In Conversation with Bartek Komorowski
By: Estefania Wujkiw
For the 170 delegates who attended last week's International Winter Cycling Congress, the challenges facing Winnipeg proponents couldn't have been more apparent. Frigid temperatures. Plenty of snowfall. Slippery streets. But Bartek Komorowski, who was one of the invited experts to the conference, believes the obstacles can be overcome. He works at Vélo Québec as the project leader in the research and consulting division. He has extensive experience on projects about active transportation and sustainable urban development for cities, including Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.ã He sat down with Free Press intern Estefania Wujkiw and explained that biking is not about income, but about convenience. Biking is not only fast, but environmentally friendly and cheap, because it doesn't require any fancy gear.
*FP: What do you hope to see in Winnipeg?*
Komorowski: I would hope to see more cycle tracks hopefully, and maybe a cultural change as well. I think a lot of people are telling me here that Winnipeg is very much a car city and there is a bit of friction between cars and bicycles. But that can change. Right now in Montreal, it is better than it used to be. Apparently, the people that started, when they would go out and bike on the streets, they would get things thrown at them out of cars back in the '70s.
*FP: What are the prejudices of winter cycling?*
Komorowski: What really fascinates me is that Canadians generally have no issue with doing winter sports. We go skiing, snowshoeing and that's OK, yet cycling for some reason, it is too cold to cycle. If you are dressed reasonably, it is no different. The benefits of cycling in the winter are exactly the same as the benefits of cycling in the summer. In my case, I keep riding through the winter because it's the fastest option to get to work. I could drive, but there's no parking around where I work. I could take transit, but that would take about 45 minutes, or I could ride my bicycle and it takes me about 15 (minutes).
*FP: What has been the craziest idea you've heard at this event?*
Komorowski: The most out-there idea I've heard of was a presenter from Finland saying that they are working on a cellphone app which will track cyclists with a GPS. When a few cyclists are approaching an intersection, they will turn the light green. In Copenhagen, for example, they have green way, so they time the traffic light to the speed of a bicycle. But this is even better because this is dynamic. If there are unexpectedly a bunch of cyclists heading towards an intersection, that intersection will turn green for them. They are working on it, incidentally, in Oulu, which is actually where Nokia cellphones come from, so it makes sense that they would do that there.
*FP: What best practices were discussed?*
Komorowski:ã The key practices are building separated paths, also prioritizing. You have a network and then you have to decide what are you gonna maintain first, what are you gonna maintain second and third. If you try to do everything at once and you don't have a plan, then it doesn't work and nothing gets done. That's really a big message that a lot of people here had. Then there are technical things like different techniques, like using salt or sand, or scratching the surface to make grooves. Those all depend on the type of climate you have. By exchanging (ideas) we can avoid making mistakes.
*FP: Is the overall experience different between winter and summer cycling, besides the obvious cold weather?*
Komorowski: I heard that there's apparently a Norwegian saying that "there is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothes." It's really not that different from cycling in the summer; you just have to dress appropriately. The only place where it's sort of painful is any part of your face that is exposed. In terms of your technique, you have to be a little more careful in the winter, and it's probably best to go a bit slower because there can be unexpected circumstances. If you have studded tires, you can stop on a dime, but a car might skid. In places where you are sharing the road with cars, you have to remember that.
*FP: Do you have any advice for beginners?*
Komorowski: It is possible to bike in the winter; it is not insane to do it. You dress the same way you would as if you were going cross-country skiing. Maybe if you have a road bike with slick tires, that's not the best. (Try) a slightly bigger tire or with a bit of tread or even a winter tire. Just do it. Go slow when you start just to get a feel for it.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 D3