This Calgarian is bringing a shovel on his daily commute, but he feels he shouldn't have to

Rory Allen wants the city to do more to clear bicycle pathways. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
Rory Allen wants the city to do more to clear bicycle pathways. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

Crossing from a painted bike lane to the river pathway system, Rory Allen interrupts his commute, hops off his bike and digs a back country shovel out of his pack.

In the past two weeks, Calgary has seen a lot of snow, and when the city sees high accumulations, like 30 centimetres in a single day, Allen sees weak points in the city's snow and ice control policy.

"In those transition points where you're going from road to elevated cycle track to pathway, it just hasn't been all that easy," he said.

"It's even less easy for people with any kind of mobility issues, people with strollers trying to navigate that with kids or anything else is going to be difficult."

When the snow stops falling, the priority snow plan begins. The City of Calgary aims to clear all of its priority routes, like Crowchild Trail, Glenmore Trail and Memorial Drive first, within 18 hours.

On the sidewalk and cycle-track side, smaller equipment focuses on the high-priority pedestrian infrastructure for the first 24 hours — LRT platforms, sidewalks next to city-owned properties and high-priority bus pads.

But what if you aren't in a priority area? On his commute from varsity, Allen sees the stark contrast. On the south side of the Bow River, the pathway closest to downtown between East Village and Prince's Island Park, he said, is always pristine.

Cross the river, and it's a different story.

"It's done less often," Allen said.

While efforts are being made to do a better job of clearing some pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, Tim Schaefer, a cyclist in Calgary whose family also bikes, doesn't see the progress.

"There's talk of it being perhaps more coordinated starting this year. But I haven't seen it, " Schaefer said. "Maybe it just takes time. But it's kind of funny … snow is not a new thing. It shouldn't be our first rodeo."

He said it is clear in some instances to see where one contractor, for example, cleared an overpass but didn't put the brush down to clear the pathway the machine drove on for about a kilometre to get there.

"Having a consolidated approach might make more sense," Schaefer said. "Overall, it's just kind of disjointed. I'm not sure if anyone's quarterbacking the whole thing to make sure that, from user experience, it's effective."

This isn't just about biking, though. Allan has also pulled his shovel out at crosswalks, rolled up his sleeves and dug up the crusty windrows that make crossing the road difficult.

A back country shovel in front country 

"Honestly you can't ignore stuff that you can see on a day-to-day basis," Allen said.

"I started biking around with the shovel a bit more often and just finding stuff and kind of working on little bits and pieces that I noticed in the areas that I frequent."

While this personal kindness is something that he's willing to do, it's not something Allen feels should be the norm.

"If I can do this and it takes this amount of effort," Allen said. "Why isn't it being done on a more regular basis by the people that are contracted to do so?"

When she looks at municipalities around Calgary, Ward 11 Councillor Kourtney Penner wonders if anyone has got this right yet.

In Calgary, she said, the city still has work to do in terms of optimising snow clearing.

"I've had complaints come in about things like the pork chops or the pies, at intersections, especially ones that connect to busy pedestrian routes in and around transit," Penner said.

"I've also heard that dedicated street bike lanes, that they're not all getting priority cleared."

Councillor asks citizens to file 311 service requests

According to data from Calgary bylaw, between Nov. 1, 2022, and Feb. 27, 2023, there were 16,175 calls for service for snow and ice on sidewalks — of those callers, four per cent reported they fell on the sidewalk. Of those who fell, 33 per cent reported an injury.

The city issued seven tickets for not clearing the sidewalk in that period.

Right now, the weak spots are best identified with 311 complaints. Penner hopes when people see a problem, they put in a report to get a case number.

"I have 311-ed things and then sent requests into mobility because they're my primary walking route," Penner said.

"So we can get things changed, right? We can add things we can be responsive to, but we do need people to let us know where that area of great need is."

While 311 is a great tool, Schaefer feels the city relies on a complaint-first approach instead of learning how people are moving through the city.

"If you're just waiting for the complaints to come in, well, you're just kind of dealing with maybe the squeaky wheel factor," Schaefer said.