Calgarians are taking to the streets, once a month, in a pack of bikes.
This summer, cyclists got together to ride in a “Critical Mass,” a group bicycle movement that’s said to have started in San Francisco, but has since been adopted in hundreds of cities around the world.
For some, it’s a form of protest, a statement, others just want to get out and celebrate biking as a community.
Alyssa Quinney, one of the organizers, said the turnout in Calgary blew her away. She expected a few of her friends to join in, but more than 100 people rolled up to the meeting point in Sunnyside. The group rolled down 10th Street N.W. and crossed into downtown as cars followed behind.
Riding with the group, compared to riding on her own around the city, is a night and day experience, she said. Despite Calgary’s cycle tracks and pathways, Quinney describes commuting around the city, or even taking a leisurely trip, as hostile — with a feeling that she always has to be on guard.
“There’s tons of missing links in this city,” Quinney said. “It can be a very frustrating time.”
Compare that to the last Friday of every month, when Critical Mass participants dress for a leisurely cruise. She says all are welcome, and there are no prerequisites.
It’s attracted hundreds of people with their kids and pets. Quinney said even people who typically avoid biking on the road can feel at ease — it levels the playing field.
“We’re all there to look out for each other. We go slow enough so that we can chat,” Quinney said.
Ringing their bells and waving, the group is a spectacle that’s hard to miss, especially for cars trailing behind the mass of bikes. And that’s kind of the point Quinney and others are making with the ride. Taking up space, she says, is a reminder that the road isn’t just for cars.
City staff are watching what Critical Mass riders have to say.
Investments over the years have moved from the downtown cycle track to a focus on retrofitting roads all over the city to be more inclusive. Jen Malzer, the city’s public spaces project development leader, said there’s lots of work to do.
“We have a story that Calgary is a car-culture city, but I see a lot more than that,” Malzer said.
Calgary has a huge network of recreational pathways, she points out, and it also has a quality of life that many other major cities would envy.
Over the next four years, she said, the city is investing in new bike and pedestrian corridors, looking at missing links, and improving sketchy crossings.
What that looks like takes many forms, but Malzer said engaged citizens, like those participating in Critical Mass, can help the city zero in on where to invest.
“Community and transportation planners and engineers — a lot of the data that we collect and a lot of the lessons about what’s safe and what isn’t safe … we learn from the people living there,” she said.
Calgary is working toward a safer transportation network, to reduce the number of major injury and fatality collisions by 25 per cent in the next four years.
“We recognize that collisions are going to happen,” said Tony Churchill, the city’s mobility safety coordinator. “We just want to make sure that nobody’s hurt, and cyclists and pedestrians and motorcyclists are all at greater risk of injury.”
Churchill said that means looking at near-miss and collision data, retrofitting roads, and even changing up signage and traffic signals.
During one of the Critical Mass rides in September, Mayor Jyoti Gondek pedaled along. That’s something Quinney hopes to see more of.
“I think it’s important for people who make the big decisions in the city to kind of come down to our level and see what it’s like to get around,” Quinney said.
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