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.

 

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

 

 

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No more shopping on Wellboro/Somerset

My litmus test for whether to brave biking on Richmond, Wellington West or Somerset is whether or not I plan on stopping and shopping. If I’m planning to shop, then I will take the main street. I’m a customer. I deserve to use the most convenient option. Right?  (We won’t even get into the winter bike rack maintenance issues.)

Last week, I found myself honked at twice. The first was along Somerset on my commute to work just east of the O-train bridge and then on Sunday just east of Kirkwood after doing my groceries.

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No more breakfasts at Savoy

On Sunday, I had spent the morning having breakfast with Bikeyknit, doing some knitting (yarn purchased on Wellington West) with a coffee and a treat on Churchill, stopping in at MEC and doing my groceries at the Superstore. With a bit of free time left, I decided to do a bit of shopping at Flock on my way home, but my mood quickly changed after being honked at.

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No more yarn shopping at Wabi Sabi

I tweeted in frustration to both the Westboro and Wellington-West BIAs about being honked at (I never know where one BIA ends and another begins). No one replied. I supposed there are more valuable customers to retain. It’s best not to dwell on negative comments. Turn them off, like a light switch as the Book of Mormon musical would say.

So, I’ve decided to go Richmond / Wellington West / Somerset cold turkey for the month of March. No more “just popping in for a coffees” or “grabbing a ball of yarn” or “fish and chip Fridays”.

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Fancy coffee? I’ll get my fix in Centretown.

Will anyone notice that they’ve lost a single customer? No. I’m sure they won’t. This exercise is purely to make me feel better.

Our after care location is on Wellington and I have to use Somerset to get to work, so I can’t quit my trips on the strip. But the shopping parts? They can either be done online or at Hartmans (after all, they shovel their bike racks and don’t run out of canteloupe).

I’m not participating in the economy of a street where I am harassed for choosing to bike.  I’m tapping out.

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Winter parking woes

I’ve been watching a local parking issue unfold via Twitter.  A local condo is going up on the main street and the construction folks have been using the on-street parking for day-long parking.  Causing annoyance (and financial repercussions) to businesses.

If we look narrowly at the issue, yup, having non-shoppers taking up the on-street parking is definitely abusing the purpose of this public amenity. But as someone who makes daily trips to the area (not in a vehicle) – I can’t help but feel my patronage is valued less.  The loss of a driving customer who couldn’t find somewhere to park is a problem to be solved. (Even the mayor offered to make some calls.) 

Yet, at the same time as a cyclist, I am encouraged to take a secondary route that bypasses most businesses.  All year round.

As you know, most of the year, I bike.  And since the snow began falling in December, the bike racks have slowly become buried in snow.  Are there fewer cyclists in the winter?  There are.  But I have yet to see a day (no matter the forecast) where I have not seen any cyclists along the Welliboro-Somerset corridor.  Yet, no one is up in arms about all of the bike parking being buried for months at a time.

Encouraging cyclists to ride on a secondary route says that these are customers you can afford to lose.  And not keeping a few bike racks clear in the winter reinforces that sentiment.  A person on a bike is a customer that you afford to lose.

I pass by five times a week (sometimes more).  Mostly by bike, sometimes by foot and lately by transit.  I’d like to see that winter maintenance is a criteria for a bike-friendly business designation.

I’m encouraged by businesses who take care to shovel their sidewalk a little extra during a snowfall.  And some businesses have responded to shovelling their bike racks when asked.  It’s appreciated (and retweeted!)

Someday, I hope my patronage will matter as much as a driver’s.

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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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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.

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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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