In last week’s post, I blogged about the sad state of some rural Canadian roads – the shoulders being too narrow and covered in rumble strips, with no option for a cyclist to safely enjoy a day on the road.  This week, allow me to rant about the problems that plague urban North America, making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to get around on our own steam!

For the first time since I started working at my current clinic location (and that’s a year and a half!), I decided to brave the roads and cycle to work one day last week.  I live 5km from my office, so it would seem on the surface that it would actually be very convenient to cycle there.  Well, let me tell you… I am not sure how many lives I’m going to get, but I think I used up about a dozen of them during that 10 km round-trip adventure.  Although Calgary is known as a city with one of the best cycling path systems in Canada, this system is only useful for daily transport if you are so lucky to both live and work somewhere along its length.  Most of us are not so geographically lucky to have both work and home on the system, so we’re exposed to the elements of regular traffic if we want to ride.

Obstacles/health hazards encountered on my adventure to and from work included:

  • no cycling lanes
  • drivers who did not show any interest in yielding to, or even minding, the cyclist;
  • sidewalks did not have graded curbs on the corners (making these areas highly inaccessible to people in wheelchairs, never mind bikes)
  • many through roads were blocked off by industrial companies with fences around their properties, necessitating back tracking and finding curcuitous routes
  • random hubcaps, broken glass
  • the same train track had to be crossed three times before reaching my destination

So for me, some big changes would have to be made before I would consider riding my bike to work again.  Our new mayor has made it a priority to improve cycling access and safety, so let’s see what happens.  Contrast this with the year I spent working at the University of Copenhagen, where the society is so geared towards bike travel that it actually dissuades one from wanting a car.  Coincidentally, I lived the exact same distance from work in Denmark that I do here in Calgary (5km), and when I calculated the calorie burn over a year of cycling to work – it equated to 18 pounds of body fat!  This focus on self powered transport is one contributor to the lower obesity rates seen in Denmark (11%, compared to 25% in Canada, and 34% in USA).

This week’s biggest hats off goes to the people of the Netherlands, who are turning to cycle powered school buses to help their children stay active and safe (pictured above)!  I love it.  It appears that the company that makes these buses, De Caferacer, also makes these buses for adults (if there are any Dutch speakers out there who can help me out with the website, please feel free to comment on this post – my Danish is not saving me here!).

For those of us back in North America – we’d sure love to incorporate these self powered buses as transport, but the reality is that our entire society will require an infrastructural overhaul before that would even be possible.  Fair enough to say that our climate is not as permissive of this form of travel, but for half the year, it would still be a blessing!

Thanks to my friend Brian at for the heads’ up on the great photo!

Dr Sue © 2011

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