Coffee outside… in Ottawa

Calgary and Edmonton cyclists have a nice ritual of meeting up and having coffee outside. On Twitter they use the hashtag #coffeeoutside.

The nice thing about #coffeeoutside is that it’s a whole heckofalot less complicated to plan than a picnic.  Pack coffee, water and a fire source and you’ll be out the door in time for the caffeine equinox.

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So, @bikeyknit and I got to thinking…. why do people in Calgary and Edmonton get to have all of the fun?  Do we not also have ‘outdoors’ in Ottawa?  And water.  And some mildly scenic locations worthy of a sunset Instagram and Aeropress humblebrag?  Sure we do.

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Your guide to conducting acts of outdoor caffeination

    • Be capable of having what is known outside Ottawa as “the fun”
    • Choose a scenic stop.  I like a nice water view.
    • It never hurts to have a picnic table.
    • Select a favourite mug.
    • Pack caffeinatoring method.  Instant, filter, drip, downward dog*, Aeropress, percomatrix*, or hoverpress* with beans hand selected by your favourite tabby cat.  (*May not (yet) be real brewing methods.)
    • Bring along some milk (or substitute).  Keeping powdered milk in your coffee kit saves epics of seconds.  (Didn’t you know?  Bike time is measured in epics.)
    • Bring stove and fuel.
    • Pastries are always welcome.  Refer to point #1 regarding “the fun”.
    • Announce outing! Tweet the meet-up time and location.  Bonus point  for sunrise and/or sunset coffee making.  Sun = fun!
    • LOOK HOW MUCH FUN WE ARE HAVING!

That’s pretty much it.  Keep a towelette in your kit to wipe off any excess pastry face residue.  Try not to get too “coffee ‘splainy” – your Twitter or Instagram followers will ensure your brewing choice is deconstructed and rated.  Enjoy the moment! 

#sunset #epic #coffee #beans #pourover #filter #burrgrinder #outoftags

Voila.  Random acts of coffee.  Outside.

 

 

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Bike camping with a Brompton

Ottawa is a multi-modal transit island. If you want to combine using a train or bus to get you out of the city with a standard roll-on / roll-off service you are out of luck. This is where having a folding bike comes in handy.

I’m planning a short-ish bike-camping trip around Quebec’s Eastern Townships and I wanted to give my set-up a test-run before the big outing. (Hey, it’s big trip for me.)

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With pastries in hand, I set off for a quick overnight trip to Nepean Nepean It’s Lovely to Be In.  Or something.

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For my set up, I used my rear rack for carrying “housing” (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and pillow). I packed the Brompton front T-Bag with my clothes and other quick access items (camera, Jetboil, coffee, coffee cup and toiletries).

I’ve followed the Path Less Pedalled and watched their Brompton touring videos many times. They strap their hiking backpacks onto the rear rack. Not having a big backpack like theirs, I went with the gear that I already had: a waterproof Arkel pannier.

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All the comforts of home… almost.

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The Brompton tucked nicely into the tent’s vestibule.

For this trip, I would say 95% of the set-up worked perfectly. I didn’t add a transit test to the trip and that’s the one weak spot in my set-up. While the pannier worked fairly well, there were some minor issues with heel strike if my foot was too far back on the pedal.  And while the pannier comes with a shoulder strap, I just don’t have enough arms to carry a bike, T-bag, pannier and manage getting on/off transit. It became clear that some sort of bag with backpack straps was going to be an essential piece of luggage.

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Making coffee (instant Starbucks is .. well… convenient)

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Cozy.

I like the simplicity of strapping a slimmer duffle-style bag on the rear rack, but maybe long-term I’d be happier buying a proper hiking pack like the Path Less Pedalled team. Decisions.  While I ponder the great backpack decision of 2105, here’s what else did work well:

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Here are some things that could be improved:

  • Starbucks VIA coffee.  The single serve instant coffee packages are hella convenient, but overall, the coffee tastes like a dirt floor.  Even with scoops of vanilla flavoured Coffeemate in them.  I wonder whether a generic instant coffee brand would taste just as good.  Probably.
  • The JetBoil really isn’t a container for cooking.  I burnt some of my creamy pasta sauce on the bottom and it was super annoying to clean off.  Best to stick with simple water boiling.

Simple tips to make things easy:

  • You’ll want a few things always within easy reach: phone/camera, tissues, and water.  If you’re stopping along the way, make sure your snacks are at the top of your pack.  No one likes to rummage for treats.
  • I like keeping my phone, bike keys and wallet in small bag that’s easy to remove for any quick shopping stops.
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Biking to Alta Vista using the O-train

On Saturday, I decided that would we visit the Alta Vista Animal Hospital as part of Doors Open. I have a kid who likes animals and it seemed like an interesting stop. There was just one thing to sort out – how to get to Bank Street south of Hunt Club by bike.

Route planning decision making: A timeline

  1. Check Google Maps and plot out a bike-only route.
    The door-to-door distance was about 10km. Not terrible, but I couldn’t figure out how to connect from Carleton and across Heron Road.  Couldn’t be bothered to sort it out.  Move on to transit.
  2. Revise plan to use the O-train and have a multi-modal trip.
    The O-train would take us most of the way – we could hop off at Greenboro and bike the remaining 1.5km.   I mean, who can’t bike 1.5km?  (LOL at my foolishness that the city would build bike infrastructure to a transit hub.)My creation
  3. Run into travel planning road blocks.
    Despite Greenboro being the last stop on the train route, you can’t actually connect to the NEW Sawmill Creek pathway beside it. It is on the wrong side of the tracks.”The Sawmill Creek Pathway gives new access for cyclists and pedestrians in Ottawa South,” said Councillor Egli. “This new link for cyclists will encourage more residents to use their bikes.” LOLs.There is no underpass to connect the Greenboro transit stop to the bike infrastructure 75 metres away. You actually have to bike through the South Keys mall to the South Keys Transitway Station to reach the underpass that will connect to the Sawmill Creek Pathway. The best way to cut through the mall is by using the back loading bay laneway (marked in blue below).greenboro-station
  4. Give up trying to use the Sawmill Creek Pathway
    In the end, attempting to use the Sawmill Creek pathway was of little use for this trip.  By the time you’re at South Keys, the Sawmill Creek Pathway ends and I didn’t see any of the “neighbourhood connections” that the press release spoke of.  So.  Yeah. Unprecedented investment in cycling infrastructure! It seems the investment in cycling infrastructure would have a better return on investment if it connected to something.
  5. Decide to sidewalk cycle the remaining 1km on Bank Street.
    There was 0% chance to riding on the road on this part of Bank Street. The HUGE intersections, high speed and volume of traffic would require CanBikeXXXVVIII level training. When we saw a (rare) pedestrian, we just moved to the side and continued on.(Fun fact: Bank and Hunt Club is the ninth most collision-y intersection in Ottawa.)Even walking here requires a CanWalk Pro certification since the sidewalk just “oopsie doodle!” runs out at one busy segment near a gas station just south of Albion Road South.

We made it to our destination. We even stopped to eat at a local restaurant on the way back to the South Keys station. They even had a bike rack. And there was another bike at it.

My creation

Combining biking with transit makes slightly far destinations easy to reach. Well, they would be easy to reach if there was bike infrastructure that connected to the transit station.

Judging by the popularity of bikes on the O-train that I saw, people have already started seeing the value of combining transit and biking. The train is also much easier to use than the bus racks.  There’s no learning curve or practice sessions needed.  It couldn’t be easier – just enter at the doors with the bike symbols and roll your bike on.

As we navigated our way south of Hunt Club, I could understand how residents here must think cycling is a “downtown” thing. There’s no infrastructure to make it be possible. That 1.5km segment may as well have been 150km. Both must seem equally as impossible.

This pathway is an important north south transportation corridor“…  That’s what people say. Mmm mmm.  That’s what people say-ay-ay.  Mmm mmmm.

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A weekend in Montreal

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Bonjour, Montreal.  I missed you.  And your bike lanes that appear on busy streets and not-so-busy streets. We should see each other more often.  I know, my French is getting rusty.  I barely remember my Bixi seat height setting. It was good to see you last weekend. I’m a bit sad you replaced your old métro spooky “buh-buh-buh” tone for a newer “BUH BUH BUH get on the train” tone.  Thanks for offering $13 transit passes that run from Friday at dinner to Monday morning.  That is awesome.

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And $5 for 24-hour Bixi passes?  Yes.  That too.  Getting around is easy.  Even when you forget your map.

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You’re always fun city to revisit to see what’s changed.  This year, you turned a weekly garbage pile into a bike corral.  And a really nice one.  Kudos.

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My bag still fits.

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I’d like to commend your restaurants for offering a triple-pastry brunch.  Toasted baguette, chocolatine and croissant.  A well-balanced meal.

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And thank you for having the best concert venues.  Seriously, the best.  With no one’s head is in your way because the seats are raked so well.  (Chilly Gonzales… go see him and the Kaiser Quartet if you can.)

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Three encores.

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There’s always something interesting to see.  Families out biking.  Parkour on the street pole outside your brunch joint.  Mystery no-name-Casablanca bar. And darn fine old fashioned drinks at the Nouveau Palais.

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Streets to walk and stairs to climb.  Let’s do this again.

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Biking to Trainyards

I’ve become frustrated with biking in and around my downtown neighbourhood. Infrastructure doesn’t lie.  You can read our main streets like a book and see who the protagonists are.

Take for example a standard four-lane design we see in Ottawa.  Two lanes for on-street parking, one lane in each direction for cars, buses and bikes.  Sidewalks flanking each side.  Pedestrian signals timed to favour the flow of commuter traffic.

Fix this and you might have a complete street.

Reading the street as a public-space shows that despite good intentions in print and street sign banners, the design favours vehicles (and those who act like vehicles), followed by pedestrians.

With the fear that paid on-street parking will drive shoppers to the ‘burbs, I decided to be a customer who goes to the ‘burbs for the day.

I chose Trainyards for its variety of shops, grocery store and nearby Bicycle Craft Brewery.  With a bit of help from friends on Twitter, I planned a route that avoided major highways.  Getting there wasn’t as straightforward as Westboro (literally a straight line heading west for us), but it was possible to find a comfortable route.  In fact, once I had passed Lees, it was all segregated bike paths and a low-traffic street to reach the mall.  And now that I know the route, I’d gladly do it again.  (I’ve included my usual route to Westboro as a comparison.)

First, follow your favourite route past Lees station to Hurdman. You can cross the Lees bridge (that goes around the Ottawa U. inflated stadium or across the Hurdman bus bridge. (I went with Hurdman – don’t look for signs, there are none.)

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Follow the NCC pathway to Hurdman station (mind the dirt and construction debris).

Follow the separated pathway going east until you reach Riverside Drive. It’s a doozy of an intersection but at least you are on a separated path. Ditto at Alta Vista. Once you cross Alta Vista, swing a right to a pathway that goes through a retirement area. This leads you to Coronation Avenue – a stupid-wide but low traffic local street.

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When you see the large bus stop at Chomley, head north. There is a little path that will take you through the Metro parking lot to the lights at Trainyards Drive. Use the separated pathway to continue to your big box of choice.

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The streets inside of Trainyards are 20km/h. Better than any downtown main street.

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I found my way to SAIL and their bike racks.  Not bad.  SAIL has just as many screamy children as MEC, so based on type of goods for sale, I think MEC still wins.

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After the SAIL stop, I did what any sensible driver would do…  I rode from destination to destination.

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I went to Farm Boy for the first time.  Wow. Farm Boy.  WOW.  Now that I know what I’m missing out on… you bet I’m backing back here next week.  (But really, could you just open one in Centretown?)

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It was rolling around to lunch time and I surveyed my options for something tasty at Trainyards.   Starbucks, Scores or Five Guys Burgers looked to be the only options until I saw the prepared food Mecca inside Farm Boy.  I bought some sushi (for $8) and sat in a window seat in their café (they have free wifi).  Yes, I could definitely come back here.  Very nice.  Washroom?  Spotless.

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Behold… the kale of your dreams.

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After a bit of grocery shopping, I tooted down Industrial (on the sidewalk) to reach the traffic lights at Russell Road.  There’s only a sidewalk on one side of Industrial.  As I scofflawed my way to the traffic lights, a huge group of road cyclists passed by.  I was sure that I was going to be the cover photo for their Scofflaw Monthly journal.  Then again, as a friend pointed out, I didn’t have an 18 friend peloton to protect me.

Once on Russel Road, I followed it until I reached this chateau:

Turn left and head through the parking lot for the industrial warehouses. The brewery will be on the right. Can’t miss it.

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All in all, it was an excellent little ride for a sunny spring day. If you happen to be looking for kid’s clothing and footwear, it’s worth the trip.  (I spent last Saturday stupidly running around DOWNTOWN looking for boy’s running shoes.  Hahahaha.  Downtown.  Jokes.   Kids don’t live downtown.)

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Buy local or be local? Making our main streets work for local living.

Some days it feels like the people who are the most invested in the “buy local” campaign are pedestrians and cyclists. Traveling short distances means saving physical energy and saving time. Convincing these two groups of people to shop local takes no work at all.  We’re fairly lazy creatures at heart.  (Provided the right amenities are nearby.)

To me, the “buy local” movement means being able to buy our day-to-day amenities within a fairly close radius. It means having active transportation and transit options that enable residents (like myself) to keep their spending dollars within the community.  And most of all, in a growing downtown area, it means that biking, walking and transit get preferred treatment.

Recently, I’ve come to understand that I’ve been interpreting “buy local” incorrectly.  The common interpretation is really a broad support for buying local/regional products and services where the customers aren’t necessarily “locals” themselves.

It’s the fundamental flaw in the system.  Buy local and live local are not the same.  Live local is sustainable.

 

How is this disconnect demonstrated on the street?

You can see how “buy local” hasn’t translated into “live local” in many ways:

  • In the winter, bike racks are largely neglected.
  • Pedestrian walk signals don’t favour foot traffic – they favour commuter traffic flow.
  • Doorings are common on main streets due to on-street parking demands.
  • Bike lanes are non-existant on main shopping corridors.
  • Bus schedules are infrequent outside of peak commuting hours.

I’m sure there are more.

 

Condos! Now there’s less parking! *rawr*

An ongoing battle welp is over urban intensification. Densifying downtown (and near-downtown) neighbourhoods adds more potential local customers than any parking plan could. It’s a growing population that has sprung up where where surface parking once “stood”. These new residents are now the “enemy” instead of the “solution”.

We seem to keep defaulting to the protection of customers “from away” (pardon the Islandism) who live outside of the areas immediately surrounding the business district.

New residents can become loyal customers. They have moved centrally for a reason: for the lifestyle as well as for the amenities.

One condo building of residents brings in as many people into the area as one “mobility hub”.

 

Retention and … disposition

As it becomes more difficult for those relying on driving to “conveniently” stop and shop – it becomes easier for new residents who choose walking or biking to become customers. Why not roll out a few welcome mats for these new neighbours too?

 

Drivists are still top of mind

When the topic of paid parking from Westboro to Wellington West popped up recently in the news. Many came out swinging against paid parking (and likely more to come). Worried about losing customers who drive.

If the cost to park in the area is a concern, why not also look at transit fare-free zones or validated transit fare? After all, a single return bus fare costs more than an evening of paid parking. Do transit users not deserve the same “free parking” treatment? If we’re concerned about the cost of transportation to the customer, then transit fares and parking rates should be addressed in tandem.

How does driving manage to maintain such a favorable position despite the demands on space that the mode requires? And its harmful effects to all other modes?  If the city made it more pleasant to use other modes, could these fears be tempered?

Of course, you don’t have to remove all of the parking.  Elderly people, those with mobility challenges, Para Transpo, deliveries and taxis still have a role to play in providing access to all residents.  But the system needs rebalancing to support those who “need” to drive versus those for whom it is a convenience only.

 

Status quo modal split is a recipe for disaster

Clinging to the security of the status quo modal split is starting to tear at the seams. Gentrification has raised rental rates. Some businesses can survive with the increased costs. And some can’t.

For lease signs pop up.  Storefronts remain empty for longer waiting for new tenants.

Everyone yearns to have more customers.  But if there’s no more room for parking, how do you get more people through your door?

 

Time to look for solutions in modes that can bring in more people

Last week’s Hintonburg Street Hockey tournament shut down several side streets. Including the street directly in front of Beyond the Pale Brewing. They sold out of beer.  How did they do it?

 

 

It’s time to change the dialogue. From status quo – to status know. Know your neighbourhood and the 5km radius around it. Know what makes choosing to walk, bike or transit such unfavourable options.  Address these barriers. Know how many new residents are moving in. Know how you can attract more local-living residents.

You can’t add more parking. But you can add more people. Until the conversation shifts to attracting more shoppers who don’t rely on car parking, the vitality of the main streets will continue to decline as the cost to do business increases.

 Update April 27: I just returned from a weekend in Montreal and I had forgotten how much denser their neighbourhoods are.  It makes our little Ottawa boroughs look like quaint village main streets.   Had some good parking chats on the train.  I can’t help but feel that without nice and dense neighbourhoods with great transit and bike access, we’re always going to have this parking problem to “solve”.

Next post: Testing the big box waters…  by bike.  Join me as I discover Trainyards.   (Spoiler: it wasn’t awful.)

 

 

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Imagining our main streets

Apparently, today is heritage day.  Happy belated heritage day to you.  In Ottawa, the theme of today’s celebration is ‘main streets’.  Great!  Who could argue that main streets are worthy of some citizenry high-fives?  (Even MallCorp on Rideau is turning to face the street.)  Main streets are definitely in the middle of a liveable cities group hug right now.

Over the weekend, I was in Welliboro to do some main streeting of my own.  I like to bike on main streets.  My bike speed is just right for efficient window shopping.  There’s people to see.  Dogs getting walked.  The smell of wood fire baked bagels in the air.

At a stop light, I looked to my left and saw a great window mural.  The artist had painted the Welliboro streetscape with the proprietor’s business in the foreground.  I hopped off my bike to have a closer look.

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What a jolly winter scene! Pedestrians, children, and sleds take center stage.  I noticed two things were noticeably absent: no bikes and no cars.  Now, biking in the winter… I mean, who would do that?   Also, bikes are hard to draw.  Fair enough.

But holy smokes, there’s not a car on the street.  And there’s not a single parking spot!  (Maybe cars are too hard too draw as well?)

I know.  You’re saying “Lana, it’s *just* a picture.  Don’t read into it.”  Yet, how can you not read into it?  These window murals or the banners we hang on our lamp posts create an idealized picture of a main street’s identity.

No, it’s never *just a picture* when it comes to marketing. It’s a decision to represent your product in a very precise way. It’s just that our reality that doesn’t always match the dream.

And by the looks of this mural, we’ve found the head quarters for a car-free main street. Ah, art.

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December 3 “winter biking” outfit of the day

Conditions:

  • -1 C (wind chill -3C) and light rain
  • 4.5km school drop off and commute
  • O-train path not plowed at 8:30am.  Clear roads on Gladstone, Somerset and Laurier Bike Lane.

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From top left to right

  • Wool socks – snowflake pattern.  Regular tights.
  • Hunter boots.  Keeps slush off your tights.
  • Closest mittens to the door.  Auclair mitts with reflective patches.
  • North Face rain coat.  Cheery yellow.
  • Infinity Buff
  • Skirt from Talbots

Comments

  • End of the day from a man in the elevator: “Biking home?” Me: Yes, it’s pretty fast and easy.    Man:”Looks slushy, good luck.”  (The road is wet and not slushy at all.)
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December 2 “winter biking” outfit of the day

Conditions:

  • -15 C (wind chill -23C) and sunny
  • 4.5km school drop off and commute

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From top left to right

  • 3 year old Lolë coat.  I wear this all winter through the coldest of cold days.  It’s light and not at all bulky.  I’m never cold and it’s long enough to cover any cold bike seat.
  • Smartwool socks.  Stripes.  Always stripes.
  • Jean skirt and Patagonia wool long johns
  • Homemade crochet hat.  Solid at the brim to cover my forehead.  Holey on the top to not overheat.  Nutcase helmet with cozy earwarmers.
  • Polar Buff fleece tube.  Extra long.  Loooove this.  Also: stripes.
  • Baffin “Snogoose” winter boots from MEC.  Rated to -100.  It’s like wearing toasters on your feet.

Comments

  • Walking into the work building.  Commissionaire:  “Brrrrr it’s so cold!”  Me: “Actually, I’m quite hot right now.”
  • Man in elevator: “Still biking?  You’re brave.”  Me: “It’s the best.  And so fast.  Especially in the afternoon.”
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Biking to the Christmas Market

Sunday marked the return of the Farmers Market to Lansdowne. I’ll admit, I raised my eyebrow a bit about the return. I had gotten used to the Brewer location and there were things I liked such as the kid playground, the outdoor seating under canopied trees and cycling access when the NCC shut Colonel By Drive down for “Bike Sundays”.

Sunday’s mild weather allowed us to bike directly to Lansdowne using the NCC canal path. Without any worries of the road re-opening to traffic before we were done shopping (like was the case at Brewer on Bike Sundays). The bike ride was relaxing and scenic. Helmets were left in the panniers.

We entered from the Queen Elizabeth entrance. There seemed to be three roads. It was unclear at first why there were three, but two seem to branch off for pick-ups/drop-offs.  The husband thought I was biking the wrong way on a one-way.  I don’t think I was scofflawing. We weren’t the only ones confused. The shared space design had drivers lumbering around like lost elephants. Eventually, a few of them parked in the plaza areas and so followed the rest of the herd.  Shared space feels equally awkward for all modes.

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We parked our bikes at the racks on the Queen Elizabeth side of the market building.  There seemed to be fewer available on the Bank St. side.

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With our cargo bikes, we were ready to carry whatever bushel of tomatoes would be thrown at us.

The skating rink at Lansdowne opened the day before with little fanfare. We laced up our skates and enjoyed having an entire rink basically to ourselves. Skating facing the Aberdeen Pavilion was delightful. There are few places I can think of where one can spend time outdoors in the shadow of such a “nice old building” (NOB for short).

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We wondered as we skated a few laps whether the big hill off to the side would become a sledding hill. Because it’s certainly easier to get to than the Arboretum. (It looks promising.)

The inside of the market was bustling. Chatter bounced off the high ceilings and warmth radiated from the rafter heaters. It seemed like everything was working out (well, except for a vendor who was unable to draw enough power for their food stand).

We did our shopping and then let the kids loose in the playground. They’re six, so the climbing structure was designed for them. Smaller kids? Well, they get a bit trampled.

We also did a quick walk through of the renovated Horticultural Building and despite the craziness of re-situating the building, the workmanship and materials used seemed well thought out and executed. The wall of windows was stunning.

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We biked back home along the canal and then unloaded the three bags of skates, skating helmet, grocery bags and cozy blanket from the bakfiets. There was still enough room for a bushel of tomatoes and we didn’t have to shop elsewhere to get our parking validated. In the end, it seems they didn’t need to worry about parking after all.  We wondered if the shuttle system was well used…  and wondered why more effort isn’t put into promoting cycling to the site which remains the most convenient and free option.

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