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
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.