Friday, July 27, 2018

Just like that

There's a bike cage at work. I've been parking in there because hey, it's nice to have dedicated bike parking, with a key code door and all that. And sometimes, I just wheel my bike in there and park it and walk away without locking it. Not all the time. I'm a little paranoid.

Which is probably a good thing. Because you should never assume that because a thing has a lock, it's secure. Try that lock out. Try to break it. A security system you can crack isn't a security system.

Yesterday, someone saw a man walk up to the bike cage, reach in through the wire, open the door handle from the inside, and get away with an unlocked bike:

Just like that.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

We few, we happy few, we band of #ottbikeaction

It has been a bad time lately on the streets of Toronto. There are four ghost rides planned this week in Toronto, for cyclists killed by drivers recently - last Friday, for Jonas Mitchell; today, for Aaron Rankine-Wright; then June 20 for Dalia Chako and another for the man, whose name has not been released, who was killed in Markham the same day. 

So some people on #ottbike figured we should do something at the same time, here in Ottawa, to show solidarity with #biketo. The two communities on Twitter are pretty close: we talk, we share experiences, we stand up for each other, we follow each other, we put our heads together on best practices and advocacy.

So, a couple of people dug up an old hashtag - #ottbikeaction - and started using it as a space on Twitter to organize direct protest action. 

Marna Nightingale kind of took over organizing the first one, which was tonight, realizing that really all these things need is someone to say, "yes, we're doing a thing. Be at X place at Y time and bring the following items." Everything after that is comms.

So that's what we did tonight, in conjunction with the ghost ride in Toronto for Aaron Rankine-Wright. It was a little short notice, so we were a small bunch - just five of us. But great oaks from little acorns grow, right?

So we rode from the end of Laurier and stopped off at the corner of Laurier and Lyon to draw a ghost bike and write messages. Then we continued on to City Hall, where we turned the concrete barricades set up for whatever they're set up for into our own chalk mural spaces.

For the next rides, we figure something similar - pick a high-profile site in Ottawa, ride there, break out the chalk, wear black, and if there are enough of us, stage a die-in. (We decided against attempting a die-in of only five, because, well, that would look a little silly. Next ride. Are you in?)

One nice thing was the couple from England who had just moved to Ottawa and stopped to talk to us as we were scrawling things all over the sidewalk at City Hall. They seemed genuinely interested in the bike advocacy going on in Ottawa, and also apparently had a mutual friend with some members of our group, via a pub knitting night in Bristol. Who knew?

"We can take better care of each other."
"#ottbike / #visionzero / #biketo" 

"Ride like you were living in the early days of a better nation."

Taking the opportunity to talk bike advocacy with some newcomers to the city.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The path is paved!

Lo and behold! The Sandalwood Park path has been paved!

In case you're just joining us, this path used to look like this:

I took this picture in May of 2016, during a walk-around with some local residents who'd been pulled together by the Healthy Transportation Coalition to pick specific walkability issues that we might be able to tackle. In our discussion, this path had been settled on as an area where we might be able to score some gains for walkability and general improvement of the neighbourhood.

So we went down there that August, on the day of a summer "family fun day" in the park, and mock-paved the path with rubber floor mats. Then we ran around the park all day getting signatures in support of having the path actually paved, and we talked to the local councillor, and we set up meetings, and we discussed options and all the reasons the path needed paving.

It's the main route for the people in Herongate to get to the shopping area across the park, allowing them to avoid walking on Heron or Walkley, which are high speed arterials. The park is used all the time by the young families that live in the housing complex, and a lot of kids on bikes and parents pushing strollers use it to get through the park. There are quite a few people in the area with mobility challenges, as well: canes, wheelchairs.

We argued that the path should be paved to make it easier for these people to get across the park, and because it just looks nicer, less run-down. It would control erosion and dust. It would look like someone cared about this park where so many people come in the summer evenings. And in the winter, when it used to turn into a nightmarish, dangerous, or impassable skid-run of packed, frozen, ice-coated ruts and slushy puddles, it would be possible to clear the snow.

The councillor said it would cost money. Then he found money, but it would take time to schedule. Then last summer there was too much wet weather and crews were delayed. But it was supposed to go in before winter set in. Towards the end of a rainy summer and fall last year, the erosion ruts were inches deep.

I sent video of the ruts to the councillor. But it was too late in the season to start the job, because stopping mid-construction in case of snow or ice would leave things in an even worse state. We were told that construction was slated for June of 2018.

We checked back in this spring as well, and were told construction was going to start imminently. But it was still a pleasant surprise when, on my way home from work on June 1, I noticed the gravel for the base piled up in the park:

A couple of days later, the gravel had been spread out. I almost worried that something had changed and that would be all we'd get - a fresh spread of gravel and a "good enough." 

But tonight, I went by and the asphalt was down. The path was there. Looking almost like it did when we mocked it up with black rubber workshop mats almost two years ago. 

I haven't been the whole length yet to see how it hooks up with the ramp to the shopping area parking lot, though I imagine it's fairly clean. The space between where the old asphalt section stops and the curb on Sandalwood Drive is still as it was: broken, cracked, and the curb is not cut down to the street. . . but it's such a vast improvement. It's finally paved! 

It only took two years of nagging and repeated meetings and emails with the councillor's office. But that's the lesson. It took nagging and emails and remembering when they said they would have news, and asking for that news when the date rolled around, and holding them to it, and being polite, and asking for updates, and showing that members of the community were still tracking this project. I learned a lot about that from the Healthy Transportation Coalition, over the course of this effort.

And now, no one has to wrestle a baby stroller over pitted, rutted stonedust on their way to the grocery store or the drugstore or Popeye's or the mosque!

Monday, June 4, 2018

The extra mile(s)

As of tonight, I'm at 102 km in my 750 km challenge. That sounds like a lot, but I'm very aware that it's only 14% of my goal. . . and there are only 26 days to go.

And I'm realizing that an extra 50% per day works out to . . . rather a lot, really. I'm feeling it.

It might be, in part, that on Sunday I decided to bike to my friend's place to get a lift to climbing, and then come home at the end of the day, with all my rock climbing gear: shoes and harness, 10 or so quickdraws, my trad rack, a bunch of slings and carabiners, first aid kit, two litres of water, lunch, two pairs of rock shoes, helmet, and 60 metres of rope. I've got some sore muscles that might be due to the climbing, and might be due to the biking. It could also be that while I would usually, in a week, ride about 100 km. . . today, after only four days, I've gone 102.

I'm just saying: you can feel the difference when you start tacking extra distance onto your straightforward, utilitarian cycling life. All you folks who go for 177-km rides on a Sunday (I'm looking at you, Chris) - respect.

So this afternoon I figured I should do a little extra, but I was tired enough that I just tacked on an extra jig around the farm, down to Carleton, back up to Hog's Back, and then along the river to Bank Street, then home.

There is, even when you're tired, a real appeal to taking the long dawdly way around on your bike. I found myself stopping to take photos, maybe because I was taking this as a rest day and not planning on pulling a lot of kilometres, just a few extra. So I wound up on the Experimental Farm, my attention grabbed by a pool of water at the corner of a field, left over from the afternoon's thunderstorms.

Or by the cows munching on grass in the middle of the city.

Or the meticulously tagged experimental grain crops in the fields. 

I tootled past all of this, agreeing with myself that I would stop whenever it looked like a good photo, and rolled across the canal at the locks, then back over to Hog's Back Falls, which was as lovely as ever.

And along the river, where I passed a collection of Canada geese and goslings.

And then I zipped down to Bank and Riverside, got on the roads, and headed home. 

I have to say, there are far worse cities I could be doing this challenge in. And I still have about 650 km to go. . . 

(Also, you can sponsor me and my ride, or my team which also includes an adorable biking dog, right here: )

Bogart would love your support!

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Great Cycle Challenge

This month, fresh off of Bike to Work Month, I'm taking on the Great Cycle Challenge. The idea with this is that you sign up to ride a certain distance (you choose) in the month of June, and raise funds for research into childhood cancer. 

I knew about this event before, but this year I decided I was going to get in on it. This winter, my cousin's daughter, Ellie, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She's thirteen. This is her: 

The four fingers up is because she just got out of chemo round #4. So far, the tumour's stable, which is good. She's got a lot of friends and family rooting for her. Things look hopeful. But she shouldn't have to go through this. 

Not being able to do much else to help (she and her family are in Chicago, for one thing) I signed on for the Great Cycle Challenge. Since I do an average of just under 500 km a month normally, what with getting around town, I went for 750 as a target. But going for 550 last month, for Bike to Work Month, was an eye opener. This is going to involve a hell of a lot of extra biking to shoehorn that extra 250 km into my life. 

But one thing leads to another. I signed up, and then a friend of mine decided to. Marna has been patiently training her dog, Bogart (who was supposed to be just a foster dog until the two of them fell in love) to run along with a bike, using a special leash that attaches to the back hub and clips into a harness with an attachment point on the back. She decided that the two of them should sign up, so she's only counting rides she does with him toward her goal.

We've done a few rides together, and there is a whole other post coming, here, about riding with a dog, how it's possible, and how much work is involved on the human's end. But in the meantime, here was a chance to hang out with Marna and Bogart and do good things into the bargain!

Thus, Team Hold My Beer was born. And I threw it out there: you could join us. Now there are five of us: Sarah, Chris, Marna, Bogart and me. We may also collect a friend's son, who's about seven and wants to get in on it.

Between us, we're hoping to ride 1,850 km, and raise $3,200 for cancer research.

You can support individual team members (it all goes toward our team total) or the team as a whole. You can pass along the word. You can just comment and cheer us on. Come find us on our page.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Spring is here! Spring is here! (And so are some supercool maps)

No but really, this spring has taken so very, very long to get going that this morning, cyclists in Ottawa (mostly winter cyclists who no longer feel alone) were deliriously describing to each other how many other bikes they'd seen on the road on the way to work. There is actual green to be seen in the grass, if you look close, and the Riverside MUP might actually be clear of snow by now. It feels like cold, windy chains of bondage have been broken. Some of us might even have the courage to take our studded tires off this week.

And with spring come all those enthusiasm-building "Cycling New Year" events. Like Spring.Bike.Ottawa, which was the weekend before last, and which was really good: the theme was "Be Your Own Best Advocate" and the main event was a panel bringing together cycling advocates and representatives from the City and the NCC to talk about how best to get things done in the rather complicated political environment of Ottawa-Gatineau. We have two cities (Ottawa and Gatineau), two provinces (Ontario and Quebec), the National Capital Commission, which handles some aspects on both sides of the river, and the fact that we're a national capital, all having varying amounts of influence on decision making. It's enough to make an advocate's head spin. Weirdly enough, though, it seems to be working: at least, there are huge gains being made.

The other big reveal for Spring.Bike.Ottawa was Bike Ottawa's new interactive maps. These have been in the works a long time, and it was pretty cool to see the final result, as explained by Heather Shearer, Bike Ottawa's president, at the event.

Bike Ottawa's data group have taken a whole lot of street level data and crunched it all together into four different maps. One shows you the level of traffic stress (from 1, meaning fine for children, to 4, meaning even experienced cyclists would be uncomfortable) for every street in the city. Another allows you to put in your origin and destination points and select what level of traffic stress you're comfortable with. Then the map plots you a route, similar to Google Directions, that can get you to your destination comfortably (or maybe it can't: in which case you know where we need a safe cycling link, and you can start talking to your councillor about that.)

The third map is an isochrone map, where you can pick a point anywhere in the city and see how far you can get in any direction, within a set range of times, and at a specific level of traffic stress. I find my neighbourhood enlightening here: If you want to travel at LTS 3, you can get far further, far easier, if you're going north. If you're going south there's a distinct border. Once you drop the stress level to 2, you are just not going south at all. Imagine the rail line at Ledbury as The Wall, and you're the wildlings.

The fourth map tracks the City's collision data and gives you a heatmap, which you can filter by collision type: involving pedestrians, cyclists, motor traffic, and "all." Grim, but useful. Also, those are all just the collisions reported to the City, which likely means most of them were fairly serious: lots of collisions go unreported unless someone gets hurt.

My first slide, up and ready to go.
So, for the next round of spring events, I could go in armed. . .

This last weekend I led a workshop on sustainable transportation at Ecology Ottawa's Old Home Earth Day event. This is the second annual edition of this event, and it focuses mostly on people living in older homes (specifically in the Glebe and Centretown) who want to reduce their environmental impact.

To be honest, I wasn't entirely certain what my role was going to be, but as it turned out I was a sort of MC and main presenter. I was pretty happy I had the new maps to bring to this, because I figured I would be preaching to the choir on biking, more or less, and wanted to have something to bring people that they might not know and would probably be able to use.

So after an initial intro, and having Councillor Chenushenko get up to speak about optimizing modes of transit (essentially, use the mode that works best for you and the planet at that precise time), I got to do a 15-minute talk on why biking is awesome and how, if you're a bit nervous about cycling, these maps can be part of your toolkit to get out there and try it. I also talked a bit about the usual objections to cycling ("it's too far," "I have kids," "what about cargo?") and gave some options. The maps went over really well - I got questions during the talk about them and a couple of people wanted to talk to me after the workshop was over. We also heard from a Vrtucar user and someone from the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa.

And then I stepped outside and it was properly spring, and so I went the long way home, taking 25 km to get from the Glebe to Herongate, just because it was sunny, I was in a T-shirt, and I could.

Spring is here.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why Old Ottawa South is awful: a theory

I have a theory. This theory came to me after only my most recent encounter with a bullying driver on Bank Street between the canal and the Rideau River. The driver was in a silver Infiniti with a modified muffler.
This is, sadly, not all that uncommon on this stretch of street. It's about eleven blocks long, and I dread it most of the time. I have consistently had encounters with more more close-passing, horn-honking, finger-pointing, bullying drivers on this stretch than maybe anywhere else I ride.


But after this last one, I was struck by an observation. This eleven blocks is narrower, denser, and more full of visual friction than the stretch north of it, past Lansdowne Park, or south of it, over the river and past the Billings Bridge Mall.

Here's Bank Street north of the canal, by Lansdowne:

And here's Bank south of the Rideau River:


 In between those two stretches of wide, open streets with two full lanes in each direction, large setbacks from the street, and longer blocks, there's Old Ottawa South - narrow, with buildings right up to the sidewalk, trees near the street, side streets intersecting on both sides, more buildings per block, more pedestrians, kids, bikes, you name it.


 See the difference?

My theory is, drivers coming though this stretch aren't even aware of the stressing effect of the sudden appearance of parked cars, trees, storefronts, pedestrians, and patio furniture as they leave the drag-strip environments to the north and south of this neighbourhood. But suddenly, they're having to process more visual input. It makes them twitchy. They can't go as fast as they could a second ago (note: the speed limits don't change as you enter this neighbourhood, but speeds of 80 km/h on the Lansdowne Bridge or at Billings Bridge are not uncommon.) It all combines to make them, unconsciously, more aggressive. I see them bob and weave even around other drivers. Then there's a cyclist in The Middle Of My Goddamn Lane, and the impatience boils over into revving engines and near-miss passes to express frustration.

There you have it: the nastiness of Old Ottawa South, explained.

By no means am I saying that Bank in Old Ottawa South should be widened, the trees cut down, the parking lane given over to travel. No. Definitely not. If anything, I'm saying that on either side of it, where drivers get so much psychological permission to speed, we need to at least complicate their field of vision enough to slow them up. More trees, closer to the road; separated cycle tracks with barrier elements; narrower car lanes. Ease them into the denser neighbourhood, get their speed down, and maybe they won't be quite so edgy when they have to put the brakes on for a cyclist.