficult obstacle we face in projects like the implementation of the Centre City Cycling Network. Our peripheral communities have a leading role to play here, and I hope we can always keep that in the back of our minds."
Darren Bender is a director with Bike Calgary and Vice-President of the Tuscany Community Association.