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.
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!
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. . .
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.