If we don’t solve a problem the first time it comes around, it comes back years later and people may not realize the two events are the same problem.
I had no idea Calgarians had plowed pathways with bicycles, or that this was the reason why we have plowed pathways today. I also did not know that Parks had sent these early Snow Angels into exile by sending Bylaw Officers out to chase them down. When I began looking into the idea of bicycle snowplowing, it was because the same problem still existed 25 years later. I doubt the remaining 400 kms of pathways will ever be plowed in my lifetime, not because it is impossible, but because of institutional thinking. If you are the guy waiting for the last kilometer to be plowed, you still had to find a way to plow them yourself.
The reason for not plowing pathways is always the same… there are not enough people using them. The reason people don’t use them is because many of Calgary’s pathways are left in such a disgraceful condition that they are not safe to use.
In one winter, I had built 3 plows that solved the plowing problem of my unplowed pathway. I already have a solution for bicycle plows that will enable plowing in whatever depth of snow a bicycle can be ridden in. I have augmented bicycles with traction aids commonly used on automobiles and plows, studded tires and tire chains. The plows can be pulled with a waist strap while walking or running, too.
Parks has said it is legal to bike on rutted and iced up pathways but that removing snow from a pathway even with a shovel is illegal. This is a policy that concerns itself with abusing the public’s best interests. If we want people to live in cities and pay high housing costs and taxes, we have to stop making excuses for abandoned winter pathways and condemning anyone who wants to volunteer to keep them serviceable. It seems that the policy has become one in which if the City of Calgary won’t plow pathways, no one else can either.
There was little opposition to building thousands of miles of rural roads to allow people to drive from their homes, onto secondary highways, then onto major highways into Calgary. If we had used the same argument that there are not enough people in the country to justify building roads, we would probably have considered snowmobiles to be far more practical than a car in winter.
Unlike Calgary, cities where pathways are always cleared by city plows do not develop bicycle snowplows. Cycling and walking were adopted by a large majority of the population in places like the Netherlands as the preferred kind of transportation in winters that are twice as long as our’s. The fact that Calgary developed bicycle snowplows where other cities didn’t speaks about how important winter exercise is here.
If we have to pay for everything cities provide, we couldn’t afford it. The early bicycle snowplowers recognized that the only way they could afford to have pathways plowed was to do it themselves and for their communities free of charge. In a recession, cities can’t afford to be picky about where the help comes from to balance their budgets. In my community, the worst sidewalks and pathways have consistently been beside and in parks.
I have been told that hotel owners who built the Airport Trail Pathway on THEIR property beside THEIR business are breaking the law when they plow and salt it. The pathway does not belong to the city and is still the responsibility of the developer. It is not uncommon in cities for property owners to be dictated to by city policies except when there are very large developments like destroying the Harvest Hills Golf Course in order to rake in huge profits for the city through massive increases in density at the destruction of green spaces. Its one of the trade-offs of living in cities.
So while there is a bylaw requirement for the pathways and sidewalks beside business and residential properties like the hotel along Airport Trail, I was told the hotel owners were being told to quit plowing the pathway. The irony is that the city has been plowing that pathway to clear sidewalks near the hotels.
Utility vehicles use the pathway in the winter to access power poles, cave in the pavement and ice up the pathway. Right of way permits allow heavy vehicles to drive on pavement which is only built to support walking and cycling. The pathway was so damaged from these heavy trucks it had to be repaved last year. This year, a crane sank through the pathway during the summer and the pathway has still not been repaired. The Airport Trail Pathway has about 2” of pavement and sits on top of a swamp. Even though the city knows that 2 inches of asphalt won’t support the weight of automobiles, they still build pathways and allow automobiles to destroy them.
New pathways are continually being built with no plowing schedule but some high traffic pathways are regularly plowed. This creates benefits for areas of higher density or preferred routes but makes winter cycling largely impractical for commuters because they need predictable snowplowing practises.
A few years ago, I tried to cycle to Chestermere during the winter. A ride that would have taken 4 hours would have taken two days in the winter. Tire tracks on the pathway allowed me to reach 50 Ave SE at which point it was so late in the day that I had to abandon the attempt. Nearby communities are not the only victims of unplowed pathways. Cycle tracks and transportation hubs like the airport are also affected.
This year a WestJet pilot who hauls tools in a bicycle trailer was hit on 96 ave by a careless driver. The pilot was knocked unconscious, bicycle and trailer destroyed. I was the only person who had plowed the pathway so he could use it instead of the road. Lives are at risk when pathways aren’t plowed.
It seems as if not allowing people to choose something better like allowing Snow Angels to clear snow off pathways amounts to a thinly concealed plan for failure. When institutional thinking takes over, the process of controlling the public becomes more important than the benefits. When allowed to continue unchecked, this institutional thinking creates a pessimism that things won’t change for the better.