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Beware the wild denizens of Calgary pathways

May 18, 2023May 18, 2023

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With 1,000 kilometres of paved multi-use pathways, Calgary has the most extensive urban network in North America. This exceptional system of walking and cycling paths is one of our city's greatest assets, a gateway to getting outside for exercise, enjoying Mother Nature and exploring parts of Calgary you’d otherwise never see.

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Now that we’re in full-blown spring/summer, I’m back on the pathways a lot, both as a cyclist and as a pedestrian. Mostly, it's pure pleasure — save for an assortment of fellow pathway users who exhibit less-than-stellar awareness of others around them. You’ve probably encountered them too: the speed demon who steams your tail on a crowded trail; the daydreamer who halts mid-track to check their phone; the headphone-wearing human and their off-leash dog wandering across the pathway.

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To amuse myself, I began lumping these denizens of the pathways into a few broad categories or "species." Here's the breakdown of who they are and where to spot them, along with a handy review of the appropriate pathway etiquette, bylaws and laws designed to keep everyone harmoniously walking and rolling along.


The Middle-Aged Man In Lycra wants to go as fast as possible on his sleek ride. I once saw a MAMIL yell at a small child standing near the pathway beside a playground: "Look out, little girl! Look out, little girl!" I guess he just needed to keep his heart rate in the peak zone instead of behaving like an adult.

Habitat: They’re everywhere, sometimes in packs, but MAMILS’ natural habitat should be found on training rides along roads and trails outside the city.

Rules to note: City of Calgary bylaws restrict the maximum speed on pathways to 20 kilometres per hour unless otherwise posted. For safety, ride single file. Provincial law requires all cyclists to use the appropriate hand signals and do a shoulder check before turning or changing lanes.

The Wobbler

This species is not to be confused with small children who are learning to ride a bike and must be heartily encouraged by everyone on the pathways. Wobblers are adult cyclists who might be a little unsteady at the beginning of the season or who haven't been on a bike in years. Watch out! The Wobbler weaves on both sides of the pathway and needs to be given a wide berth.

Habitat: The busiest possible pathways on peak holiday weekends.

Rules to note: Keep to the right side of the pathway unless passing. Provincial law requires that all bicycles (even vintage ones) need some gear: at least one working brake and a white-light headlight, a red-light tail light and a red rear reflector if riding at dawn, dusk or in the dark.

Everyone must have a bell or horn — including those proud of their high-end carbon-fibre racing bikes.

The Bike Brain

Some of the most aggressive users on our pathways are cycle commuters hellbent on getting to work or home, AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. They seem to have forgotten that these multi-use pathways aren't their personal expressways. Focused on crushing their commute with a single-minded determination, these dudes develop a cognitive dysfunction — call it "bike brain" — in which they fail to recognize other pathway users as fellow humans and not opponents in a live video game.

Habitat: Often encountered racing in the opposite lane on blind corners or suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

Rules to note: Ringing your bell or calling out "On your left" to alert others when passing or approaching a blind spot such as a corner or hill isn't just a nice gesture, it's a city bylaw. Also see: maximum 20 km/h on pathways.

The E-Noob

Juiced by electrical power, the E-Noob can be spotted zooming along at a clip completely out of proportion to their physical output. They’re understandably enamoured of their new e-bikes but occasionally unschooled in pathway etiquette. And their bike handling skills and reaction times aren't always optimal. I’ve got nothing against e-bikes (OK, maybe a little resentment when I’m busting my hump going up a steep hill and a sweat-free e-biker sails past, ta-rah!). Someday, I’ll be an E-Noob too and hope to avoid becoming a hazard to myself and others.

Habitat: Wide-ranging in both urban and rural settings but limited by battery capacity.

Rules to note: Provincial law mandates that bicycle helmets must be worn on electric or power-assist bicycles, regardless of age. Helmets are required for pedal bicyclists only under the age of 18 but are encouraged for all. Also see: maximum 20 km/h on pathways.

The Power Ranger

Like The E-Noob, The Power Ranger is a newer species flocking to pathways. Shared scooters and e-bikes are brilliant ways to get around the city for short trips — hop on, hop off without breaking a sweat. Shared e-bikers must follow regular bicycle rules but unlike cyclists, e-scooter riders are permitted on empty sidewalks. Add in the yahoo factor of those attracted to e-scooters and they can be a public menace. Look out, lady!

Habitat: The downtown core, particularly near the Peace Bridge where there's ample opportunity to see and be seen.

Rules to note: There's a hefty $400 fine for reckless e-scooting and a $75 one for riding double. The companies who operate e-scooters can also opt to fine riders for dumping their scooters in the middle of sidewalks like broken toys once they’re done with them.

The Oblivious

Into this catch-all species, fall both pedestrians and those who roll: the aforementioned headphone wearer; the shirtless BMXer popping on and off the pathway into the brush; the big group walking in a gaggle; the family with darting kids. All of life's rich pageant is found on our pathways. A few of The Oblivious genuinely don't know the rules of pathways, a few are renegades who don't want to get along but I think most just aren't paying attention.

Habitat: Wide-ranging.

Rules to note: Be aware. Step off or pull your bike or scooter right off the pathway to rest or take a photo. Lower the volume on your headphones so you can hear what's happening around you. Keep dogs leashed and mind the kiddies. Give kids, dogs, pedestrians and less experienced pathway users the right of way. Say thanks to those who move aside when you’re on a bicycle or scooter. Smile and nod to people. Be pleasant!

Following these basic guidelines and some common courtesy will go a long way to improving the pathway experience for all.

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included The MAMIL Habitat: Rules to note: The Wobbler Habitat: Rules to note: The Bike Brain Habitat: Rules to note: The E-Noob Habitat: Rules to note: The Power Ranger Habitat: Rules to note: The Oblivious Habitat: Rules to note: