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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Ottawa Cycling Plan 2013: Level of stress and facility selection

I got frustrated trying to reference these two sections of the (very large!) Ottawa Cycling Plan document.  Use and link to them as you need to.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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