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Professor David Layzell from the University of Calgary (left of centre) gets rolling June 5 in the Ride the Road tour, an event highlighting the city's need for improved cycling infrastructure.
Kaye Coholan/the Gauntlet

Riding like they own the road

Third annual event draws attention to need for cycling infrastructure

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Pedalling through Calgary was never so worry-free.

About 100 cyclists rolled through the city last Sunday escorted by Calgary police motorcycles as part of Ride the Road, an event aimed at drawing attention to the city's need for improved bicycle infrastructure.

Gary Beaton, president of the Calgary Tour de Nuit Society and organizer of the event, said Calgary is "a little behind" when it comes to making cycling safer and more efficient.

When the city's bike path system was designed in the 1970s, he said, large car sizes meant there was no room on the roads for bikes. "So the solution was to go into the ravines and rivers and build bike paths there," Beaton said. "The legacy is a multiple-use pathway system but it's not very functional for commuting."

This third annual tour was inspired by similar events in London, U.K. and Montreal, which have attracted 85,000 and 14,000 participants respectively. In Calgary, each year there have been between 100 and 200 cyclists.

"If a million people turned out that would be a pretty good sign there's a lot of interest in public infrastructure," Beaton said.

But cycle paths and bike lanes are certainly on the minds of some Calgarians as the city prepares to release its cycling strategy, which has a connection to Ride the Road.

Former Calgary alderman Ric McIver, who cycled in Sunday's event, was involved in tabling a proposal to look at speed limits and rules for the city's shared pathways.

"Council originally rejected it and later passed a motion that was almost identical," McIver said in an interview.

McIver said he would like to see the addition of bike lanes to fifth and sixth avenues because the current lanes on those streets are wider than necessary, though that proposal was also rejected.

"I thought it would create a few cycle lanes without a huge infrastructure project," he said. "I'm a fairly casual cyclist, but I do believe in providing choice for people, without making everybody angry on purpose."

The event gave participants the unique opportunity to cycle on streets without having to compete with traffic.

Normally, cycling in Calgary is not safe, said Beaton. "There's a huge element of luck as to who gets injured and who doesn't. So far I've been lucky, but not everybody is."

"Right now what's happening is the cyclist takes 100 per cent of the risk of serious physical injury and the car driver takes none."

University of Calgary professor David Layzell, who pedalled alongside his wife in the event, said he finds cycling in Calgary relatively safe, but he would like to see improved infrastructure.

"The problem I see is that we don't have enough good bike routes through the city centre," Layzell said. "So sometimes you're riding on sidewalks and trying to find tricks of how to get around safely."

Layzell, who is also executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, said he has been a long-time cyclist because of its health and environmental benefits. "As more people start to bike I think you're going to find the city will put more bikes lanes in and find it more safe to do so."

Unpredictable spring weather may have made some riders hesitant to register for the event, but those who took part enjoyed blue skies and calm winds as they rode from the north and the south, before congregating in Stanley Park and travelling as a collective on a loop through downtown.

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