Red Deer’s cycling community to represent Alberta in national ‘Pedal Poll’ research project

CBC Edmonton and CBC Calgary have teamed up to launch a pop-up Red Deer bureau to help us tell your stories from central Alberta. Reporter Heather Marcoux will bring you the news from Red Deer and the surrounding area. Story ideas and tips can be sent to heather.marcoux@cbc.ca.

Red Deer residents will get the chance to roll up and be counted after the central Alberta city was selected as one of 14 to participate in Canada’s first cyclist count. 

And the president of the Red Deer Association for Bicycle Commuting hopes the data will show that residents have embraced bikes during the pandemic and raring to keep riding after it is over.

“Lots more people are riding,” said Franz, who organized Red Deer’s participation in 2021’s inaugural Pedal Poll, which will take place during the first week of June.

“In these COVID times, people are bringing bikes out that they haven’t ridden for years,” said Franz. 

Franz says having an accurate count of cyclists is important for informing policy at the national and municipal levels. 

That’s why on June 1 and June 6, volunteers with smartphones will be stationed at various Red Deer trails, paths and streets, marking how many cyclists or other active transportation users go by and also categorizing the riders. 

Volunteers will use an app to count active transportation users in Red Deer on June 1 and 6. (Heather Marcoux/CBC News )

Using human eyes for better data 

The smartphone app will allow counters to distinguish bike riders by age or perceived gender, as well as track adults pushing strollers, skateboarders and pedestrians.

According to Franz, automatic motion sensors are great for obtaining an estimation of how many bikes use a path or trail, but human eyes are needed to identify which groups are over or underrepresented in cycling. 

Breaking down the data like this is necessary to make cycling more inclusive, said Franz. 

Liz Hagell of the Red Deer Wellness Alliance says there’s never been a better time to collect — and contribute to — this data.

An avid cyclist herself, Hagell hopes to see plenty of Red Deerians counted in the Pedal Poll. 

“It’s good for your mental health, it’s good for your physical health, it’s good for the environment,” she said of cycling. 

Liz Hagell rides her bike at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre in Red Deer, Alta. (Heather Marcoux/CBC News )

Because Hagell knows that not everyone is comfortable on two wheels, she is encouraging other types of physical activity in the form of a month-long healthy competition in June through the ParticipAction Community Better Challenge. 

Any Red Deerian can sign up to track their physical activity via an app. The community with the most active minutes will win $100,000. 

“In 2019, we actually made it to the 18th place on the national leaderboard,” said Hagell, who hopes to climb a few spots this year after the competition was postponed in 2020. 

Ride once, be counted twice

According to Hagell, Red Deerians can be counted in both the Pedal Poll and the Community Better Challenge by cycling on June 1 and 6. 

“We’re going to have signs posted around the trail system that talks about your QR code, where to get your app and how to record your active minutes,” said Hagell. 

Red Deer as a pilot city for Pedal Poll 

Many Canadian communities will be participating in the Participaction Community Better Challenge, but only 14 cities were selected to pilot the Pedal Poll, which is being organized by Vélo Canada Bikes and researchers at Dalhousie University. 

In addition to Red Deer, official counts will take place in St. John’s, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Yellowknife, Kelowna, Vancouver, Whitehorse and the Toronto/Mississauga area. 

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