Lights on Bikes at World Heritage Site in Ottawa

Caught without lights by councillor Wilkinson (right).
On the left, Tais, who works at Rightbike, attaches a light to a bike of a not so law abiding citizen.

Sometimes things just come together.

This spring Safer Roads Ottawa approached Citizens for Safe Cycling to explore options to cooperate. Rob Wilkinson, the Safer Roads Ottawa coordinator, turned out to be the one we really needed to move CfSC forward. With a volunteer board of 9, no staff, volunteers and really not much time, we are really stretched with our organisation. There are lots of ideas, but not enough time to coordinate and execute.

Daylight Saving Time ended

Rob was able to share a lot of expertise with us, especially how to bring different parties together: he has an extensive network in the public and private sector. CfSC came up with a proposal to do a bike light campaign around Daylight Saving Time (not Savings, as half Canada writes, it is not like we get 30% discount at Loblaws during day light hours). We figured the press would like to report something around that time related to Daylight Saving Time, it is not too cold yet so that there would still be cyclists out, but dark enough that many cyclists would be cycling home in the dark.

So Alex (the Puffin) checked sunset times and searched for lights with Rightbike. Meanwhile Simone made a great poster and Schuyler took on the coordination. We picked a location where we could expect a reasonable number of cyclists; the Cork Town bridge over the Rideau Canal turned out be a great spot. We did have to ask permission from the NCC to put our tent up (“outside the drip line of the trees“, we were instructed) but that was a breeze now we know how to do it.

Bike lights the new I-phones

A week before the date, Alex sent me an email that he was worried that few cyclists would show up. It turned out that he didn’t need to worry. People were lining up well before the event started, as if we were the Apple store in better days. Are bike lights the new I phones? Over 400 bike lights and 50 bells were gone within an hour. We cooperated with the Pathway Patrol (what wonderful people), two Ottawa police constables, the folks of Rightbike and of course Safer Roads Ottawa. Cyclists without lights were stopped (many).

The initial idea was that we’d let cyclists chose between lights or a fine, but that wasn’t practical. We just stopped cyclists and mounted lights. Some people got bells too. Initially we discussed liability of attaching lights by volunteers, but what the heck, we figured that the judge would understand the good intentions of the event. If you worry about the possible legal implications of anything well intended, you might as well stop volunteering. Innovation means taking risks.

Hundreds of cyclists out

Like last Saturday at the Plaid Parade, it turned out there were hundreds upon hundreds of cyclists out at the Cork town bridge, a shared space pedestrian and cycling bridge over the Rideau canal, since a few years a World Heritage site. By the time it was dark, it was getting pretty cold, with temperatures dipping just below zero. We estimate that about 400 cyclists must have passed in an hours time, way more than we had expected.

The event worked out really well, because of the cooperation between a number of local groups. The helps of Safer Road Ottawa made it much easier for us as they took care of the press release, the contacts with the Ottawa Police, printing some material and bringing in the tent. It proves once again that we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel, but should pool our resources instead to do something positive that benefits everyone. The ultimate success would have been if we had returned with all 200 lights, but the reality is that cyclists need to be made more aware of their own visibility.

Caught without lights by councillor Wilkinson (right).
The Pathway Patrol did a great job.
We made one mistake: we should have unpacked the 200 boxes in advance.
Lots of bikes without lights so volunteers provided them with lights.
A safer cyclist. In the background the Cork Town bridge over the Rideau canal and further away Ottawa U.
Herr Hartmann der Deutschen Botschaft in Ottawa (aka Der Frank) feels like he is back in Germany with all that safety around him. Leider nicht TÜV geprüft.
In Holland, we had this campaign that “the police is your best friend”. Instead of handing out fines today, they helped handing out lights.
CBC’s Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco reporting live from the Rideau Canal area near Cork Town bridge.
Shane Norris of Right Bike did not let any one escape. His colleague Schuyler, who is also a board member of CfSC, was one of the drivers behind the success of this campaign.
At 6:08 pm it is getting dark: parents cycling home with kids in the trailer.
Honestly, we didn’t hire models for our event, they just cycle by in Ottawa. The low light makes it harder to take pics.
I think Spandex is out of fashion. It is not really necessary anyway.
Not every one was ‘lightless’, here are two people approaching with big bright lights (one is a head light).
A Pathway Patrol volunteer catching up with a cyclist. Note the reflective tires in the back ground.
Bicycle advocacy is where City of Ottawa and NCC meet: Rob Wilkinson of Safer Roads Ottawa and NCC’s Julie Goulet.
A number of the volunteers from Pathway Patrol, Citizens for Safe Cycling and Right Bike; the police was already gone, hopefully ticketing speeders. Bottom left Schuyler, top third from left VP of Safe Cycling Alex DeVries. Picture: Rob Wilkinson.

Media:

See the CBC Ottawa news clip here: CBC on ‘cycling summit’ earlier that day .

The Ottawa Citizen clip, filmed at the start of the event.

There is also a good clip at the Ottawa Sun.

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