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Car-free cycling experience reopens on Banff's Bow Valley Parkway

“Be mindful of other cyclists because there’s a variety of comfort and experience levels using that cycling offer."
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A family cycles along the Bow Valley Parkway. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Cyclists are being asked to have their wildlife wits about them on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park.

Parks Canada has closed a 17-kilometre section at the eastern end of the parkway to private vehicles from Sept. 1-Oct. 2 as part of a three-year pilot project to offer cycling only. This is the second year of the pilot.

However, they warn that wild animals are active in the park at this time of year, noting the fall elk rut is getting underway, bears are busy feeding to prepare for a long winter’s hibernation and wolves are raising their young.

“There’s still a fair amount of wildlife activity, so we want to remind people to give wildlife space,” said Daniella Rubeling, visitor experience manager for Banff National Park.

“We ask people to report bear, cougar, wolf and coyote sightings and encounters to Banff dispatch in a timely manner so that our staff can then address it if it’s needed.”

Following public input, Parks Canada committed to a three-year pilot project for a vehicle-free cycling experience in spring and fall on the parkway, while allowing vehicles in the busy summer months of July and August.

“We’ve got another year of this with the spring and fall sessions that we will be then evaluating, monitoring,” said Rubeling.

“We’ll be looking for feedback and making decisions for longer term timing, duration and what that might look like if we were to continue.”

During the spring session between May 1 and June 25, there were 35,000 rides counted on the Bow Valley Parkway. The counters clock rides, not individual cyclists. That’s compared to 34,500 for the same period in 2022.

Last fall, there were 29,000 rides recorded.

“We’ll see how that compares this year to last year when we had a really stellar fall,” said Rubeling.

“The counts are certainly weather dependent, but I’m confident we’ll still see strong use of it this fall as we did last year.”

Parks Canada believes the cycling-only experience has been popular for a number of reasons.

Rubeling said experienced cyclists have long been more comfortable riding alongside vehicles, whereas the vehicle restriction provides more comfort for those who don’t like riding with cars buzzing by.

“There’s a bit more safety for them in that sense. That safety perception with having a bit more space, having a bit more room on the roadway allows people to feel more comfortable,” she said.

“They’re not necessarily going all the way to Johnston Canyon, but that section of the roadway being predominantly vehicle-free allows people with kids or who are slower to be able to enjoy themselves.”

Parks Canada also reminds cyclists of biking etiquette and to follow the rules of the road, even though the parkway is closed to vehicles.

“Be mindful of other cyclists because there’s a variety of comfort and experience levels using that cycling offer,” said Rubeling.

“There are those who are really comfortable cycling and who are doing it daily as part of an exercise routine, and then there are those who haven’t been on a bike a long time and they’re testing it out.”

Public feedback has been mixed on whether to make the Bow Valley Parkway vehicle-free throughout the summer, too, according to Parks Canada.

“We have folks who would like to see the offer continued throughout July and August, and we’ve had other folks who would like to see it open to vehicles all year round,” said Rubeling.

“We’ll be looking for ongoing feedback as we go through the pilot.”

To report carnivore sightings or encounters, call Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.

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