Commuter Champion: Don McSwiney

Apr 07, 2017

Manager of Communications and Marketing in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, Don McSwiney is a dedicated bike commuter. He shares the ups, downs, ins and outs of commuting in Calgary’s Northwest, perspectives on the city’s changing transportation landscape and advice for getting started as a bike commuter.


Tell us a little about how you got into commuting, especially in a sprawling city like Calgary where vehicles have always been king.


I started cycle commuting because of a couple of factors. The first was pragmatic. It’s pricey to park in Calgary and I also save money on gas if I don’t drive for most of the week. Secondly, physical fitness has always been important to me. I worked for the Faculty of Kinesiology for many years and know that being active is the single most important thing you can do for your health. It’s also a great way to unwind after work and mull things over on the way to work. It’s a lot more fun than sitting in traffic and being stressed too!


Calgary’s weather isn’t always predictable, particularly during the winter months. How do you brave these conditions as a commuter? Is there anything you won’t commute through?


I bike every day, even on the coldest -32°C days! I’m not the most fashionable cyclist at the best of times but in the winter, all fashion sense is sacrificed for survival. If you dress properly in layers, you’re actually sweating by the time you get to work. You also need good (studded) snow tires and those “hot paw” hand warmers. Then it’s actually kind of fun!


Do you see a shift in Calgary’s openness to commuting? With the opening of several bike lanes around the city, do you think Calgarians are becoming more open to alternative means of transportation?


Well, I think that some people find it hard to deal with change but over time people will become accustomed to sharing the road with bike lanes. I think younger people already see the value. Having said that, when I hear people grumbling about the cost of bike lanes, I like to point out that I pay taxes too.


More importantly though, the Conference Board of Canada research shows that if just 10 per cent of Canadian adults would exercise even a moderate amount, it would reduce Canada’s health care costs by $2.6 billion and inject $7.5 billion into the Canadian economy by the year 2040– bike lanes could save billions. I think that it’s a case of “if you build it, they will come,” and when people see the numbers of people using the lanes, they’ll accept it more readily.


Is the Northwest commuter-friendly? What about this area makes it a good pick for would-be commuters?


The Northwest is a fantastic place to cycle. We have one of the best (if not the best) pathway systems in North America and the Northwest is amply served with beautiful paths running through the parks and dedicated bike lanes on access roads to the University. It takes me 14 minutes door-to-door to get to work in the morning. When I worked downtown, it took far less time to cycle from the Northwest than it would to take transit, or to fight traffic on a bad day (and there are a lot of car commuting bad days.) You also save hundreds on parking downtown.


U/D has sights set on wellness initiatives in addition to being accessible for residents and neighbours. The community is going to feature a number of pathways, including bike networks to accommodate commuters and recreational cyclists. Do you foresee initiatives like this growing in new communities in the city as commuting catches on?


For people interested in an active lifestyle, amenities like bike paths are going to be a primary expectation. For many young adults, the bike isn’t something that sits covered in dust in the back of the garage, it’s a primary means of transportation with a social aspect. A community that is networked for bikes will also mean a community where neighbors can get to know each other better.


Do you have any tips for aspiring commuters looking to park their car or get off the couch?


Just do it. If you start bike commuting you’ll feel revitalized and in a few weeks, I bet you’ll feel about ten years younger.


You’ll save lots of money on parking, you’ll save wear and tear on your car (and it costs a lot less to maintain and fix a bicycle), and you probably won’t need that expensive gym membership. You’ll also save time, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can get where you’re going on a bike.  


You also don’t have to buy any fancy bike gear, just layer your regular clothes and you’ll be plenty warm enough in the winter. In the winter, you’re going to be afraid that you’ll feel cold and it’ll be miserable. But it won’t be. In fact, winter cycling helps you to enjoy winter more. It’s a fun challenge. You just have to prepare; studded winter tires are a must. In the summer, wear shorts and a t-shirt and enjoy some glorious sunshine on the way home.

With new, dedicated bike lanes crisscrossing the city, there has literally never been a better time to get started. So what are you waiting for?


Whether you’re a fledgling cyclist or seasoned commuter, you learn more about how U/D is becoming a commuter haven by checking our plan for upcoming community spaces and our feet-first approach to getting around.



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Maureen Henderson
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