My mother enjoys responding to certain situations by quoting pithy sayings that capture folk wisdom in neat little proverbs. There were few occasions she didn’t have one of these gems to send my way. Here are a few examples:
*busting into my bedroom at 8 am on a Saturday morning – “wakey wakey! Remember, the early bird gets the worm”.
*when we didn’t finish every last scrap of food on our plates – “eat it all! Remember, waste not want not!”
*when we took our time completing a chore – “finish it off! Remember, a stitch in time saves nine!”
And my personal favorite…when we claimed to be unable to complete a task, whether a piece of homework or applying for summer jobs – “go back and try again! Remember, where there’s a will there’s a way”.
It’s this last piece of advice that I think has some relevance to bicycling in a city like Calgary. Let me explain. The underlying message of this saying is that personal grit, determination, and perseverance can overcome situational barriers. This can seem true with respect to bicycling in Calgary… sometimes. Like the majority of Calgarians, I happen to live a sizable distance from the protected, graded comfort of the downtown cycle track network. Therefore, I often have to steel myself and recite the mantra “I should do this, it’s good for me”, when deciding on what mode of transport to use at a given moment. The reality is that in a sprawling city such as Calgary, the perception of sheer distance needed to be covered between destinations can be daunting. As I have been told by many fellow denizens, “Calgary will never be a cycling city because of its size”, implying that one of the larger barriers to cycling as a viable mode of getting places is the large amount of time and subsequent energy invested. Therefore, bicycling in Calgary can often feel like a matter of will ultimately making a way.
However, just as journalist Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes in his books The Tipping Point and Outliers, overcoming personal obstacles often is a combination of both will and way. What I mean is, there are often factors such as systemic structures, historical idiosyncrasies, community support, and sheer luck that combine with personal grit and perseverance to produce positive outcomes that seem to defy the odds. I suggest that this is the case with cycling to destinations in Calgary. It is often both a matter of will and way. In a nutshell, it really depends where your ultimate destination is. Canadian research carried out by Winters et al (2011) shows that the factors most likely to influence bicycling are:
- ease of cycling. i.e. the route is flat and it takes less time than other modes
- weather conditions
- route conditions
- interactions with motor vehicles
Additional research in Calgary, carried out by Amiri & Sadeghpour (2014) suggests that we are willing to make cycle trips of 10-30 minutes in temperatures up to -20 C. In this post I will simply focus on the time factor and compare cycling against driving a personal vehicle. I mention the following 3 types of destinations: local, regional, and commuter.
- Local destinations are those typically located within the geographical bounds of the community, which are mostly frequented by residents of said community. e.g. a local liquor store, convenience store, etc.
- Regional destinations are located close to, and serve the residents of, a cluster of communities. E.g. libraries, recreation centers, hospitals, etc
- Commuter destinations typically involve workplaces and transit hubs.
As shown in the tables below, cycling to local and many regional destinations in some communities doesn’t take very long. The 3 featured central-suburban communities have reasonably flat topographies.
Table 1: Comparative travel times to local destinations in 3 Calgary communities, using the travel modes of cycling and driving.
Table 2: Comparative travel times to regional and commuter destinations in 3 Calgary communities, using the travel modes of cycling and driving.
Note that these distances were calculated using a randomly generated residential address that is approximately located in the geographical center of each community. Travel times were calculated using Google maps.
It’s clear that in terms of travel time, cycling to local, and even some regional destinations from these communities takes about as much time as driving. Many of these trips also fall well within the 10-30 minute window. Therefore, theoretically, choosing to cycle to these types of destinations is less a matter of exercising willpower with respect to time. Add to that all the documented positive benefits of cycling, such as feeling happier, getting more physical exercise, and saving on time, cost and effort related to parking, and cycling actually seems like an eminently reasonable transportation choice!
So, in closing, before you make that next trip out to your local library or grocery store, consider the fact that choosing to cycle instead of drive doesn’t take that much more time. It isn’t simply a matter of will, because there is a way. Adapting the words of that Rolling Stones/Irma Thomas song: “time is on your side, yes it is”.
by: Srimal Ranasinghe
 Amiri, Mona & Sadeghpour, Farnaz. (2013). Cycling characteristics in cities with cold weather. Sustainable Cities and Society. 14. 10.1016/j.scs.2013.11.009.