As soon as fall weather started up in Portland, Oregon, I started getting a lot of questions about biking in the snow. Since it snows maybe twice in a Portland winter, and every year there's just one obligatory ice storm, the sudden obsession with biking in the snow seemed strange.
It may be, however, that many fair-weather cyclists see any inclement weather as a reason not to ride, and snow as the premier hindrance. Getting reluctant cyclists to brave their bikes in the middle of winter is the reason a few towns in the Netherlands are now considering passively heating their bike paths to provide drier, more comfortable roads.
In this report from the Netherlands De Telegraaf news site, the Dutch Cyclists Union enthuses over the possibility of pavement warmed up by underground pipes. Heated paths would induce more bicyclists to ride, the DCU hypothesizes, reduce accidents due to snowy roads, and keep more cars from the roads.
The Dutch province of Utrecht is considering passively-warmed bike lanes, as is the town of Zutphen.
The cost is estimated to be between U.S. $25 - 50,000 per kilometer of heated bike path. Marcel Boerefijn of the engineering firm Tauw said in one news report that the pipes for the heated bike paths would have to run as deep as 50 meters down, which is why the cost per kilometer of lane is so high. Heat generated during the summer months would be collected and stored, and used to de-ice and warm the paths in the winter.
Boerefijn estimated that though the installation cost seems high, Dutch municipalities adopting the passive bike path heating would end up saving money in salt and straw used on roads in winter, as well as in reduced accident costs.
While it seems unrealistic to imagine American cities spending this type of money for bike lanes, it would certainly benefit cyclists in "real winter, real cyclists" cities like Minneapolis and New York.