Both Samantha Etherington and Dave Mills responded separately to the original Bicicles survey. I had contacted Samanthat first and she suggested that I might want to talk with her partner Dave since he also commutes by bike in the winter. Since they were both on my short list that was serendipitous but I wasn’t sure how a couple’s interview was going to work, although it sounded like fun.
After a bit of back and forth, we decided on having me meet them downtown on the first day of December last year. I took a few pictures and then rode with them back to their place to talk. I should have really checked out their route home beforehand. Dave and Samantha only live a short 5K hop from downtown, but the SNIRTy snow made the climb into Knob Hill seem like someone should slap a King of the Mountain jersey on you when you get to the top.
The plan was to add to the overall package by filming them riding together on their commute home. I wish I had some of that video to show you but, alas, my fat fingers and inexperience with the GoPro turned that into a pipe dream. The stills turned out just fine, though, and we had a good chat about cycling and winter community by bike. I did feel kind of bad about keeping them away from their supper until quite late, though.
Samantha works as a geologist for CNRL and rides into work at Bankers’ Hall every day. She’ll get an early 7:00 am start to beat the morning commute, and she’ll stay at work until at least 5:30 to let the traffic thin out. Dave’s a contract business analysis and was between projects when we met up. He usually works somewhere downtown so they’ll ride into work together every day, but they’ll come home separately. Since he can work anywhere, Dave has secured indoor parking in Banker’s Court right next door to Banker’s hall.
Their commute from Knob Hill takes them through mostly residential areas until they get into the heart of the downtown. On the way in it’s mostly downhill all the way. Dave said that if he hit’s all green lights, he can make it from door to desk in around 12 minutes, depending on where’s he’s working. From their house they’ll head down 25th Avenue SW and onto Prospect Avenue after they cross 14th Street. From there they’ll take 8th Street to Mount Royal Village, cut over to 7th Street until they get to 12th Avenue, and then onto 4th Street and under the tracks into downtown. Dave’s route will change depending on where he’s working and if parking in Bankers’ Court makes sense. Samantha said that she’s taken the same route since she’s been working at CNRL.
Their ride is mostly on low traffic roads, at least until they get close to downtown. Neither one uses bike lanes nor pathways. They might have taken the bike lane on 10th but “why bother if you’re only on it for two blocks?” Dave also brought up all of the usual bad design issues with the 10th Avenue bike lanes – allow parking up to 3:00 pm, using it as a turning lane, and not connected to anything. The 12th Avenue cycle track will be much better because it’ll be separated. On the other hand, Dave said that he’d rather ride on 11th Avenue with the traffic if he wants to ride fast. Both Samantha and Dave said that they’re not likely to alter their route just to take advantage of the bike lanes.
Samantha said that the bike lockups at Bankers’ Hall are great. There are several locked rooms for bikes in the parking levels. She said that she never locks up her bike and she never worries about it. People can leave their riding gear with their bike in the lockup without concern. CNRL provides change rooms and showers for their employees, with lots of locker space for everyone. Samantha said that she packs everything she needs the night before so nothing’s forgotten, but she keeps spares of essentials in her locker.
Dave, on the other hand, is at the mercy of his contract as far as facilities go, so his regimen is leaner than Samantha’s. He’ll shower at home and change in the restrooms or any empty offices at work. Dave keeps a supply of dress pants at work, as well as his office shoes. He’ll pack in a dress shirt every day. If he can, he’ll park in Bankers’ Court, which is also very secure. If he can make it to where he works in the +15 system, he’ll just leave all his riding gear with his bike, none of it secured, but still very safe in the parking level lockups.
Samantha said that she didn’t ride much until she met Dave, who is a “bike fanatic.” Dave builds and maintains his own bikes and is an avid mountain biker. In the summertime he builds single track in Calgary and in K-Country. Dave is an executive director with the Calgary Mountain Bike Alliance.
They both ride their bikes to get to work and for recreation, but they don’t really go places by bike or use them to run errands. They have two cars that they use sparingly, and mostly to take them to recreational facilities or the mountains.
Samantha and Dave would classify themselves as “fearless” riders. Well, Dave is “fearless”, but Samantha is a bit more cautious. She says that “the more space you take, the more the cars see you.” Take the lane because if you’re crowded over by the curb the drivers don’t really see you or acknowledge that you’re there. It’s too easy to turn in front of you or to squeeze you out.
Dave rides a single speed bike year round – not a fixie, though – because he found that he wasn’t using any of the gears anyways. His ride is a hard-tail mountain bike running studs in the winter and slicks in the summer. He said it’s definitely a grunt on the hills in the winter, but their ride is mostly flat and “really, Calgary doesn’t get that much snow.” Samantha rides a “silver” bike (her description) in the winter and a “blue” bike in the summer. She admits that she doesn’t know a lot about bikes – she just rides them and let’s Dave look after the mechanical stuff. They said that it’s nice to swap out bikes as circumstances dictate, and to have bikes for all occasions and types of ride.
Samantha thinks the best thing about riding your bike to work is that it seems like you’ve accomplished something, and, quite simply, it’s fun. She also likes it because it’s so fast compared to being stuck in a car – no traffic reports, it’s cheap to park, you save money, get some exercise, and … it’s fun. “Why drive when you only live five km from work?” She thinks it’s kind of sad when people comment about how brave you are. “You shouldn’t have to be brave to bike!”
Dave thinks the best thing about biking to work in the winter is being the first one to ride through fresh snow. The sound of the fresh, untracked snow under you tires is “really neat.” It reminds him of carving a turn on a snowboard. He also likes it when the sun is up later in the season and it’s glinting off new snow, or when it’s really cold and the snow is squeaky but really responsive. Dave says the worst thing about winter riding is frozen extremities, even with the extra layers. It’s something that he looks forward to the least. He mentioned that his coldest ride was probably -38C or so. Still, he doesn’t see it as a challenge. “Often times, the ride to work, and the ride home is easily the best part of my day!”
People are loss sensitive, Dave said, when we started talking about “bike culture.” People see things like cycle tracks as “something that’s being taken away from them.” They don’t see that getting people out of cars and on bikes gets cars off the roads. He thinks that cyclists that are strongly in favour of anything about cycling may create a polarizing affect on people with different views. He says that we need to keep in mind that most people in Calgary have a car, and that an attitude that is pro-bike and anti-car isn’t helpful. Bikes vs. cars “shouldn’t be a versus thing!” It’s only a small community in Calgary that are bike or walk only.
Neither Samantha nor Dave is overly enthusiastic about the cycle track network that just went in this month. They said they’d try them out if they’re convenient and, at least for Dave, they don’t slow him down. Samantha’s experience with bike lanes has been that they just dump you someplace inconvenient, but she’ll give them a try to see if they work for her this time. Dave thinks that riding the roads downtown is easy, although construction and the snow make it a bit more difficult. However, “riding in the suburbs … deadly!” “If you’re going to put cycle tracks anywhere,” he says, “put them in the burbs!”
[2015-06-29] Both Dave and Samantha gave me an update on the cycle track network now that they’ve had a chance to really try it out (at least for summer riding). Dave’s become a convert. Now that he’s been on them, “it’s a completely different experience than I thought it would be.” He said that as soon as he got on one he relaxed, which was a “bit surprising, as I didn’t know I was stressed!” He’ll use protected lanes whenever one’s available, and he said that he’ll be far more likely to visit businesses that he finds along the cycle tracks. Samantha is a somewhat more reserved in her enthusiasm. The 5th Street cross-over at 17th Avenue is causing a bit of confusion for her and says that there’s too many riders for a single lane and she can’t go very fast. Still, she says that it’ll be “amazing to have a dedicated protected route in winter and during the night.” She also appreciates how the lanes organize the road so that everyone knows how to conduct themselves.
Dave and Samantha have mixed feelings about helmets. As far as Samantha is concerned, “why would you not wear a helmet – especially in the winter?” Dave is more sanguine about the issue. He’ll wear one when he’s mountain biking but he dons a helmet only out of habit when riding in the city. Dave says that “helmets make cycling appear more dangerous than it is” and they’re a disincentive for people to get out and ride. He noted cycling is wildly adopted in countries where you don’t have mandatory helmet laws, but where you have good cycling infrastructure. If you want to make cycling safer, reduce speed limits and put in separated bike lanes. Samantha would also like to see the police take car-bike and car-pedestrian collisions more seriously and have more enforcement for the safety of people that bike or walk.
As the evening was winding down, and I had seriously overstayed my welcome, Samantha finished by saying that “we bike because it’s fun” and that she would like to “see more people biking, and people not be afraid of biking.”