Culture / Cycling

Major Flood or Disaster- Do Transportation Habits Change?

Well, my choice of transportation around my city, didn’t change during the flood nor afterwards. I kept on cycling. I’ve been car-free for past 3 decades.

During and after our city’s major river flood, I wondered if people living in the flooded neighbourhoods, had to modify their travel habits. For certain, residents with cars and

Cycling underpass closed under Langevin Bridge after Bow River flood waters rose to the underside of bridge.  2013 Photo by J. Chong

Cycling underpass closed under Langevin Bridge after Bow River flood waters rose to the underside of bridge. 2013 Photo by J. Chong

trucks could leave more freely or tow garbage to the landfill from damaged homes during the disaster clean-up. When I evacuated during the early morning hours, Friday June 21 at 3:30 am, I took a taxi to the airport. It made sense to me, since cars were still allowed in our area. However, the taxi driver did avoid some police cruiser blocked intersections, where a road led to zones with flood water sweeping inland.

Surreal Times: From Flood Panic to Water Sports Celebration
I landed in Vancouver. Within hours, I swapped from living in a major flood alert zone to a surreal scene of Vancouver ramping up for its annual water sport celebration, the

Surreal times. Within 3 hrs.- from flood panic in Calgary to water sport celebration in Vancouver.  A dragonboat team prepares for practice run. Vancouver BC 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Surreal times. Within 3 hrs.- from flood panic in Calgary to water sport celebration in Vancouver. A dragonboat team prepares for practice run. Vancouver BC 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Dragonboat Race Festival. On that same day, June 21, the police imposed a no-entry zone for our Calgary neighbourhood.  Also Enmax, the utility company shut off electrical power to all flooded and evacuated neighbourhoods so that the power transformers wouldn’t blow apart and catch on fire.

In hindsight, I had left Calgary at the right time: no fun living at home for 5 days with no working elevator, no emergency lighting in stairwells, and no power for refrigerator, stove, nor computer.

Flood damaged bike path below near Langevin Bridge. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Flood damaged bike path below near Langevin Bridge. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Some personal observations as resident and cyclist in a flood evacuation and damaged zone:

Flood Time: Jun. 20- 21, 2013

  • While waiting for a taxi, there were many cars parked on our residential streets all night. Not normal. Car owners had parked on street, for two main reasons: a quick getaway if flood waters poured in and also prevent their cars from being flooded in underground condo garages. Note: Underground garages did get flooded in some of our neighbourhood buildings.
  • Night before, I wheeled up two bikes from our storage locker and stored them in my home suite several stories up. I was glad I did. Our lockers got flooded when our sump pump stopped after the electrical power cut. Several scenes of this news video clip which includes the downtown area. Muddy water is flood water filling up the streets:

After Flood Disaster

  • Shortly after the flood, the mayor encouraged on tv, people to walk, bike , car pool or later, take transit. There were real concerns some major open and undamaged roads, would be congested in the downtown area.
  • There were road closures and detours for next few weeks. Over 200 road sinkholes across the city had to be repaired.
  • Cycling downtown on business days was much quieter and simply less cars. It would have been a great time for any wannabe commuter cyclist to check out routes with less stress.

    Cyclist turns around minutes later after photo was taken. Realizes the sign is for real. Inglewood neighbourhood on bike path leading by Elbow River that did flood. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong. 2 months after flood.

    Cyclist turns around later after this photo was taken. He realizes the sign is for real. Inglewood neighbourhood on bike path leading by Elbow River that did flood. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong. 2 months after flood.

  • Chunks of our vaunted parks pathway system and bridges for cyclists and pedestrians, were gouged, smashed or collapsed from the roaring flood waters. Trees were uprooted and flung downstream willy nilly along river banks. Some stumps and large concrete chunks even ended up in the City’s sewage filtration system at a waste water treatment plant –a dangerous situation.

    Stoney Trail bike pedestrian bridge under flood waters. June 2013. Photo by DarrenB, BikeCalgary member.

    Stoney Trail bike pedestrian bridge under flood waters. June 2013. Photo by DarrenB, BikeCalgary member.

  • Our communal bike cage for employees was at least 80% full the whole summer. Not bad, since our 12-storey office building could only have 40% of all employees could work there since the building’s electrical and mechanical systems were flood damaged. Normally there are over 2,000 employees in the building. Bike cage holds up to 140 bikes. My observation is based on parking in that bike cage over 7 different work days during this summer when I needed to work at an office work site instead of home.
  • Cycling advocacy group members share on the Internet, photos and tips on closed and later, repaired cycling routes. It’s an ongoing thread.

    Cycling on Stoney Bridge Trail before flood. Summer 2012. Photo by J. Becker

    Cycling on Stoney Trail Bridge before flood. Summer 2012. Photo by J. Becker. I was cycling up towards the green rail bridge ahead of me.

  • Cyclists living in the southeast section of the city, now have real problems cycling across the city to get into downtown. A well-loved, heritage wooden suspension river bridge, was completely destroyed.
  • Municipal heritage building planner and his staff team bike around the city during first few days to assess the damage of heritage buildings. It was the easiest way to navigate into neighbourhoods with detours, dumpsters, construction debris, mud and people working on clean-up.
  • City promotes use of park ‘n bike lots near some bike paths just shortly after the flood.

    Sections of Bow River bike path in Bowness Park area still flooded several days after water receded elsewhere. Calgary AB  2013. Photo by L. Williams

    Sesctions of Bow River bike path in Bowness Park area still flooded several days after water receded elsewhere. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by L. Williams

  • When I returned to Calgary nearly 3 weeks post-flood, city workers managed to frantically pump out water-logged train tunnels and repair its warped light rail transit train lines to full operation –in time for the Calgary Stampede.
  • Employees are told that our 7-level underground parkade won’t be fully repaired until December. Advice is given about alternate parking lots and just, plan your travel options differently.

    7th St. SW separated bike lane opens a few weeks after flood. Much of the construction was already completed prior to flood. Calgary AB 2013.  Photo by J. Chong. Photo lens shortens perspective --giving illusion of many signs.

    7th St. SW separated bike lane opens a few weeks after flood. Much of the construction was already completed prior to flood. Path entrance to Peace Bridge. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong. Photo lens shortens perspective –giving illusion of many signs.

  • City’s first separated bike lane opened up 2 weeks after the flood. Life continued. Anticipated public firestorm did not rocket en masse. What for? After a dangerous, life-changing massive flood that evacuated 100,000 people? Some flower planters were placed later as car barriers. A new beginning.

Cycling Motivation Slides Temporarily
My cycling motivation for first few weeks after returning to Calgary, was not as upbeat. Maybe knowledge of some ruined bike path sections and homeowners still cleaning up their damaged basements, had sapped my drive to cycle and explore a lot further this summer. For awhile, I kept closer to home – bicycling to grocery stores, cafes and park areas that were cleaned up. In other words, cycling for life’s necessities –food, work and health care appointments.

Parts of the transit rail tracks were distorted from flood waters. They were replaced with workers working hrs. to restore full LRT service lines. 2013. Photo credit: City of Calgary

It wasn’t hard. I checked continuously updated local map for route closures that were being repaired and opened up one by one each week. Heck, large chunks of Calgary were not touched at all by the flood. Not all of the city lies near the river.

Removed from Flood Impact, Not Knowing Options or No Effort
Maybe that’s part of the problem: not all Calgarians were directly affected by the flood.

Large areas of Calgary were untouched by flood disaster. Common suburban sprawl in a rapidly growing prairie city. 2013.  Photo by J. Chong

Large areas of Calgary were untouched by flood disaster. Common suburban sprawl in a rapidly growing prairie city. 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Their homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods were intact. They watched the rising floodwaters from afar. Not everyone volunteered to shovel out mud for people who had damaged homes.

Or people live in car-bound neighbourhoods. Or they just couldn’t be bothered to think otherwise.

Will they ever learn? New house is being built just less than 10 metres away from Elbow River that flooded recently. Calgary AB 2013.  Photo by J. Chong

Will they ever learn? New house is being built just less than 10 metres away from Elbow River that flooded recently. Inglewood, Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Difficult to know if the flood encouraged some people to rethink their need to jump into the car for a 5 km. ride. The flood didn’t change even one iota for some people, like a work colleague who cancelled a meeting with a client because his truck broke down the night before.

I checked Google for his meeting location: a transit bus goes straight to meeting location. Also a bike path only 8 km. north from our downtown headquarters office, runs behind his meeting location. I’ve biked that route many times to my favourite Middle Eastern bakery. Did he even think to check non-car travel options? Two sunny summer months were open for all of us after a life-altering flood, to try something new.

Riverdale-Sifton bike-pedestrian bridge damaged and not tranversable. Photo credit:  City of Calgary News Blog. Aug. 15, 2013

Riverdale-Sifton bike-pedestrian bridge damaged and not tranversable. Photo credit: City of Calgary News Blog. Aug. 15, 2013

If a natural disaster hit your neck of the woods, what would you do? How will you travel around home?

Additional Reading, Photos:
Calgary Flood of 2013 in Pictures. In BikeBike Blog. Jun. 21, 2013.

BikeCalgary. The Aftermath of the Flood of 2013- An extended Internet discussion thread among Calgarian cyclists.  With photos of bike paths and route damage.

City of Calgary. Park ‘n Bike Lots.

Chong, J. Post-Flood Contemplations: Art and Memory Along the Bow River.  Cycle Write Blog. Jul. 21, 2013.

Livingstone, B.  Team Sets Out to Safeguard Historic Treasures. In Calgary Herald. Jul. 16, 2013. 

Stark, Erika. Restoring Calgary Parks Could Take Years. In Calgary Herald (with a short video clip and text). Aug. 12, 2013.

Overlooking Bowness Park and rail bridge where river floodwaters gouged and weakened river banks near homes. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by  L. Williams

Overlooking Bowness Park and rail bridge where river flood waters gouged and weakened river banks near homes. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by L. Williams. River water is still turbulent with silt.

Videoclip below, J. Maus from PortlandBike.org, a cycling advocacy organization highlights his impressions of how local cyclists dealt with the disaster aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City.

19 thoughts on “Major Flood or Disaster- Do Transportation Habits Change?

  1. Great post!! I am sure that some people, at least, thought twice about transportation. At least I can hope so.

    This reminds me of a Taking the Lane zine, “Disaster.” Reflections from cyclists about disasters (natural and human-caused) and transportation!

    Like

  2. Wow, that looks like some serious flooding, Jean! I haven’t lived in Cuenca long enough to know how I’d get around during a disaster. We take public transit–don’t have bikes or cars ourselves. Glad you thought to take your bikes up to your apartment.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    Like

    • It might be a good idea that you and your partner at least consider some basic emergency plan. The infrastructure and services might be quite different than ie. a big North American city during disaster and shortly thereafter.

      Like

  3. What a fabulous post! I’m coming back to read it again as I’m on the run right now. I have been wondering if and when you’d share a post on the flood. Wow! Did you ever deliver. :)

    Like

  4. Unfortunately, I suspect that it would take more than a massive flood to change most people’s transportation habits in any lasting way.

    Bikes probably make a lot of sense after a natural disaster, especially in the case of infrastructure disruption. However, I have occasionally wondered if by not owning a car, I make the prospect of evacuating my family BEFORE an imminent disaster much more difficult.

    Like

    • Not owning a car and being in the situation for self-evacuation, does mean paying attention to emergency alerts from municipal authorities sooner and acting on them. But one would have to weigh the type of emergency. For example, not sure that having a car, will save a person in a tornado if already one is in the wrong place. I’m choosing a tornado since it is more likely in our part of Canada. I actually was supposed to evacuate the 8 hrs. before I finally left. Instead I went to bed, not totally believing what was going on. Then later found out that part of the LRT system was flooded plus my office work building was shut down. I left and in hindsight that was good timing because the police closed off our neighbourhood and electrical power was shut off in our area.

      Clearly having a baby, very young children or being a frail elder, does mean making good arrangements with a reliable neighbour if possible with transportation. A person must be prepared to evacuate and leave their personal possessions behind.

      Like

  5. People don’t think of transportation habits under normal circumstances – they do what they usually do. But when a natural disaster hits, owning a bike is great when everything else fails. So glad you took care of your bike!

    Like

    • You are absolutely right that most people just do what they normally do for transportation and whatever is convenient for their own routine. A disaster can highlight one’s lifestyle –for sure! You also realize in terms of personal possessions what is most valuable. Let’s put it this way, I have only 1 bike where I am right now. So for him. But we each have several bikes in Vancouver. Different bikes serve different purposes. Cars isn’t normally like this for most folks ’cause they are more expensive to buy and to operate.

      Like

  6. Incredible, Jean– what a post! It reads like a dramatic documentary, and I guess that’s what it is. You’ve preserved some rather shocking history here.

    As always, a great mix of photos. Loved the one of you on the Stoney Trail Bridge, even tho it was pre-flood and taken by someone else. That houses-packed-like-sardines suburbia photo was sobering, but the inexplicably happy worker by the flood-ravaged tracks made me smile.

    Superb job chronicling a very tragic event.

    Like

    • It was a bit shocking being in the landlocked prairies and experiencing a major flood. But often prairies are low-lying areas. The river that flooded is only 1 block away. I could hear the river roaring along –normally one doesn’t hear the river that far away.

      Like

  7. Interesting question Jean. Life goes on and if it’s impossible to use the car, people must adapt and find another way of transportation. But, I guess there are some people who can’t see what are the other possibilities because they’ve been using a car for so long and can’t imagine using their bike or other options. Great post and pictures. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective.

    Like

  8. Do transportation habits change? It’s a great question.

    I live in New York, one of many areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. Thinking ahead makes it easier to use alternative transportation after a natural disaster.

    For some people, in some situations, the alternative transportation will be a bike. For other people, in other situations, it will be a taxi or a bus.

    Weather and its effects are unpredictable: A flood in the plains? A shutdown of the Long Island Rail Road? Transportation alternatives should be part of personal preparedness wherever we are.

    Like

    • I know of only 1 person well since I’m still a recent resident from another province. But even under such circumstances, people are too busy with their own immediate situation. I agree a back-up plan and..emergency funds in case, we need to take the trip for escape, temporary accommodation and food –all that I used: taxi, then plane (which I had planned a vacation trip) and replacing spoiled fridge food when the utility company cut our neighbourhood’s power for a few days.

      Living in some parts of Canada, does mean temporarily slowed down or shut off for a day because of a snowstorm and impassable/dangerous roads for vehicles in the winter. For instance, just a few days, a major highway was closed off east of Calgary towards Saskatchewan because of blowing snow whiteouts and poor visibility. So drivers had to hunker down in a hotel for a day or so. Not a disaster, if a person has not been involved in an accident under Nature’s fury.

      Like

    • Maybe for a limited group of locals. For certain, the 3 washed out historic bike ped., wooden bridges really highlighted to people, the necessity of them for a faster route/cut across from point A to point B.

      I think the flood may have emphasized the value of our well-kept parks when they were inaccessible in certain areas.

      Even now, I have not yet cycled after the flood certain sections, near the Elbow River. Just this past weekend, I was humbly reminded just how low the river banks were when we were in Mission area.

      Like

I welcome your thoughts on this blog post:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s