I wrote this article for our internal newsletter at work about biking and commuting by bike in Ottawa.
What is Bike to Work Month? How does it work?
Bike to Work Month aims to showcase the benefits of cycling to work for all Ottawa residents, of all ages and experience. The goal of Bike to Work is to encourage people to cycle to work for fun, fitness and the environment. Brought to you through the City’s TravelWise Program and coordinated by EnviroCentre, Bike to Work offers events for all levels of cyclists. As a component to Physical Activity month, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is encouraging residents to increase their activity levels by integrating exercise into their daily routine. Cycling to work is a simple way to reach your physical activity goals, and take advantage of the numerous health benefits while helping the environment.
This year as part of Bike to Work Month, EnviroCentre and the City of Ottawa are offering a variety of options for improving your cycling IQ, such as subsidized workshops at your workplace over lunch hour that focus on bike safety, repairs and maintenance, and on-road cycling, to name a few. They also put on a series of events throughout the month of May, which include ongoing cycling celebration stations at various locations throughout the city, Bikemobile prize giveaways, and a community barbecue to celebrate the wrap up of Bike to Work Month at the end of the month.
Participants can also pledge to cycle to work during the month of May and win great prizes, including a new bike.
What are the benefits of participating in this month?
Biking to work (or from work!) is possible for almost everyone who lives in Ottawa. The average commuting distance in Ottawa is about 8km, which translates into about a 30 minute bike ride. The point of Bike to Work month is to encourage residents to give biking a chance for at least one commute and see if you like it.
If you live farther away, you could even use OC Transpo to bring your bike to work in the morning and have a great ride home. No need to worry about arriving at work sweaty.
You get fresh air to start and end your day, you get a bit of exercise and you never have to worry about getting a seat (unlike the bus). At this time of year, if you cycle in to work along the Ottawa River Pathway, you’ll often see goslings near the path. It’s hard to be in a bad mood after you see a dozen fuzzballs waddle around in the grass.
The bike racks are also a social place to meet other colleagues at the beginning and end of the day.
And last but not least, there are the prizes involved with signing up for the Bike to Work challenge.
How can employees get involved?
You can sign up for the Bike to Work challenge online. Everyone who signs up is entered to win prizes (new bike, panniers etc).
If you’ve never biked to work before, take the time to plan your route. You can pick up a full Ottawa cycling map from any bike shop. Google Maps has a bike route travel planner that indicates where cycle paths exist in the city. I downloaded an app for my phone called “Ride the City” that can plan a cycling route for you based on how comfortable you feel riding on roads.
Once you have your route, a bike and some breakfast – you’re ready to roll. It’s really that easy. For short commutes, you can cycle in your work clothes. You don’t need to bike like Lance Armstrong, a casual pace will get you to work without breaking a sweat. To keep your back from getting sweaty, choose a pannier that clips onto your bike instead of a backpack.
For longer rides, you may want to take advantage of the shower facilities near your workplace. [internal link to our shower list removed!]
How did you become involved in the biking community?
I moved to Ottawa in 2000 for graduate school and bought a bike to commute from my apartment to Carleton University. With Carleton perfectly located on a bike path, it made sense to cycle. After graduation, I started working at an office in Gatineau and found biking the most convenient way to get to work.
Now that I’m more confident cycling on the roads, I’ve even started biking throughout the winter when conditions are favourable. I live downtown, so the roads are often completely bare. In fact, it’s often easier to bike in the winter than walk on the icy sidewalks. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Dress for the weather – just like if you were walking – and winter bike commuting is really not that bad. People say you have to be “hardcore” to bike in the winter, but I’m a mom of a three year old and count knitting, cooking and gardening as my main hobbies. I don’t feel like a particularly “hardcore” type of person.
I recently got involved with Citizens for Safe Cycling – a cycling advocacy group in Ottawa. They encourage the city to provide more cycling infrastructure and help to fix problem biking spots in the city. Every improvement helps people feel more confident to choose biking as a transportation option. They also organize fun bike rides throughout the year.
I use my bike for everything now including grocery shopping and dropping my son off at daycare. It’s my main source of transportation.
I’m not sure I’m part of a biking community; I’m just a mom who bikes – a lot.
What do you think about the new bike racks that NHQ recently installed?
The new racks are great! I use them every day. The racks along Kent and on Laurier are often packed by the time I arrive at work and finding a safe spot to lock my bike was difficult in the past. I often have my child trailer or cargo bike which makes finding a suitable spot extra tricky. The additional parking in a secure location means I never have to roam around looking for a place to park. It is also conveniently located across street from the Tim Hortons.
Bike safety is a growing concern in a busy city like Ottawa, how do you ensure your safety on the road?
Most of my biking is through the downtown and there are still some routes that I feel more comfortable biking on than others.
First, I’d recommend choosing a route that you are comfortable with. It’s not fun to bike if you’re worried or stressed out.
Second, you don’t need a fancy bike, but you do need working brakes, a good bell and lights for night riding.
Third, when you’re on the road, you are part of traffic. Use hand signals when turning, obey traffic signals, and do a shoulder check if you are merging or turning. All the same logic of driving applies to biking.
I treat my safety as paramount when biking. For example, if I am on a road where there isn’t room for a car to pass, I move to the middle of the lane. (This is completely legal to do!) It takes a bit of confidence the first few times, but you’ll feel safer. Once there is a safe passing width, I move back to the right hand side of the lane. I follow this rule as well when cycling past parked cars. I am extra vigilant about this now. My biking philosophy is that if I follow the rules, the people around me will as well. And maybe someday we’ll have more bike paths like in Holland.
The Bike to Work website has a series of videos about navigating different traffic situations like roundabouts and left hand turns. They are excellent – even if you’ve been biking for many years.
What do you enjoy most about biking to work? Least?
For me, the best thing about biking to work is that it’s fast, cheap and convenient. I leave the house and go. It’s a very predictable way to travel – I know exactly how many minutes it takes me to get from door to door and still have time to stop for a coffee before starting work.
I only have one bad thing to say about commuting in the summer. It always rains at exactly 4:45pm when I leave the office. Ottawa rainstorms are like clockwork. As a result, good rain pants are a key part of my wardrobe.