How do Calgarians get around, what barriers get in their way, and what opens the flood gates to let them explore?
In the Active Neighbour blog series you will meet fellow Calgarians and learn about their experiences using active transportation in our city. How do they get around – is it fun or infuriating? Easy or challenging? The folks I speak with will share not only their own experiences, but also their solutions to common active transportation problems.
My first conversation took place with Calgarian Cal Schuler, a Diversity and Accessibility Consultant and a member of the Calgary Transit Access Advisory Committee. As you’ll soon see, it is hard to sum up in a few short sentences the amazing work Cal does, and the impact he has had. Cal has many awards under his belt for his work advocating for and with people with disabilities (The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the Access Recognition Award, and the Dr. Gary McPherson Leadership Award, to name a few!).
For years, he has consulted with both industry and non-profits to make work environments accessible. He facilitates sensitivity awareness and education, guiding individuals as they attempt to get around the city blindfolded or using a wheelchair. This exercise demonstrates the sheer number of barriers that exist for so many Calgarians.
Cal and I talked on the phone during the winter storm last week, where our city got over 20 centimeters of snow. The weather guided our conversation towards the use of active transportation in Calgary and the unique challenges that winter brings. Cal uses a wheelchair, and this lived experience, combined with his professional experience, informs his perspective on the topic of active transportation.
Calgary’s existing snow removal program – snow angels – relies on the kindness of community members to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses. I have seen it in action. My tiny (yet mighty!) five-year-old neighbour shoveled my walk just the other day.
Cal’s seen it, too. His neighbour, a machine operator, goes the extra mile so that Cal can get where he needs to go. After clearing the condo’s driveway and parking lot, he gets out of his Bobcat, grabs a shovel, and removes the snow bank that piles up in front of a path. Without the extra effort made by his neighbour, Cal might not be able to access the well-cleared bike paths that he uses daily to walk his service dog, Sierra (pictured above, looking very cute!).
But this system is not reliable – especially for Calgarians who rely on active transportation every day. In October 2017, Calgary had its first big snow fall. That day, Cal had to call emergency services when his chair became stuck in a snow bank.
When residents can’t, don’t, or won’t clear the sidewalks in front of their homes, neighbours are faced with an unsafe and unpredictable journey down their own streets. Confronted with endless heaps of snow and ice, people who use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, or strollers may be late for work, unable to run simple errands, or miss out on social opportunities.
Cities across Canada are striving to be accessible, even through the long winter months. Winnipeg ploughs nearly 3000 kilometers of the city’s sidewalks and Ottawa clears roughly 90% of theirs. Calgary, on the other hand, clears a mere 4%. This means that 96% of our city’s sidewalks spend the winter caked in ice and snow. Is it any surprise, then, that Albertans are seriously injured at triple the rate of Ontarians due to falls on ice?
So, when human powered transportation is too time-consuming or risky to take part in, what about the bus or train? Cal spoke about the inaccessibility of public transit, particularly in the winter when huge snowbanks pile up at bus stops. After the next big snow, take a moment and consider this: could you get on the bus if you had a stroller? Used a wheelchair? A walker? Crutches?
These are barriers that our neighbours, friends, and family face every day. But there are solutions – some of which are as simple as clearing the paths that people use to get around. According to the Canadian Institute of Planners (2011), successful winter cities, such as Oslo and Helsinki, focus not only on clearing roads and public transportation routes, but also sidewalks and bike paths. A city in the Netherlands is going even further. Wageningen is testing a project that heats bike lanes (using heat stored from the warmer months, factories, or even wastewater pipes!) to melt the snow in areas hard to reach with a plough.
There are many ways winter cities are innovating to accommodate their citizens, no matter the weather or how they get around. Calgary can learn from these examples and, like Cal’s neighbour, go the extra mile to enable all of its citizens to be active members of their community. These actions ensure that no one is left behind, waiting for the snow to melt.
By Katie Lore
Give the city feedback or report a concern here:
Or, call 3-1-1
If you live in Ward 9, your councillor Gian-Carlo Carra has invited you to contribute to this discussion. Check out the link here!
Nominate a snow angel in your community here:
Deutsche Welle. (2018). The Netherlands tests heated cycle lanes. Retrieved from http://www.dw.com/en/the-netherlands-tests-heated-cycle-lanes/a-18971259
Fletcher, R. (February 17, 2018). What it would cost Calgary to have the snow clearing that other cities enjoy. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-snow-clearing-costs-challenges-chinooks-1.4538706
Fletcher, R. (December 26, 2017). Falls on ice seriously injure Albertans at triple the rate of people in Ontario. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-falls-ice-serious-injuries-rate-cihi-data-1.4460651?utm_content=buffer623ef&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Fricson, B. & Ranson, K. (2011). Winter city strategy. Canadian Institute of Planners. Retrieved from https://www.cip-icu.ca/Files/Awards/Planning-Excellence/Edmonton-s-WinterCity-Strategy-and-Implementation.aspx