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Shifting Gears: Popular Urban Systems Course Hits a New Gear in Calgary

Students on a bicycle tour in Calgary, discussing concepts from the Shifting Gears course this past September
Students on a bicycle tour in Calgary, discussing concepts from the Shifting Gears course this past September
Urban Systems recently partnered with the City of Calgary and the Institute of Transportation Engineers to deliver a two-day course on planning and designing bicycle facilities that are comfortable and attractive for people of all ages and abilities.

Brian Patterson, who leads Urban Systems’ active transportation practice across Canada from Vancouver’s Yaletown office, is passionate about creating more active and vibrant communities and, like many of his co-workers, commutes to work on his bike most days. Brian is also an expert on bicycle facility design. He has been delivering a customized course about designing effective bicycle facilities in communities across Canada over the past few years. To date over 300 professionals across Canada—ranging from municipal staff to engineers, landscape architects, students and consultants—have benefited from its teachings.

Most recently, Urban Systems created a new two-day advanced version of the course, called “Shifting Gears” to go beyond the more introductory level course previously offered, to focus on what is really needed to encourage people of all ages and abilities to cycle more often. This two-day course focused on engineering treatments as well as education, marketing, communications, and monitoring approaches to promote cycling. The two-day course included in-class instruction as well as a bicycle field trip to apply lessons learned, and was co-taught by Ross Kenny, a transportation engineer with the City of Vancouver.

ShiftingGears_NewSiteBrian explains that courses like Shifting Gears are critically important, because the field is rapidly evolving and there is actually very little training or guidance out there for professionals designing bicycle facilities.

“There isn’t much out there to give people direction, so we’re trying to help address that. This is a field with lots of new information and we’re learning best practices from each other and giving each other the tools to design well. We’re all in it together.”

The most recent two-day offering of Shifting Gears included walking tours and cycling tours. “It’s all well and good to sit in the classroom and look at photos, but to get on your bike and experience what we’re talking about in person is completely different. People absolutely loved it,” says Brian.

“It’s all well and good to sit in the classroom and look at photos, but to get on your bike and experience what we’re talking about in person is completely different. People absolutely loved it.”

“The whole afternoon on the first day we focused on protected bicycle lanes, from how to design them to evidence in support of why they work. Staff from the City of Calgary did a lesson on local issues and challenges with cycle tracks, and then we did a walking tour to look at the ones the City of Calgary had built.”

Research has shown that when trying to encourage people to commute more by bike, three types of designs can help: off-street pathways, local street bikeways (for low volume streets) and physically protected bicycle lanes (people don’t feel comfortable riding directly next to high speed traffic). Brian explains that if you really want to make a difference and get more people cycling those are the three areas you need to focus on, which is why the course content focuses there in particular. The industry trend is currently all about how to develop safe and separated facilities. Communities are hungry for knowledge on how to build bicycle facilities that are safer, more comfortable, and more attractive to a larger portion of population.

And, Brian explains, it’s not just about building great facilities and walking away. These facilities need to be introduced correctly to communities—to be communicated about in a way that ignites interest.

“We’re looking at public education and encouragement and marketing ideas that cities can use to support infrastructure. How do we tell people this infrastructure is there and let them know how to use it? For most engineers that’s a whole new way of thinking—to consider the project after it’s complete, from a communications and user experience perspective.”

And in the end, it’s all about encouraging dialogue, sharing expertise and ultimately creating vibrant communities.

“We are all in this together we all want to encourage communities to be as innovative and progressive as possible – and this will lead to better communities with more choices. Ultimately, we want to give people the tools they need to help build better more vibrant communities.”

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