P’tit train du nord: Checking out the bike and B&B scene in Quebec

Having a friend who likes biking and also owns a car comes in really handy when you’re planning a bike trip from Ottawa to Quebec and there’s no way to get your bike on the VIA train*. (*Yes, you could take a small folding bike.)

We had the P’tit Train du Nord trip idea for a while. It’s a converted rail path that spans just over 200km from Mont Laurier to Saint-Jerome. It’s a pretty relaxing bike trip to do, mainly flat-ish, no cars, and plenty of rest stops and food along the way. If you’ve never done a multi-day bike ride, it’s a great place to start. Or if you just want a social bike trip with lots of riding side by side? This is also a great option.

Day 1: Driving to Saint-Jerome
We left after work on Thursday and got to experience driving across the bridge to Gatineau at rush hour. Wow, how do people do that every single day? It was a carjam. We eyed the bike counter and wistfully watched the cyclists go by on the path. They are the best ad for bike commuting.

Many car tunes and kilometres later we checked in at the just-off-the-highway Best Western. Aside from being a convenient location to stop for the night, we hadn’t given much thought about the hotel. It is what it is, right? Well, as soon as the clerk saw our panniers, she asked if we had our bikes (yes!) and asked if we’d like to park them indoors securely. We sure did.

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This was the first of the nice surprises of the trip. The hotel is part of VeloQuebec’s Bienvenue Cyclistes program. It lived up to the sign.

Day 2: Bike bus to Mont-Laurier and the first day of biking
We had a limited timeframe for this trip, so we were only riding the trail in one direction. We left the car in a week-long parking lot and reserved seats on the daily bike bus that would take us to Mont Laurier to start our ride.

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They carefully load all the bikes and your gear onto the trailer. It’s a great system. Two and a bit hours later, we were ready to start biking.

The Mont-Laurier train station / restaurant / visitor centre / fix-it station gives you a taste of what to expect at each of the major towns. We had our B&Bs already booked, so we got right to the business of biking.

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For the first day, we did a comfortable 57km. Of the three legs we did, the Mont Laurier to Nominingue stretch is the least populated and well, a little boring on the scenery. It’s tree-lined and paved as well as mostly flat. Great for social biking.

The paving has suffered in places from the undergrowth. The bumps and ruts are well marked with spraypaint and sections have been repaved. I was glad to have invested in my set of Arkel panniers with the clasps that lock the bags onto your racks. It was pretty bumpy in some places.

We arrived in Nominingue and picked up some wine and a post-ride beer at the joint SAQ/grocery store (shield your eyes, Ontario). Chilled wine was next to the fruit section.

My creation

I have only super positive things to say about our stay in Nominingue. Our B&B (Le Provincialart) was stellar.

The owners, Guy and Diane, met us with ice water on the screened in porch and gathered our water bottles. They put them in the freezer with a bit of water so we’d have cool water for the next day. Details. We parked our bikes in their roomy garage that is locked overnight.

Once we got our bags into the room, we took advantage of the offer to swim in the lake. A lake swim after a day of biking? Who says no to that?

My creation

We relaxed with our post-ride beer on the lawn and enjoyed the view of their huge home garden. We chose to have the dinner prepared by Guy and Diane and afterwards we desperately wanted to know their background? Former chefs? Serious foodies? Gourmands? Their cooking rivalled any fancy restaurant. And we assumed that most of the ingredients came straight from the garden.

My creation

Vegetable potage, crispy stuffed tortellini, baked stuffed pasta shells with zucchini and the zucchini blossom and finally a raspberry tart. Phewf. I’m full just typing that menu.

Day 2: Nominingue to Saint-Faustin
Breakfast the next morning was equally filling and delicious.

And best of all, the forecast had changed and it looked like we would be able to out-bike the impending rain. Well done, Nominingue.

It was a scenic 70km ride with some nice water views, birding habitats and views of the hills. And one rogue rain cloud that teased us every time we took our rain coat off. Coat on? No rain. Coat off? Rain! Go home cloud, you are drunk!

Stopped in Labelle for lunch and a Mason-jar beer. Another cute refurbished train station / café. We discussed how nice stops like these are along the trail. Labelle station? You were very nice.

My creation

Leaving Labelle, the stonedust path begins and everything felt a little slower. Maybe it was the gravel, maybe it was the beer. Let’s say it was the gravel.

We hustled through the paved section that leads into Mont-Tremblant. It was much busier and we couldn’t ride side by side. We did see our first non-feathered and non-chipmunk wildlife here. Hello deer.

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We stopped in the old village of Mont-Tremblant for an ice cream and a small bike repair for me. Lost a nut on a fender and duct-taped it back together.

My creation

The gravel, beer and ice cream did not really seem to work in my favour for the last long uphill slog to Saint-Faustin. I was mentally ordering a new bike as I huffed slowly into our destination.

At our B&B, they recommended popping over to the joint SAQ/grocery store for wine to accompany dinner. We stopped at the local pub for a wind-down pint and got to enjoy the company of the neighbourhood pub cat. Clearly knowing we are cat ladies, he settled in for a long grooming session and head scritches.

Pub cat in Saint-Faustin

Tweeting this also led to my discovery of the Pubcats twitter account which has been a beacon of furry sunshine in my Twitter stream. Thank you Pubcats!

We had another very nice B&B dinner. I went for the French onion soup, duck on a salad of asparagus, almonds and cucumbers and a slice of tarte tatin for dessert. Again, we were barely hungry for breakfast the next day. But being a cycling friendly B&B, you get loaded up on healthy and filling foods to keep you going for the day.

My creation

We started off in the warm mist having escaped the rain overnight. The forecast was fairly certain there’d be rain on this leg of our trip, but we mostly escaped it again save for a few rogue clouds.

My creation

We were so well-fed that we decided to skip lunch. Well, skip having a beer lunch. A croissant and coffee lunch? Totally acceptable. We stopped in Val-David, the “arty” village stop on the ride. It certainly was… hmm.. different.

My creation

We couldn’t quite figure it out. Super hippy (artists, drapey dress shops), hipsters and hipster babies doing brunch, and a mix of sports outfitters and super posh cafes and restaurants on the main street. Yet, the main street had no bike lanes!? I thought that was sort of the default for arty districts? Also, most of the towns we rolled through had bike lanes (bidirectional or painted) – even little Nominingue!

Val-David, you may have wooed us with your artisanal croissants and fruit compote, but you need some bike lanes to secure your arty hipster status.

My creation

We continued on and watched the kilometre signs count down our return to Saint-Jerome (and dinner at St-Hubert). But not before one final beer and gare stop in Ste-Adèle. So bikey, so beery, so patio-y!

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Just before this we rolled through massive black bug clouds so it was nice to de-bug.

As we rolled into our final destination, the last few kilometres are also popular walking paths so there are lots of markings to walk on the left in order to see oncoming cyclists. I wonder if that would solve some of our Ottawa “pathway conflicts”. In Ontario, walkers are told to stay right which means bikes “sneak up” on them. The Quebec rule made sense.

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We biked under the bunting we saw on the first day and contemplated biking straight through the fountain. I’m sure lots of people do. The idea of de-bugging and de-gritting in one fell swoop was attractive.

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Maybe it was our Ontario ID cards that held us back, but we opted for a respectable leg and foot wash before changing into our finest St-Hubert dining clothes.

With the bikes loaded up, we headed back to Ottawa. A trip well done. And then it rained.

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New school and work commuting route.

For the two wards with the some of the highest bike modal shares in the city (Kitchissippi / Somerset), the safe cycling linkages between them are few. No, less than few. There are none.

I always knew the Somerset-Wellington corridor wasn’t great for biking, but the new school to work to after-care routine came as a nasty wake-up call. It is awful. Especially in the afternoon rush hour.

Sharrows? WHAT SHARROWS? There are 8 kajillion cars lined up on them.

In my new routine I need to get from downtown to Hintonburg on Wellington St. West for after school care pick-up. I take the Laurier Bike Lane across Bronson and enter Somerst at Arthur Street. From this point on, the commute is a total complete utter gong show on Somerset through Chinatown.

1. Somerset has sharrows for infrastruction AND allows street parking at rush hour.

Good call, planners.

So, now I am stuck in so much traffic that being on my bike is of ZERO benefit. To myself or to the city. I’m not reducing congestion, now I’m part of it. The first day I didn’t filter between the parked cars and the driving (albeit mostly parked) cars in the travel lane. I’m not riding my bike to be STUCK IN TRAFFIC.

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I’m doing what the city has asked – choosing not to commute with a private vehicle and being punished for this choice. Stuck behind tailpipes. Risking being doored for filtering. It only takes a planner one bike ride to see how sharrows completely fail to serve as infrastructure to make cycling a comfortable and convenient choice here.

I didn’t think Somerset / Wellington West could get worse until the next day when it rained and there was EVEN MORE traffic. Stalled, congested, not moving traffic. It was so bad and I felt so unsafe being on the road that I got off my bike and walked several blocks. ON THE CITY’S DESIGNATED BIKE ROUTE.

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I picked up my son and began the second tricky leg of the route home. Now, I’ll ‘take the lane’, filter and whatnot as needed but there’s no way I’ll be CAN-BIKE II-ing it with my kid on the back. Sorry. We are not here to be the city’s human shields for traffic calming. Go back to engineering school.

We would not be taking Wellington-Somerset home.

2. Detouring to Gladstone didn’t help either

I took a moderate detour using Fairmount, rode under the 417 to Young (wow, terrible intersection) and then took the O-train path to Gladstone. There was no way to avoid the last leg east on Gladstone. There is no other east-west route aside from Somerset.

You *could* try to wiggle your way on the sidestreets, but there are no traffic controls to help you get across Rochester or Booth. It would be impossible to cross these arterial roads at rush hour without a traffic light.

There was so much traffic on Gladstone (it had backed up to the O-train path) that I again, walked my bike. The road is too narrow to share with buses and vehicles.

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There is no space to bike on this, again, CITY DESIGNATED BIKE ROUTE.

Oh – and it’s a bike route that connects 5 public schools (Connaught, Devonshire, Adult High, St. Anthony’s, Cambridge) and there’s no money for more crossing guards and they can’t be bothered to reduce the speed limit to 40km/h along the full school corridor stretch (Parkdale to Preston is still 50km/h). It’s not the parents’ or kids’ fault for not “choosing” to walk or bike. It has been designed as the most dangerous option.

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3. Searching an alternative route? There is no choice.

I was so flustered when I got home that I pulled out the city cycling map and thought there MUST be a better way. There HAS to be a way to avoid this without a huge detour.

After dinner, Alden and I took the bike out to see if a long detour using Albert-Scott could provide a better experience (even if it meant cycling on the sidewalk down Bronson to Albert).

So, down the Bronson hill we went. There are no bike lanes because why connect the Albert MUP to the Laurier bike lane. That would make things FAR TOO CONVENIENT and people MIGHT cycle. We hopped on the Albert MUP, which isn’t awful, except where the city was too lazy to put down additional pavement around the bus shelters and installed ‘walk you bike’ signs. Signs which are promptly ignored. The city designed the conflict. They can un-design it with some pavement.

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Obviously, I ignored the signs since there were no pedestrians.

After the 3rd ‘walk you bike sign’, we hit the LRT detour that took us off the weeks-old paved MUP and onto gravel. UGH. A short detour, but very rocky. We got back on the paved MUP and approached the Scott St. bridge where we ran into the 4th ‘walk you bike’ sign.

Again, I am not taking my kid biking in soon-to-be 2500 buses a day lane to cross the bridge. We rode on the sidewalk and did not dismount. There were no pedestrians.

We bypassed the traffic lights at Bayview (too early) and continued on. Turns out, there’s not signalled crossing of Scott until much further along Scott at Carruthers (past our destination on Wellington). This route would still require biking on Wellington for four blocks.

It was pretty clear that this route was no better than either Somerset or Gladstone. In fact, it was probably the worst of the three.

4. Conclusion – final route choice

For my solo leg from work to after-care, I’m just going to have to suck up the nastiness of Somerset-Wellington. It SURE doesn’t give me a lot of incentive to frequent the businesses/BIAs that push for their vehicle access and parking at the expense of safety. Everyday is a reminder that my safety is not as important as parking. I have yet to run into Jim Watson cycling to his new campaign office on Somerset. (I wonder why – he’s so proud of this council’s record cycling investment.)

It’s important for planners and BIAs to realize that these routes aren’t just for bringing customers to your door. They are our routes as local residents to get to schools, to services like daycare and other day-to-day chores. More and more, it’s hard for me to support business areas where my not-always-a-consumer transportation needs are ignored. You have a business in a community NOT just ‘on a street’.

We have six more years of this route. Or as many years until I am eventually doored or hit. Whichever comes first.

Go Ottawa! Gold Medal Cycling City!

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City bike evolution

I’ve written about the first “city bike” I bought in Ottawa before (see here and here).

I always refer to it now as my “I was too cheap to buy a Dutch bike” bike. I had been biking in Ottawa for years before buying it, but still couldn’t part with over a thousand dollars on a bike. O.M.G.! Things seem more expensive when you’ve got infant-care daycare bills rolling in. A compromise was made.

It has been a great bike. But in the last year, it’s sat in the basement mostly unused. Largely neglected due to the almost-exclusive use of my “mom wagon” to kid schlep and grocery shop.

I thought I’d sell it. Then I took it up to Gatineau Park one day and realized, it wasn’t soooo bad at hills afterall. It may only have 8 gears, but it was a decent enough range to tackle occasional hill climbing. Maybe I didn’t need a special “camping/touring” bike after all. Maybe I should just tweak the Raleigh (again!) to be a comfy easy-going all-purpose no-kid bike. And an upcoming planned trip to ride the P’tit Train du Nord trail was just what I needed to bring it to the shop with my “wish list” of upgrades. No joke, I brought a list. A-type personality.

So, here’s the latest iteration of my doing-it-all commuter bike.
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  1. Handlebars: Gone is the straight bar that always felt too wide and made my wrists sore. In its place, a bar with a higher rise and swooped back hand area. This design feels so much more comfortable to me.
  2. Grips: The stock handlebar grips weren’t bad, but after I chose a new seat, I thought the bar grips should match. I like matchy-matchy. See above: type A personality. I splurged on brown leather Brooks ones. Because they were pretty. Maybe they aren’t as ergonomic, but well… they are very pretty.
  3. Seat: The saddle has been a pain in the butt since day one. I’m not sure why it took me this long to replace it. It’s basically a sponge in the shape of a saddle. It absorbed every raindrop. Which is a RIDICULOUS type of saddle to put on a commuter bike. Seriously, what were they thinking?

    That thing went in the garbage. In its place, a Selle Royal leather look-alike with springs. It is the Lay-Z-Boy of seats. “But it’s better to have X or Y for long distance riding!” you say. Shhhhh. I rode my upright dutch bike to Montreal with a Lay-Z-Boy saddle and it was OMG the best. I’ve done it. I’m not changing my mind on this one. It’s the best.

  4. Fixer-uppers: There were some small mechanical things to fix. The cable for my dynamo lights had broken and my brakes needed to be adjusted to get rid of a high pitch squeal.
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The Great Glebe Sharrows (cycling?) Plan

I dragged my unhappy five-year old to the Glebe “cycling plan” open house since they were not able to send a copy of the Powerpoints in advance. I suppose it would spoil the “surprise!” effect at the open house. At any rate, the documents are finally online.

Initially, I was going to spend a fair amount of time reviewing these documents and writing a carefully worded response about the plan.  And then I read that due to the partnership agreement with OSEG, many things outside of the stadium (like the use of public streets) are off-limits.  One such casualty of the OSEG agreement is the ability to remove parking spots ANYWHERE in the Glebe.

How do you properly add cycling lanes without taking some parking away?  You don’t.

Which is why the plan is 99% sharrows and ‘advisory bike lanes’.   They propose parking lanes buffered by bike lanes.  And contraflows that end before connecting to anything.

Most of the slides look like someone got frisky with the clone tool in Photoshop and just copy and pasted sharrows everywhere.

And this is why it doesn’t matter what I say about the plan.  The P3 has this neighbourhood gripped by the “sharrows”.

Oh…  and they certainly hid the panel well that said you would need to walk your bike over the Bank Street Bridge on event days.

It’s also important to note that the road paint that the city uses is water soluable (oil paint is an environmental no-no – although, apparently oil-based pavement is not).  The sharrows will need to be repainted every year.  Or they’ll probably just not repaint them – like on Somerset and Wellington.

Cycling plan.  Gold medal city.

’nuff said.

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Biking on St. Patrick Street? Why settle for sharrows that won’t grow your bike share?

St. Patrick is a busy street… well, highway really… that connects Lowertown and Vanier. It’s two lanes in either direction and can be found in two states: heavy slow moving traffic or very fast traffic. When you see cyclists, you’ll probably notice that they are on the sidewalk as neither heavy or fast moving traffic makes for an appealing (or safe feeling) place to travel without a full set of airbags ready to deploy.

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A road too narrow

St. Patrick has been due for roadway resurfacing for several years.  A plan was drawn up to improve the roadway surface and at the same time, provide better cycling infrastructure.

The St. Patrick link was of such importance that Ottawa selected this as its nomination for the province’s Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative (MIII) funding.  (Each municipality can only nominate one project.)

But the project was not selected to receive provincial funding. So, it was decided that the roadway resurfacing part of the project would continue, but there would not be enough funds to implement the desired cycling infrastructure.

 

Make room for…. sharrows?

The parts of the project that would dedicate space to vulnerable road users and encourage travel through the core by means other than private vehicle (as per the objectives of the Transportation Master Plan) were the first to be cut (or severly delayed).

With cycling or pedestrian infrastructure, they can often turn from ‘need to haves’ in the planning phase to ‘nice to haves’ when it comes to funding.

The proposed solution, given the shortfall of money, was to add sharrows. A solution we too often rely upon as infrastructure where it doesn’t belong.

Can't we all just sharrow?

Nonetheless, road re-pavings provide an opportunity to make minor improvements with line painting until the time comes along in 10-50 years for a full road reconstruction. That is, if you catch them early enough in the project planning.

Vanier Cycles seized this re-paving opportunity to advocate painted bike lanes that would help better connect the east side of the river with major employment nodes on Sussex Drive and the commercial area of the Byward Market (currently bypassed when using the East-West Bikeway).

Although St. Patrick is a divided four-lane roadway, the current Ontario roadway design standards wouldn’t allow for a narrowing of the vehicle lanes given the design speed of the road that would provide enough room for a standard cycle lane. Engineers would not sign off on both sub-standard vehicle or cycling lanes.   In the end, they are liable.  (Yet, there are many collisions on “approved” roadways all over town each day and no one is suing… ah, legal culture.)

Hello sharrows

Sharrows are fine as wayfinding on low traffic streets or to mark that a bike lane crosses through an intersection, but they are no substitute for bike lanes on a busy and fast roadway. And they should absolutely not be counted in the city’s yearly total of ‘kilometres added to cycling infrastructure’.

Vanier Cycles (a sub-group under the Vanier Community Association), under the leadership of Sarah Patridge (recently awarded the city’s Bruce Timmerman award for cycling advocacy) has led the initiative to have a safer solution for the corridor. With the near-to-downtown neighbourhood experiencing a cycling boom, they simply cannot wait a decade for a better solution when they have immediate needs (and immediate concerns).

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Several BIAs and community associations have written the mayor and councillors to express their support. (Although, I have yet to see a letter from the Byward Market BIA. Curious. )
And you can express your opinion too. Even if you never use St. Patrick as part of your daily commute, you should still be concerned that sharrows were acceptable as cycling infrastructure on a busy arterial road.  The councillor is working with residents to find a solution (and the funding) that would improve this sad sharrow situation.

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You can help!  You can send an email to the mayor and transportation committee to voice your support for real solutions and not sharrows.  The more support a councillor has for an idea, the more weight their request carries.

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A safe solution makes good business and neighbourhood sense.

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Get off my bike! Getting kids off your bike and riding on their own.

Graduating from riding on the back of the bike is a big step for a kid.   It’s a step most kids are keen to take and these days they’re doing it even earlier since ‘scoot bikes’ became popular.  In our municipality of Ottawa (well, Ontario in general), we turn our head and pretend that kids won’t be interested in biking until they are 9 or 10.   You know, a “safe age” to start.  (Yes, we strap skate blades to their feet at age two, but that is normal.)

Ottawa bylaws aren’t very lenient when it comes to sidewalk cycling – not even children are supposed to ride their bikes on the walkway.  (Sure, Toronto amended their by-law to allow small-wheeled children’s bikes on the sidewalk, but Ottawa…  we like our vehicular cycling children.  Or better yet, none at all.)  Take the lane, Timmy!

So, how to you get your kid who weighs as much as 3 sacks of potatoes off your bike and riding their own bike in the city?  As we all know, not every street has a bike lane or low amounts of traffic.

Not too small to ride

You let them ride on the sidewalk.  Of course you do. Because kids like their bikes and they can only do loops so many times around the park or field before they want to “go somewhere” and “do something”.  Despite being short, they can quickly become good at cycling from point A to B and sometimes C (if there’s a treat).

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Find your nearest multi-use path

It’s easier to teach good riding skills in a low stress environment.  The segregated multi-use pathways are ideal for learning skills: staying to the right of the line, keeping a straight line, not mowing over pedestrians, and bell ringing.

Pathways often have stop and yield signs, so you can practice recognizing (and obeying) signs.

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But most of us can’t walk out of our house and ride on a separated pathway.  And the MTO recommends that no child under 10 ride in traffic.  So, maybe you decide to wait until Sunday and drive to an NCC parkway to enjoy Sunday Bike Days or maybe you just use the sidewalk in front of you.  (Shhh!)

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All about sidewalks

Sidewalk riding has its challenges.  The first being pedestrians – it’s their space.  So, being polite about sharing and passing slowly is key.

The second challenge is where should the parent ride.   If your kid is in the early stages of biking solo, you can easily keep up by using a scooter or using your own bike as a scooter.  How?  Just keep a foot on a pedal and push with your other leg.  Hop off and walk whenever you encounter someone walking.    Even though it’s easier to ride your bike on the sidewalk behind the child, most parents I see don’t like to break the rules.

Find streets that don’t have parking beside the sidewalk

If you can, ride on the road while the child rides on the sidewalk.  This works well if you have a stretch of roadway that has no parking.  Once you get a row of parked cars between you and the kid, it makes riding harder for the child and you lose the nice social feeling of biking together.

Harder for the kid, you say?  Smaller kids want to keep eye contact with you when riding, and once you’ve got parked cars between them and you, they tend to focus on seeing you rather than keeping their eyes ahead.  Also, it’s just plain awkward.

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One ways streets work well because it’s rare to have parking on both sides of the street.

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Be kind and be respectful of others

People in Ottawa try their best to follow the road rules in an environment not designed for all-ages travel.  The other week, I saw this super dad cycling with his kids to the multi-use pathway on Booth near the War Museum.  Booth is hard enough to cycle on when you’re by yourself.  The road surface is full of holes and the traffic can be intimidating.  But this super dad, navigated around the potholes and the two kids tooted along on the sidewalk.  Even though, there would have been plenty of space for him (or *cough* a proper cycletrack).

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He only nipped onto the sidewalk to help the kids push the buttons and cross the road (ahem..  5 lane highway).

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A bump in the road… err… sidewalk

Soon enough, you’ll find that while sidewalk cycling keeps your child off the road, the surface of the sidewalks (at least in my area of town) have their own challenges.  They’re lopsided, slopey and often have fairly large bumps where they meet the road at each corner.  Soon enough, you and the child both figure out that the road has a better surface with no driveway dips to contend with.

Breaking the MTO’s suggestions…  not the first time, probably not the last

If you’re confident in your child’s abilities to ride in a straight line and know when to stop, you’re probably ready to give riding on the road a try.  Find a quiet, residential street where you can ride side by side.  Sunday mornings work particularly well.   I find it easier to stay on the left of the child and sort of “sheepdog” herd them along.  This keeps them from drifting too far into the middle of the street.

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This photo is from our first try riding off-sidewalk.   Alden is five (clearly not age 10 as suggested by the MTO).  He was very proud to be able to use the street and the bike lane on our errand to the Glebe.

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The handbooks say that children lack certain abilities to quickly process the world around them, but I found Alden pretty quick to hop onto the sidewalk when he didn’t feel comfortable on the road even if there were no cars around.  Kids really are like canaries in the coal mine for safe streets.

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So, we made a little video about running some errands to the Glebe on our bikes.

All-ages, all abilities

Kids can become great at biking with practice, access to low traffic/low speed cycle friendly streets and segregated cycling infrastructure that supports a wide range of ages and abilities.  Too often, our bike infrastructure is designed for determined adult vehicular cyclists.

It’s time to realize that telling kids not to start biking until they’re 10 is foolish.  At our elementary school alone, even the junior area bike racks are full (kindergarten – grade 3).  The school board and health departments promote the idea of having kids to walk and bike to school, but instead of being supported with safe all-ages cycling routes, parents are left to make up their own rules for how best to travel safely from point A to B.

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I tweeted the above photo last week.  It got a lot of activity – including retweets by the school board and local provincial election candidates.  People love to the idea of kids being active and cycling.. until it comes to making space for them to do so.

And when infrastructure fails, pedestrians and cyclists work together to carve out safe spaces.  Those well-worn paths by schools and parks are carved out from the feet and wheels of residents and their future voters. Is our city designed to support them now or in the future?  I’m getting off topic.  It’s been a long week.

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Back to riding

Start with short distances, get to the park or splash pad.  Work your way up to a bike ride to school.  Attach a basket to your child’s bike and run an errand together.  They love carrying stuff on their bikes.

If you are lucky enough to have neighbours who bike their kids to school, time your departure and leave together.  Even a small group riding together will make your route feel safer.

Is it always easy?  No, not always.  Nothing about kids is ever very easy in the beginning.  Keep at it. The more you bike together, the easier it gets.  And some days…  walk or take the bus.  That’s ok too.

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Walk (and bike) Your City – Ottawa edition

Thanks to a not-so-micro grant from Awesome Ottawa, I was able to order a heap of signs from Walk [Your City]. (The lone project I’ve ever backed with Kickstarter!)

If you haven’t seen these signs online, it’s a guerilla wayfinding system for walking and biking that measures distance to places in time rather than highway mileage (or errr… kilometerage). Obviously, measuring in time units isn’t a perfect science as some will be speedier pedestrians or cyclists than others. But the purpose is to start thinking about directing people around a place using peoplepowered-units rather than vehicle-units.

Walk [Your City] offers colour-coded signs for institutions, commercial districts, public spaces and amuseument, but I stuck with the blue version to blend in with Ottawa’s official colours.

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With a rogue nameless sign-stealer running amok in Ottawa, I didn’t want him or well-meaning city-folk removing them, so I avoided placing signs in certain areas. For example, not on (or near) a stop sign, not blocking any sightlines, and not on private property (even if they have a city sign post in their yard). I wanted to make sure the investment in signs had as long a lifespan as possible.

On Sunday, I packed up my camera equipement, signs and zip ties and headed off! See if you can spot them around Hintonburg and Centretown.

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There are interesting things in Ottawa, but sometimes it’s hard to find them. For example, maybe you wouldn’t think that on the other side of this dirt path and row of dumpsters is one of Ottawa’s most popular bakeries (there’s now an art gallery and soon a micro-brewery). I’m hopeful that the property owner will throw down a bit of asphalt to make it a bit more welcoming.

(Tuesday update:  Well, less than two days later, the croissant sign has been removed.  Clearly by someone who hates croissants.)

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The pathways in Ottawa are one of the most popular places to walk and bike (just look at these statistics for biking), but there are almost no directions to get you from the pathway to nearby destinations.  The pathways were originally designed for recreation, but they’ve become the defacto spine network for traffic separated active-transportation across Ottawa. Lots of people use these pathways, especially familities cycling with children who aren’t old enough to “appreciate” sharrows. (Ah, sharrows!)

Given their popularity by locals (and being a top tourist activity flaunted in most of Ottawa’s official tourism promotional materials), you’d expect to find a little more information about nearby amenities than simply how many kilometres it is to Parliament Hill. Why? Because, you can’t get a croissant on Parliament Hill.

So, I made a little video about the signs.

Midway through the morning, I was feeling peckish and decided to take the most direct route back to Centretown using Wellington St. West. It was Sunday and there wasn’t much traffic – otherwise, I would normally take the sidestreets. But I’m glad that I did follow the worn out sharrows because Bread By Us was open! So I did a U-turn and parked outside their door.

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My hybrid croissant-cinnamon roll and coffee was just what I needed to finish up the sign task. I sat at this awkward bench to enjoy the first warm Sunday of spring. (Seriously, what an awkward bench. Mounted on a concrete platform so that your feet dangle off the edge.  It could use a bit of a sweep too.  Oh, and maybe some tables for maximum croissant-in-the-sun enjoyment!)

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When I’m in charge of signage, you’ll always know where to get pastries.

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The time consuming part of the project was documenting it all with photos and video. Not being much of an on-camera person, there were a lot of retakes. Hence, the blooper reel:

If you take part in the upcoming Janes Walk weekend (http://www.janeswalkottawa.ca) you may get to see some of these signs up close.

If you like what you see, why not ask your local BIA or city councillor about adding more people-centred directions to your area of town. Because there’s more to see in Ottawa than just Parliament Hill.

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Who sells what brands of step through bikes in Ottawa? A reference list.

BRAND SHOP
Bobbin Tall Trees
Linus Tall Trees, Cyclery
Brooklyn Bike Co. Joe Mamma
Simcoe Joe Mamma
Beater Joe Mamma
Norco Joe Mamma
Breezer Bikes Fosters
Opus Fosters
Stevens Fosters, Cyclery
Velorbis Fosters
Electra Fosters
Workcycles Urkaii (can deliver)
Viva MEC
Manhatten Euro-Sports
Kunstadt – Kanata Kunstadt
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What’s new in step through bikes – Joe Mamma edition

Last year, I had a lot of good response to my “Buying a step through” bike blog post.  And 2014 is looking even better if you’re thinking of buying a step through bike in Ottawa.  There are now more brands and colours (always important) to choose from.

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The hop-off stepthrough test.

Last week over my lunch hour, I rode to Joe Mamma on Bank Street to try their brand new Simcoe, Brooklyn and Beater bikes.

The Simcoe and Brooklyn Bike Co. bikes give you the upright feeling of a Dutch bike, but are significantly lighter (and less expensive).  As the owner of a heavy weighted Dutch bike, both of these bikes perform equally in the zippiness department.  And while they both offer the upright look, there are a few differences that will make each bike appeal to different people.

The biggest differences are: sit uppedness (technical term), shifters and components like the tires and saddles.

Introducing the Brooklyn Willow

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The Basil ‘bottle’ basket matches really well.

To me, the Brooklyn Willow is closest feeling to a Dutch Omafiets (granny bike).  Your seating position is the regal upright posture and the handlebars  are very swept back so that your arms naturally rest on them without needing to stretch.

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90 degree handlebars = maximum comfort

The saddle is plush and padded – great for bumpy Ottawa roads.

The shifting is done with a twist shifter.  It’s very easy, just twist the barrel up and down.

The 3-speed does not have an internal hub and that helps to keep the price down ($530).  You can also get the 7-speed internal hub version (which comes with a rear rack) for $799.  The 7-speed has the same ride quality but with a few more in-between gears should your biking take you over some hills.

You can also buy the Brooklyn Bike Co. branded wooden crates for these bikes for the artisnal advantage.

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Fancy.

For more Simcoe-in-action, check out Cassandra’s inaugural commute on her Simcoe.

I give it a hop-over rating of 4/5.  A great city bike.

 

Next up, the Simcoe Signature 3-speed

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If the colour of the bike doesn’t catch your attention, then the features definitely will.  Simcoe was born out of Toronto by some knowlegable bike shop owners/importers who have seen a lot of bikes pass through their doors and felt that they could design a superior city bike without the hassles and cost of importing European city bikes.

Right away, you will notice that the Simcoe comes with some flashy accessories – notably a Brooks leather saddle.  Below the saddle, you’ll find top quality Schwalbe tires.  These German tires are the bees knees in the bike world for durable long-lasting tires .  They are known to be super tough, resistant to punctures and feature a reflective strip on both sides of the tire walls to help you be seen after dark.  They are great tires.

They are also sitting in a double-walled rims, which I am told is something many other city bikes skimp on.  All in all – these make for a solidly built wheel.

The Simcoe has a full chaincover and rear rack to match the bike.  An important consideration for people (like me) who favour the matchy matchy look.

How does it ride?

It’s slightly less upright than the Brooklyn Bike.  The molded handlebar grips are comfortable, but you could always swap them out if you wanted leather grips to match the Brooks saddle.

Shifting is done with a thumb-shifter.  Some people like thumb-shifters better than barrel shifters.  They both work well, so it comes down to personal choice. If you are an overly sweaty-palmed person, the barrel shifter may be less comfortable to use.  But women don’t sweat, so let’s move on.

I’m used to having more weight on the front of my bike (I normally carry my purse in a front basket) and  I found the steering a bit jumpy.   Pop a front basket on it and a bag and I bet the twitch would disappear.

I also give it a hop-over rating of 4/5.

 

Finally, the Beater Bike
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This is a 3-speed internal geared no-nonsense learn to fix it yourself and take it out in the winter all-around bike.  It’s built to stand all of the abuse that Ottawa weather can throw at it (including winter).

It’s the heaviest of the three bikes (about 26 pounds), but a good budget-friendly option if you’re looking for something to get around town or if you’re looking for a second “winter bike” that you don’t mind coating in road salt.

Of the three bikes, it most closely resembles the Dutch Omafiets with its curvy frame.

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It comes with battery powered lights, a sturdy double kickstand and matching rear rack.  The coaster brakes will make you feel like you’re on your first bike again.  This year’s colour is “British Racing Green”.

I think it would be an excellent university student bike.    $450/4 year degree = Less than a U-Pass.

Although it doesn’t have the higher end components like the two other bikes, it delivers a comfortable ride and still gets high marks.

For being an easy-riding budget bike, I give it a hop-over rating of 4/5 too.

Really?  They’re all 4/5?

I’m not wishy washy with the marks, they’re just all good in different ways.  And none are bad options.  It just depends what  bike suits you (and your wallet) best.

Other new stuff: Accessories

While I was at the shop, I also got to see the new Basil bags.    I’ve used the Basil Shopper tote for a couple of years now both on and off the bike.  (You can read my review of it.)  They’ve improved the design by adding a safety clasp so that it is impossible for the bag to pop off your rack (again… Ottawa potholes!) or for someone to yank it off.

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Basil pannier

It’s a great grocery shopping bag, since you can also clip it onto the side of your cart when shopping.
Checking out!

It’s a great “mom-tote” with space for both your stuff and small-people stuff and it’s my go-to carry-on travel bag.  I like that it has become more than “just” a bike bag.

He also has the metal “bottle” baskets that you can pop on and off your bike (seen above on the orange Brooklyn Bike).  This means it can double as your shopping basket at the grocery store or market.  Handy.

The owner, Jose, is also a pedal parent so the shop is a good place to start if you’re looking at biking with kids.  I’ll do another post about for 2014 family biking since that was pretty popular last year.  There’s lots of cool new ways to get the kids around for 2014.

For a complete list of step through bike brands for sale in Ottawa, consult my handy pocket list.


Joe Mamma is located in the Glebe at 767 Bank Street.


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What does it take to be a bike-friendly business district?

One of Ottawa’s more progressive BIA’s, Wellington-West, has decided to speak up about the benefits that biking brings to their business district.  (The Wellington-West BIA covers a 2km swath of territory from the O-train tracks to Island Park Drive. It’s the biggest BIA in Ottawa.)  As a frequent shopper in the area (who happens to travel mostly by bike) it was exciting news.  I want more than anything for this experiment to be a huge success for them.

The BIA announced this week that they want to be Ontario’s first bike-friendly district after a recent presentation from Ontario by Bike.  It’s a sign they that have a willingness to try something new.   There’s no doubt, becoming a bike-friendly district is an ambitious goal, but do they have what it takes?

Fix this and you might have a complete street.

What criteria must be met to be “bike-friendly”?

Great question.  Who knows?  I couldn’t find a list on the Ontario by Bike website.  The closest checklist I could find was for “tourist attractions”.  It includes having bike parking, cycling information, water, washrooms and an ability to talk about the Ontario Bike Network and help with surveys.

What’s the modal share for Wellington-West now?

The Wellington West BIA completed a modal survey to better understand who was shopping in their area and how they arrived.  Their conclusion?  A significant amount of repeat foot and bike traffic.

Active travel (foot and bike) represented over 50% of their business, although cycling only represented 8.5% of that number.

Here were their findings in a nutshell:

  • 51% of their customers were from the K1Y postal code.  And 16% from the neighbouring postal codes.
  • Amongst the total number of walkers, 71.2% of respondents were from the K1Y postal code.
  • 53% who rode their bikes were also from the K1Y postal code.  23% came from the neighbouring postal codes.
  • Those who walked and biked came more frequently to the area than those who drove or rode the bus.
  • 70% of walkers shopped at least once a week.  62% of cyclists shopped at least once a week.  34% of drivers shopped at least once a week.

Their survey showed that the majority of customers came from the area or nearby areas and were the most regular customers.

 

Is Wellington-West a bike-friendly area?

It depends on your interpretation of “bike-friendly” and who you ask.

Bike parking

Currently, the Wellington-West area has:

  • A fair amount of bike parking,
  • Four bike shops (Tall Trees, Cyclelogik, Fresh Air Experience, Right Bike),
  • A bike-share system (Right Bike),
  • Some bike lanes (Scott Street, Island Park) and the Byron multi-use path,
  • Local support (Hintonburg Bike Champions),
  • AND SHARROWS on Wellington Street (the main “complete” shopping street).

This week, new banners went up on the street poles with photos of bikes and the tagline “Where we ride”.  Perhaps, it’s aspirational marketing.  If you believe it, they will come.

 

Is bike parking, flags and sharrows enough to be truly bike-friendly?  Let’s look at the BIAs that neighbour Wellington-West to the east and west. (Click to enlarge the image.)

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Examples A, B and C all have bike parking and sharrows.  Does the bike-friendliness of Wellington-West shine through?

(A = Westboro Village, B=Wellington West, C=Chinatown)

 

Maybe it’s a not-so-complete street?

The use of language around their “complete street” reconstruction in their blog post and the new imagery used on their street signs seems to signal that they have reached a high level of “bikeyness”.

During the reconstruction phases of 2008 the streetscape changed, literally. But also in another way – as a community Wellington West emerged as a complete street. Encompassing something for every mode of transportation, including the car.

Their interpretation of reality and my experience definitely don’t align.

There’s no doubt that this street encompasses the needs of drivers.  It’s a two-way road with on-street parking on both sides of the roadway. For pedestrians, there’s adequate sidewalk space that is attractive.  But, there is no space for cycling.  You are expected to “take the lane” or risk getting doored.

To me, saying that the Wellington Street reconstruction has infrastructure for all modes is bikewashing.  (Read Elly Blue’s great post about bikewashing.)

If Wellington-West if truly a “complete street”, I would expect to see the cycling and walking modal shares more closely aligned since they are both easy and free.  Perhaps these numbers tell us that the street is more complete for some modes.

Good for locals = Good for tourism

Further on, there is talk of being bike friendly to appeal to tourists and stay-cationers.  Not a bad goal, but again, this attitude misses the mark of utility cycling.  Build something great that benefits your community and nearby communities (“nearbours”!) and you will, by default, also create a great cycling experience for travellers and visitors.

To learn how we can take it to the next gear, the BIA participated in a workshop pedaled by OntariobyBike, a not-for-profit group that helps business communities grow their economic base through encouraging cycling friendly tourism  – for the traveler or stay-cationer. Take a look at some of these interesting stats on cycling tourism:

  • According to the bicycle trade association there was a 14% increase in bike sales between 2008-2009
  • Charity rides, attracting over 40,000 participants raised $30 million for charities in 2012
  • In 2011, 1.6 million Canadian visitors participated in cycling activities while traveling in Ontario, averaging $317 million
  • In 2007 Ottawa had 119 km of bicycling network infrastructure today we have 161km
  • Windsor Eats Wine Trail Rides reports that they generate approximately $10,000 in local spending on each 5-6 hour sold out tour
  • Looking across the border, the USA attributes $46.9 billion annually to cycling tourism
  • Finally, Ottawa was the first city in the province of Ontario to receive the gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community Award by Share the Road Cycling Coalition

These numbers paint a broad picture of cycling.  Too broad in my opinion to be useful for the detail oriented solutions that need to be done to make this area truly bike friendly.  Charity rides and total kilometres of bike lanes don’t tell me anything about cycling conditions IN and around the Wellington-West area.

Here’s a map that shows the potential “nearbours” to the Wellington-West BIA that are within a 5km distance from either end of the district.  As you can see, it covers basically all of the central neighbourhoods.  What is missing is the safe, comfortable, and convenient cycling space (with no missing links) to bring those customers into the area.  Anyone can bike 5km.

 



Because maybe “bike tourism” looks a lot more like this in real life:

Taste of Wellington West - Bike parade! - New sharrows

Looking ahead

What is Wellington-West planning to do to turn their current 8.5% cycling modal share to 18.5% or 28.5%?  It’s going to take more than good attitudes and sharrows.  (Hint': It’s the infrastructure!)

Taste of Wellington West - Bike parade!

Because there’s a whole neighbourhood (and city) waiting for your move.

For further information on why walking and biking is good for business, see:

Also (lest anyone complain that I’m only complaining!), I’ve started tapping out a follow-up post with some ideas for how to improve biking to (and in) the area.  Look for that in the next couple of weeks.

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