When the Snow Flies: A Guide for Winter Cycling Success in Ottawa, Canada

When the Snow Flies: A Guide for Winter Cycling Success in Ottawa, Canada

From the Canadian branch of our member Mobycon.

I can’t tell you how many surprised faces I’ve seen or how many people have questioned my sanity after I tell them I ride my bike year-round in Ottawa, Canada. As the snowiest capital city in the world, the thought of riding a bike into November – let alone in the middle of January – is unfathomable for most. Yet in Ottawa, and many cities across Canada and around the world, it’s definitely possible and actually a lot of fun!

There is far more to encouraging and enabling winter cycling than simply educating the public on how to stay warm, be seen, and what tires they should get. Winter cycling begins from the top down, with local governments committing to planning, designing, and maintaining cycling infrastructure with all seasons in mind. So with this two part series, I lay out a guide to become the next winter cycling city.


The first step in creating a good winter cycling network is creating a good cycling network, period. Your network needs to allow people to get from their origins to their destinations on routes that are safe, coherent, direct, comfortable, and attractive. The most frequented destinations (e.g., work, school, shops, and services) don’t change from season to season, so connecting them with a good network will help to increase cycling mode share year-round.

Example of a sneckdown curb-line in Ottawa

Example of a sneckdown, as seen from Mobycon’s office in Ottawa, Canada. The red lines delineate the existing curb line.


The next consideration is design. Snow storage is a common concern in winter cities and is frequently cited as a reason to maintain wide vehicle lanes. However, there is no need for snow storage to take place within the curb-to-curb width. Year after year, fresh snowfall reveals the space that is truly needed for motor traffic and demonstrates opportunities for curb extensions – space that can be used for buffers, wider sidewalks, and cycle tracks. Known as a sneckdown, this phenomenon demonstrates how much extra space is dedicated to motor traffic and could serve other uses, including snow storage.

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