The Active Neighbour Series, Episode 3: Matt Heller

How do Calgarians get around, what barriers get in their way, and what opens the flood gates to let them explore?

In this series you will meet fellow Calgarians and learn about their experiences using active transportation in our city. How do they get around – is it fun or infuriating? Easy or challenging? The folks I speak with will share not only their own experiences, but also their solutions to common active transportation problems.

When Matt Heller said that something felt “magical” about getting around on his own two feet, I immediately understood what he meant. I thought about how I felt last week when I walked to a coffee shop near my house. I cut through the local dog park and said hello to my neighbours and a cute puppy. I listened to a podcast. I saw signs of spring and heard birds singing.

I arrived rosy cheeked and energized. It was magical.

So, would you be surprised to learn that there is research backing up this “magical” feeling? Release the inevitable gasp, because there is. Walkability can have huge impacts on your mental health. This is because people are more socially engaged, less lonely, and less anxious in green, walkable, and active transport friendly areas. If you need to imagine this in action, you can picture my snow-white-like walk to the coffee shop, waving hello to my neighbours and the neighbourhood birds.

These insights didn’t surprise me, but if they surprised you, take a minute to think about how it feels to drive around our city. Imagine yourself driving to a meeting. You hit some unexpected traffic, people aren’t merging as they’re supposed to, and you’re being tailgated. You’re running late, but you can’t find parking when you get there. When you finally do, it’s expensive and two hours maximum. Partway through your meeting, you need to move your car, but you end up taking three laps to find a vacant spot.  I don’t know many Calgarians who commute by car and don’t experience this on a daily or weekly basis.  Regardless many Calgarians make the choice to drive, and I can understand why. Transit is not up to snuff for the size of our city and commuting by transit takes nearly twice as long as driving.

For Matt Heller, however, he prefers the magical feeling of active transportation.

Matt is a bassist in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. If anyone has ever seen a bass, you’ll know that they are massive instruments – often bigger than the people that play them. But its sheer size can’t stop Matt. He almost exclusively uses active transportation to get around, even when he has concerts to get to. This looks exactly as you think it does… Matt rolling this massive instrument down the street to the bus stop, loading it on the bus, and then rolling it to his event.

Though Matt’s first choice is active transportation, he knows that our city’s infrastructure requires a fallback. He has a Car 2 Go membership and a car of his own. When we spoke, he said: “when I didn’t have a car, I always felt like I was riding a little on the edge”.  For those of us who have long active transportation commutes, we know the edge that Matt is referring to and have likely teetered on it ourselves.

This edge (both literally and figuratively) is a reality of daily life in Calgary – but it doesn’t have to be this way. In truth, we could all be a little more comfortable getting around, no matter how we choose to do so. When active transportation is an option, people will make the choice to use it. Yet, Calgary ranks 18th out of 20 Canadian cities in walkability. As it stands, only 6.2% of Calgarians use active transportation, 14.4% take public transit, and a whopping 73% of us drive. It’s hard not to wonder what the numbers would look like if there were more and better spaces to bike, walk, or roll in.

So, we know that people choose active transportation when it is an option, yet nearly ¾ of Calgarians commute by car.

Shouldn't we be asking why?

I was inspired by Matt and his determination to use active transportation, despite his gigantic, precious cargo. But to him, it isn’t really a big deal… he’s happy to use it and looks forward to vehicle free time when he can catch up on his reading. Matt’s description of active transportation sounds, well, magical. But we know that infrastructure is lacking, and cost can keep some people out.

So, for the sake of a healthier city, happier citizens, and a cleaner planet, how do we get more people to use their cars less?

Well, there are many local, national, and international examples of how cities are making spaces safe and enjoyable for everyone. In the Netherlands, it is believed that everyone is responsible for building great places for people. That means all ministries: infrastructure, health, transportation, etc. – are equally responsible.

Calgary has done a lot in the last few years to address this need for collaboration. In 2016, they released a Pedestrian Strategy that aims to make Calgary’s pedestrian networks “safe, enjoyable and easy to use” (p.1). This means more people walking, less pedestrian injuries and deaths, improved walking conditions in winter, improved walkability in communities, an increase in children walking to school, and ultimately, more Calgarians confident in the pedestrian system.

To make this change, we don’t necessarily have to spend more money, we just need to spend it differently. We need to collaborate. Rather than band-aid solutions that make people a little more-safe and our roads a little less dangerous, we need to make bold changes in how we create spaces, right from the beginning.  And if we do, the results will be magical.


By Katie Lore


You can see Matt perform in the upcoming Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra performance: “The Great Human Odyssey” on Friday, April 27.

Find tickets —> here <—

The City of Calgary is hosting a free event to discuss “what factors make people of all ages and abilities feel comfortable walking and cycling”.

Called Spaces as places: Creating 8-80 communities for walking, biking, interaction and play, the event takes place April 16 at 5:30 pm at the John Dutton Theatre in the Calgary Central Library

Find out more about it —> here.<—

New York City’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, will be speaking in Calgary about reimaging our streets.

Takes place April 11 at 5:30 pm at the Boyce Theatre

Buy your tickets —> here <—-

Connect with your municipal government and Councillor here or call 3-1-1

Engage with city planning projects like the public art review process and the 33rd Ave Streetscape Master Plan

here –>


Active Living Research.  (n.d.). Designed to move: active cities. Retrieved from

City of Calgary. (2016). Step Forward: a strategic plan for improving walking in Calgary. Retrieved from

Ontario Planners. (2012). Planning and implementing active transportation in Ontario communities: a call to action. Retrieved from

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy National Headquarters. (2007). Turning potential into practice: walking and biking as mainstream transportation choices. Retrieved from

Statistics Canada. (2017). Journey to work: Key results from the 2016 Census. Retrieved from

Matt KnapikANC