Women Involved Series: Kim and Kayley

Kayley Fesko and Kim Fisher are a couple of winter cycling rookies in Calgary who are learning to navigate their commutes to work through snow, ice, and cold weather.

Their commitment to commuting all year round was born out of a conversation in September ('14) which led them to start a twitter and blog to share their winter cycling stories with friends and family.

What inspired the idea to commute by bike all year round?
We both migrated naturally towards public transit during the winter. Instinctively, for some reason, we both put our bikes away in the late fall and started our transition to taking the train without questioning it. We love biking so much for three quarters of the year, we decided to give winter cycling a try. Our decision was not without a few questions: “Would our bikes even work in the winter?” “Isn’t winter cycling for crazy people?” “Aren’t we going to be freezing cold?” We soon were able to answer all these questions and more. And believe us, we get them all the time from friends, coworkers and family.

What has been one of the most challenging situations you’ve had since commuting?
Kayley: Road conditions. Shared roadways (meant for both bikes and cars) don’t get the same TLC that the pathways get, and they are generally on secondary roads that don’t get plowed. The roads that are clear are generally too busy or not fit for cycling.
Kim: For me, cycling on a -25C day. Wind was chilling, blowing snow made visibility low, and my fingers felt like blocks of ice.

What has been a positive situation that has come from commuting all year round?
Kayley: I’ve found drivers have been friendlier in the winter and my skills with bike maintenance have improved.
Kim: My legs have gotten stronger and I’m physically and mentally in better shape.

What is one of the most inspiring moments since you started Commit to Commute?
How have people responded to your blog/twitter?
It’s been an opportunity to participate in community building. We have engaged in some great conversations with people from all over the world and have been exposed to the amazing bike community here in Calgary. We’ve made new friends and are participating more in events across the city. If our blog or twitter can encourage more people to talk about multimodal transportation and increased safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike, then in our eyes that is the most successful outcome.

Tell us a bit about the cycling infrastructure you have? Do you have protected lanes? Sharrows? Why is it important for cyclists to have a safe place to ride?
Your downtown core isn’t so cycling-friendly. Tell us about the challenges you face with your city/community?
Calgary boasts over 700km of multi-use pathways which are great for leisure activities, but while safe, don’t offer total connectivity or efficiency for commuting. Often those who aren’t in support of cycle tracks will fall back on our amazing recreational pathway system and wonder why “no one cycles to work”. We have a low modal cycling share which is hovering around 2%, however based on several local studies, there are a large number of Calgarians who are “interested in cycling”. To us, this demonstrates that there lacks a safe network for those who are “interested”. Calgary also has a shared roadway/bikeway system, which in the summer is fairly decent, albeit not always totally connected. The City’s Active Transportation team has been making moves over the past year with the introduction of Calgary’s first cycle track downtown and several pilots across the city. The 7.5 km downtown cycle track system pilot will make its debut in July 2015. For those high traffic areas this will act as a visual reminder that cycling is a valid means of transportation and will create ease of access in the downtown core.
There are members of City Council who see the value in programs like this and are huge proponents of cycling. We thank you! We hope that more Councilors will take the opportunity to chat with cyclists and pedestrians to hear about the value of multimodal transportation.

Do you feel a lack of infrastructure is a reason more people do not commute by bike?
Absolutely. A lack of safe and well maintained infrastructure in combination with urban sprawl and Calgary’s car centric culture are some of the barriers. Calgary has been designed with cars as the number one priority. We have low ridership compared to other municipalities and no wonder. Urban planning here was and still is predominately about how to make our roads faster and larger to move vehicles across the city.

What do you feel people could do now to help being awareness?
Have conversations. Make multimodal forms of transportation the norm, not the exception.

Why should people consider commuting as a means of transportation?
It’s fun! It’s our buffer between work and home life. And it’s active.

Do you feel making the goal to commute year round has changed you?
It’s made us consider the importance of livable communities. We both own houses, we want our communities to be accessible for bikes and walking. It’s made us curious about other cities, what have they done differently, how can Calgary evolve and adapt?  We’ve also become more active and engaged with our municipal government and the decisions they are making for our city. We’ll definitely continue to cycle all year round.

Why should more women get involved with cycling?
There are a lot of expectations of women. There are a lot of perceived and actual barriers that keep women from biking. We encourage women who cycle to reach out and connect with those who may fall under that “interested” category and take them out for a ride. Women are frequently tagged as “risk adverse”, if we are out using the cycling infrastructure, the safer it becomes for everyone. Lastly, you’ve already heard it from us a few times…but we can’t stress enough how much fun it is!