Saturday, May 28, 2011

Another hollaback

I did actually shout back, this time. But it's still pretty frustrating that when things like this happen, there's nothing you can really do about it.

I was on my way down Bronson Avenue this morning on a fairly wet, misty day. Bronson was jammed with cars - I guess because of construction in the Glebe forcing cars off Bank Street - and I was rolling along trying to strike that balance between staying to the right and trying not to hit the potholes. And around Carling this carload of young men - somewhere in their early twenties - rolled up past me, and they did that thing where they shout out the window to try and make the cyclist jump. Maybe even - hyuk hyuk - fall over. I looked up, but I pride myself I didn't really flinch that much, although they did keep making barking sorts of noises out of the car at me. Traffic was slow enough that they couldn't just speed past, and before I knew it, I was saying, in absolute disdain and annoyance, "Oh, fuck off." They laughed. I have to point out that if you were casting actors to play young, stupid jocks in an SUV, you would have cast these guys. Blond, short-haired, muscular, stereotypical football-team types listening to techno and smoking out the windows of the car. Right out of a high school movie.

They laughed, and you know just what their laughter sounded like, and kept sort of leaning out the windows to look at me as I pedaled along and they paced me in the car, for about two blocks. Just when I was about to look up and point out to them that if they kept driving along right beside me like that, I was going to call them in for harassing me, they pulled ahead: I caught up to them again at a light (refusing to let them intimidate me into changing course or avoiding them), and they leaned back out the windows, looked at me, laughed and talked among themselves, but didn't actually say anything. They did, however, wait for me to draw even with them, and then paced me, again, for another half block, at which point I said, "Just keep rolling, guys," and they did pull away, although it probably wasn't because of me. It was probably because they were holding up traffic.

What bugged me about it was that I didn't get the license plate. My phone was dead anyway. And there was no real way to respond to them that they wouldn't have been amused by: anger would amuse them. Fear would amuse them. Even my "Oh, fuck off" probably amused them, although the ease and disdain with which it came out made me feel a little better. There is no way to win. I shouldn't even waste the energy on being annoyed with them. But it is hard to accept the existence of idiots.

Here, guys: here's a song for you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Volunteers Needed

Hey folks - just got this message from Capital Vélo Fest and thought I'd pass it along. They're looking for volunteers for their Tour la Nuit night ride... if you can give them a couple hours, please get in touch!

Capital Vélo Fest, on Saturday June 4th,  is almost upon us!

After months of planning and hard work by many individuals, the inaugural event for Ottawa’s annual bike festival at Ottawa City Hall is set to go.  Everything is in place for the Bicycle Rodeo from 11am-4pm, with several local bike stores contributing expertise for educational workshops and prizes for festival goers.

The Tour la Nuit, from 7pm-11pm is also ready to go, with 7 bands lined up to provide live music and Mayor Jim Watson committed to providing some welcoming remarks and starting the ride at 8:30.   However, we are currently short volunteers to help close the streets, which is jeopardizing the event and may require us to shorten the distance of the ride.  

If you are an advocate of cycling in Ottawa and if you are available to help on Saturday June 4th from 7pm-10:30, please sign up on line to volunteer today at as a Road Safety Assistant.  Depending on how many people can be recruited in the next few days, the call will be made early next week on how to proceed.  You can also help by forwarding this email to your family, friends and professional contacts with a personal message for assistance.

Thank-you in advance for any assistance you can provide to make this inaugural event a success.

Dick Louch

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mercy Killing

I pulled up at Billings Bridge this afternoon while I was out running errands, and went to lock my bike up against the sign post because, as usual, the bike racks (those irritating on-the-ground ones) were pretty much full. An older man who was just unlocking his bike offered to let me use the spot he was just leaving, and I declined, telling him I actually preferred to use the street sign. Then the conversation shifted to the damage those racks can do, and the lone naked (and bent, and rusted, with the tire long since gone) wheel still chained to one rack, and the blue kids' bike that, I realized, had been sitting there for well over a year.

The deal is, as I discovered a while back, the owner of the property has to call 311 to get abandoned bikes removed, and something tells me the owners of Billings Bridge Shopping Centre just don't really give a rat's arse that the bike has been sitting there rusting through two winters. This means that no one, really, has a right to complain if anyone comes by with bolt cutters who isn't employed by the City. 

So I stopped and took a picture. Here it is. Free to a good home, or at least to anyone with the wherewithal to cut a U-lock. Put this bike out of its misery.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blessing of the Bikes

My friend Steve just pointed me at this. . . I probably would never have heard about it otherwise, but Steve's studying theology at Saint Paul's, and has his ear to a different ground than I do. In this case, though, our different grounds coincide in a kind of odd, off-kilter and - well - touching sort of Venn diagram.

This notice was posted on the website of the Church of the Ascension, an Anglican(ish) church on Echo Drive (conveniently, right on the Canal rec path.)

Sunday, May 22 at 12:00 noon: Blessing of the Bikes
Come as you are; all ages -- and faiths (or lack thereof) -- are most welcome!

There is a blessing for yourself and your bike, a moment of silence to remember those cyclists we’ve lost in the past year, and a chance for everyone to ring their bicycle bells in celebration of cycling. Come early for fair-trade coffee and soulful jazz!

You know, regardless of where you stand on blessings in general, there is something about a church holding a Blessing of the Bikes that is ear-to-the-ground community-based. With a dash of humour to go along with the outreach. Your bike is a part of your life, right? A part of your psyche? Then of course, any institution that exists to look after your psyche should take time to recognize it. It's like how Steve's church has a Blessing of the Animals each year, a holdover from rural churches, where people bring their pets. (Steve brings his guinea pigs.)

They also linked to a short film from the 12th annual (!) Blessing of the Bikes at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sympathy for Bronson

(photo yoinked from
I was going to write a post to say I hate Bronson Avenue. But it’s actually kind of hard to hate it. I don’t like riding on Bronson, no. When I was first in Ottawa, as a college student living across Bronson from Carleton University campus, I developed an unshakeable conviction that one day Bronson would kill me. I remembered that conviction with immediate and crystal clarity, as I was biking down Bronson to a friend’s house last Sunday morning. It’s narrow. It’s fast, and the pavement is so unbelievably bad as to make it almost impassable for a cyclist. There are parked cars at the sides of the street, infrequently enough to be inconvenient. Where there are bike lanes (only around Carleton), they begin and end awkwardly.

But I can’t hate Bronson. Bronson is like the hard-luck cousin of Ottawa streets. The fact that its hashtag on Twitter is not #Bronson but #RescueBronson might give you an idea; the street grinds along through life, rusty, dirty, broken and cracked, the curbs crumbling, the sidewalks sloping and collecting mud, clumps of grass and water, and the asphalt slowly decaying into truly epic potholes. It doesn’t even get the more or less frequent patches that my other high-pothole zone, Main Street, gets. It feels, as you rattle and swerve and swear your way down Bronson, as though everyone has just given up on it as a bad job. Bronson feels unloved. And then there’s the matter of those spooky, garish painted children mounted on utility poles as decoration, in an attempt to create a sense of community among the elderly brick houses, shop fronts and poured-concrete apartment blocks. I tried to hate Bronson; I felt like I’d snapped at a kicked-around dog that was still trying to wag its tail.

But one of these days I will have to ride down Bronson with a camera and get pictures of the appalling state of the pavement.  Last weekend, as I was biking to my friend’s, and home again, I spotted a bunch that would be great candidates for a Gallery of Awful. Some, to use my Pothole Rating System from earlier this year, would count as Intensity 10. At one point a foot-wide, at least 6-inch-deep circular hole had been drilled around some sort of cap – pipes, or something – and left there, in the middle of where bikes need to be. (I came across that one after dark: exciting.)

Around Carleton, as I said, the bike lanes appear and disappear uncomfortably; I come up the ramp from Heron onto Bronson, where there are Transitway lanes, major ramps to major arteries, and where there is no bike lane and you have to be in the far left lane if you want to continue on Bronson and not be forced onto Riverside. After that, it’s a matter of getting past Carleton in a bike lane littered with the sort of high-speed obstacles you might expect – I’ve seen carriage bolts, dead animals, chunks of tire, sheets of rusted metal, and broken glass – and with the occasional off-ramp, like the one onto Colonel By just past the canal, that forces you to figure out when and how to cross a right-turn lane to merge into the suddenly appearing bike lane. But then the bike lanes peter out entirely and you’re on your own through the west end of the Glebe, where the pavement dissolves into defeat.

Underneath the 417 overpass, you dive into a dark tunnel with potholes so frequent and varied you’re forced to run over them, because you can’t be certain the drivers can or will swing out to give you room. Coming up to a light, with cars just to the left of me, I was forced through a pit in the pavement at least three inches deep – there was nowhere to go to avoid it. Avoiding the holes involves putting your head on swivel mode and trying to watch in front and behind at the same time: and sometimes having to hit major holes head on because of a truck rattling past too close for comfort. Arriving at my friend’s house, I was rattled in bone, body and mind, with a thumping headache beginning in my jarred skull and my adrenaline levels spiking. “God,” I said as I gave him a hug, “I hate Bronson."

But I’m sorry, Bronson. It’s not your fault. I didn’t really mean it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

E-bike ban

Here's an interesting one: the NCC is considering banning e-bikes from the multi-use paths. (E-bikes, as I found myself explaining to a friend yesterday, are those little mini-scooters that use an electric motor. I find there's an increasing number of them on the paths, and I've been startled by them more than once, because although they have a motor, they're virtually silent.) Here's the Government of Ontario's FAQ on e-bikes, for a definition.

I can kind of see it. E-bikes fall into this muddy area between motor vehicles and bikes. According to the Highway Traffic Act they are considered "motor assisted bicycles."* They have pedals but no one uses them: well, once I saw a guy pedaling an e-bike, on those teeny-tiny vestigial pedals. I assume the bike had run out of juice. It was a pretty funny thing to watch, I have to admit. I probably would have got off and walked the bike, myself.

They can get up to around 30 kph - the bike paths' ostensible speed limit is 20 - and after a few years of dodging small children, clotheslining dog leashes and/or the dogs themselves on the MUPs, I can see why a speed limit is a good idea. And a small, selfish bit of me thinks, "oh, get a real bike," when one of them zips by on the path or - heaven forfend - on the sidewalk where they really shouldn't be. But I know that bit of my brain is in the wrong. Motor-assisted bikes are great for people that want to bike but for whatever reason can't. Say you have a physical disability or something. They're also great for people that don't want to bike, and don't really feel the need to get their pulse up on their way around town, but also don't want to have a car or burn gas. Valid reasons to have one of these bikes.

But are they motorized or not? That's really at the heart of this, I think. They're too slow to be motorcycles, and they have those little pedals making them 'bicycles,' and so they're a new kind of beast. I also have to say that their sheer silence makes them spooky for me, when trying to share the path with them. I won't hear one coming up behind me to pass, or approaching an intersection, and then woop! there it is.

So, I'm not yet certain what I think about banning them from the paths. They're another green form of transport, which is good, but there's just something about how people think about and use the paths that isn't really compatible with a motorized vehicle. . . yet, what about one of those electric-assist bikes with the generator for climbing hills? would they also be banned? Where's the line?

I'll keep watching. Maybe I'll figure out where I stand as the NCC mulls it over.

*Want the official description? (quoted from the HTA):
“motor assisted bicycle” means a bicycle,
(a) that is fitted with pedals that are operable at all times to propel the bicycle,
(b) that weighs not more than fifty-five kilograms,
(c) that has no hand or foot operated clutch or gearbox driven by the motor and transferring power to the driven wheel,
(d) that has an attached motor driven by electricity or having a piston displacement of not more than fifty cubic centimetres, and
(e) that does not have sufficient power to enable the bicycle to attain a speed greater than 50 kilometres per hour on level ground within a distance of 2 kilometres from a standing start.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Capital VeloFest

This is new! Just spotted a link to this - Capital VéloFest: a bicycle festival for Ottawa. Seems brand new (incorporated only last March.) They've got a mini-festival on June 4th (a 'bicycle rodeo' and night ride on closed streets) as well as (starting this month) a Vélo Rally which will post instructions for riding along bike routes through the city, with questions to find the answers to along the way. Looks kind of like a bike scavenger hunt. And it also looks like they're planning ride-in movies - like Centretown Movies does outdoor movies, but with the encouragement to ride your bike to the location.

Okay. I have *got* to do one of the bike rallies just to see how it goes. I'll let you know as soon as they post a route! And check out the site or hook up with @CapitalVeloFest on Twitter to keep up with what they're doing!