Report from the Field: Winter Cycling Congress

Barbara Jacobson, Programs Director

Winter Biking

Typically ridership decreases as the weather turns colder and there is an increase in snow and ice on the ground. However, there is a subset of the population that bikes year-round. I am happy to say that I’ve been commuting year-round since I started biking in Boston six years ago.

Interestingly, I discovered an entire conference dedicated to winter biking, the Winter Cycling Congress (WCC). I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the Fourth annual WCC held last week in Minneapolis, the first time the conference has been held in the United States. Minneapolis proved to be a fantastic place for [winter] biking (I’m sure biking there in the summer is great as well). Both the on-road and trail networks were well maintained and usable. Strong mayoral support and communication between the Department of Public Works and maintenance staff has created an impressive program for snow removal. When Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was elected mayor in 2014, her first proclamation in office was naming January 3rd “Winter Biking Day.” Having that kind of support from the mayor highlighted the prioritization of bicycling as a legitimate mode of transportation for all users during all seasons.

Best Practices for Promoting Winter Biking

Conference Takeaways:

  • Political will, notably mayoral support, is essential for four-season infrastructure to be designed, implemented & maintained.
  • Engaging with DPWs and maintenance teams at the onset of design and implementation of separated bike lane projects is important. By including DPWs and maintenance at the onset of the project, it creates cohesion amongst departments.
  • Bicyclist and pedestrian counters work even when covered with layers of snow and ice, so there are opportunities to figure out ridership numbers year-round.
  • Winter ridership depends on a variety of factors, not just precipitation or temperature, but rather on snow clearance and perceptions of safety.
  • In order for a municipality to have a year-round bicycling culture, the infrastructure must be designed with winter in mind – not as an afterthought or reaction to a storm.
  • Many municipalities such as Minneapolis and Montreal have winter bike maintenance plans to ensure that priority and connected bike routes are plowed.
  • Design separated bike lanes so that they are wide enough for plowing equipment, such as tool cats, to successfully remove snow.
  • Covered bike parking at transit stations will promote multi-modal transportation year-round.

Temporary Solutions: Sneckdowns

“Sneckdown” is buzzword amongst sustainable and active transportation advocates and planners. A sneckdown is a form of traffic calming that uses snow to  give a clear depiction of how much roadway space cars need. The snow-covered space on the roadways indicates opportunities for space to be reallocated for different uses such as bike lanes, protected bike lanes or curb extensions. Sneckdowns act as traffic calming mechanism and tap into a complete streets design framework with minimal costs.

Thoughts

What I found interesting was that usually when people talk about  biking in the winter, some proclaimed doing so with gusto, whereas others sheepishly confessed to doing so. If bicyclists are a niche market, those who bike year-round are a niche within a niche. The WCC brings to the forefront many of the issues year-round riders face: mainly, cold weather, maintenance concerns and  desires for connectivity to the road network.

For biking to be a legitimate and safe form of daily, year-round transportation, bike infrastructure needs to receive the same degree of maintenance and prioritization given to cars.  As ridership continues to increase, bicycling year-round will become as normal and as easy as, well, riding a bike.

One thing that I really enjoyed about being in a city that celebrated winter biking was that the people embraced winter, rather than treating it as an obstacle or something that “just happens.” I think that it is important to understand that seasons are not inherently bad, they add richness and diversity to places. By focusing on the creative opportunities winter provides, rather than as barriers or obstacles, it creates a sustainable and diverse city that is navigable by bike year-round.

Next Steps:

Interested in getting into winter biking? Winter Bike to Work Day is this Friday, February 12! Please visit www.winterbiketoworkday.org for more information. Join us at Flat Black @ 50 Broad Street for a special Rise & Bike at 8 AM on the 12th! Do you need something cool to stay warm? Check out our neck gaiters here.

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