Encouraging walkability and bikeability in a snowy city

In his column, Fraser Blyth explores ways Revelstoke can better promote winter cycling and walking from a planning perspective.

Drivers parking on city sidewalks during snowy months is a common frustration for sidewalk users, such as those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers. Photo: Fraser Blyth

This article first appeared in print in the April/May issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

One of the things I was struck by when I first moved to town about a decade ago, was just how incredible our city’s snow-clearing system is. It’s true, it’s not always perfect. It’s easy to notice the lack of snow clearing, while at the same time complaining about rising taxes. But these two things are tied together, and we can’t, and shouldn’t expect to have it perfect all the time. The sidewalks and streets that are plowed before you get up, the loader that clears your driveway are things that most other cities in Canada could only dream of. And this has big implications for promoting walkability and bikeability in winter months.

Like many progressive cities, Revelstoke is encouraging walking, and biking as alternative forms of transportation. Reducing car use has several benefits for both residents and the city. It’s a form of physical activity, keeping us healthier and happier. Choosing to be a one-car family can save an estimated $8,600–$13,000 per year for the average Canadian. For the city, reduced car use, means less wear and tear on our roads, less runoff pollution in our streams, and less climate change contributing emissions.

As a one-car family with two young kids, walking and biking is a huge part of our family’s transportation network year-round. One of the reasons we chose to be a one-car family is because it’s really easy in Revelstoke. Our relatively flat city (with the odd hill to climb) makes walking and biking really easy. Without trying, Revelstoke has created the infrastructure needed to promote walking & biking for a lot of residents. It may not be your cup of tea, but for those without access to a car, the ability to walk and bike is critical. But with snow much snow, the wintertime can be a real challenge.

So what can the city and citizens of Revelstoke do to encourage walkability & bikeability year-round?

Here are a few things the city can do to encourage more year-round biking and walking:

  1. Prioritize snow clearing for important pedestrian/cycling routes and routes to school. Even if not clearing the streets (on weekends) making sure that sidewalks are clear can make a huge difference, especially for people with mobility issues or those pushing chariots;
  2. Develop a long-range plan to create bike lanes that are cleared for year-round use (see Scandinavian countries for how to do this right);
  3. Maintain some infrastructure year-round. Identify a spot to build covered bike parking downtown and monitor its use. The whole, ‘If you build it, they will come’ idea can encourage more people to bike if they know there’s a safe, snow/rain-free place to park their bikes;
  4. Better coordination between the city and other governing bodies. This is especially noticeable at our local schools. Walking on cleared sidewalks to the school property, only to have to navigate uncleared, icy/snowy sidewalks the second you hit school property is enough to give up walking altogether. The result is more cars clogging up the drop-off area; and
  5. Better enforce winter parking issues (see below).

As citizens, we can do our part too. Review the City’s SeeClickFix page during the winter and you’ll see a ton of reports relating parking and snow clearing. The City Views Newsletter in February reminded residents about snow removal and parking within the city. Here are some simple steps can help make life easier for pedestrians, bikers, and snow clearing staff:

  1. Don’t park on the sidewalk. Parking on the sidewalk means that pedestrians have to walk around on the road. While not a huge issue for most, this can be challenging for people pushing chariots or people with mobility issues, especially when the parking lane hasn’t been plowed and is 30-plus centimetres deep. This is a ticketable offence.
  2. Clear your parking spaces and park your cars on your property. Not parking on the street (or sidewalk) makes it easier for pedestrians to get by, and makes snow removal quicker and easier for city crews. The city’s policy is that vehicles can only be parked on the street for 24 hours at a time. Beyond that vehicles may be towed to better accommodate snow removal.
  3. Slow down when people are walking on the street. The odds are, they’re not there by choice, but by necessity.