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I’d respectfully submit that the reason cycling is (at least for mainstream riders) mostly a fair-weather commuting choice is because we don’t have the infrastructure in place to encourage people year-round. Chicken-and-egg.
We hear over and over that there is a core group of riders who will ride no matter whether there’s infrastructure like segregated lanes or not. But, getting the mainstream out depends on helping them feel safe enough to ride. I think we’re seeing the indication of that as cycling is the fastest growing share of commuting, and it seems to be in lockstep with the growth in infrastructure.
As the connections get made between people’s homes and downtown, more people seem to be choosing to ride. Take a look at the big numbers being posted at http://ottawa-laurier.visio-tools.com/. The summer numbers show a couple of thousand people a day riding – that’s not nothing. I’d argue that people ditching their cars for the bike are an important part of reduced congestion in the summer. There’s a lot of factors, of course: construction and OC Transpo delays are a big part of it. But many of the new riders I see around me on my daily commute are probably not going back to their cars once they’ve gotten used to the flexibility of bike-commuting, especially when the weather is nice.
As those connections become better, I think we’ll see what surveys from groups like Citizens for Safe Cycling seem to demonstrate: that people want to cycle more often, including winter, and are waiting for safe routes to do so. In our ward, we’re well-served by a growing amount of infrastructure. If you can get to the O-Train path, Scott Street or Churchill within a few blocks, you’ve got a clear ride to downtown. As our winters become milder, don’t be surprised to see a lot more people taking advantage of new infrastructure to become winter cyclists.
I think people who don’t ride in winter, and especially non-cyclists, have an apocalyptic vision of cycling when there’s snow on the ground.
There are definitely some considerations around winter cycling if you want to make that choice. You likely need a winter bike – a cheap beater – since the salt is deadly to your nice summer bike. I put on studded tires that cost me about $150. It’s dark when you ride, so you need good lights. But, you really don’t need any special clothing. I throw a pair of rain pants over my pants, wear hiker-style waterproof winter boots that I’d be wearing anyway, and picked up a pair of lobster-style mitts that keep my hands toasty. It takes me a couple of minutes longer to get to work (20 versus 17ish), but my schedule is my own and I get to the office awake. On cleared, segregated, lit lanes, it’s really not a leap from summer to winter cycling. The new paths around Tom Brown basically made it possible for me to get to work 365 safely and easily.
I’m a city councillor and if I can do it, so can thousands whose day is basically just downtown and back.
But, we’re not going to achieve that without building some new infrastructure. Even sharing a few blocks of busy arteries is enough to keep people off the road and in their cars. But once people find a safe route, they’re hooked. A couple of minutes of “hoo boy it’s cold” is well worth it not to sit in rush-hour traffic or have to wait for a bus that’s packed to the roof and crawling through downtown.
If any of your readers are interested, I post ride videos from time to time. Here’s a February video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUcbz6Z9LX4. It would have been a typical -10 or so that morning. You can see the clear difference between being on the road, and being on the paths and lanes. If we’re going to get more people off the roads in their cars, we’re going to need to do a much better job of connecting the places people want to go with the segregated, lit and plowed infrastructure they’ll need.
You’ve asserted the same argument that often comes up. “We’re not Amsterdam”. Well, when paths are plowed, we’re really not that much different. The key is that the Dutch have built the infrastructure to make winter cycling possible.
You’ve made a number of very important points with which I agree, including the design of the bike lanes. You’ll see, in fact, in the video, that a driver didn’t see me at O’Connor. But, the question of design is separate from the rationale. If we build it they will come, but we also need to get much better at building it safely.
Forgive the singing at the end of the video. When I say the ride wakes me up, I mean it.
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