How I ended up cycling with three MP’s
Last Saturday was the National Health and Fitness Day in Ottawa. Or was it Sunday? Or Monday? It is not entirely clear to me when I read the website of John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast. Dick Louch (Velofest) told me Sunday night there was a bike ride on the Hill the next day (Short for Parliament Hill in Ottawa among Ottawans) to celebrate the Health and Fitness Day. It was the same day that Olivia Chow’s National Transit Strategy Bill was voted down. Oddly, no one I asked had heard about the ride but then again, Parliament Hill is a bit of a world on its own.
“Go back to the Street”
I approached the Hill from the west end at a snail’s pace, but as soon as I entered the property, the ‘parliamentary precinct’, an RCMP man in bullet proof vest pulled up his car, switch on his sirens and parked his cruiser right in front of me. No I was not supposed to enter here: “Go back to the street”.
Welcome to Parliament Hill.
It is hard to believe that it is not even that long ago that you could drive your car around the back of the Centre Block. I suggested to walk my bike up the side walk on the Hill, but there was a stern no again: “Go back to the street”. I cycled back, cycled vehicular on Wellington, taking the lane as it is fairly narrow at places and turned into the Hill once again near the other end. The Nation’s Main Street is unpleasant to cycle. I prefer the next street over, Sparks Street. O wait, can’t cycle there.
There were about 30 bikes at the bottom of the steps. This in a city of tens of thousands of cyclists. There were some members from Cycling Canada in their white and red jerseys. I saw @modalmom on her bike, just back from her ride on a Dutch oma bike to Montreal, Howard and Dick, the VeloFest folks and @Muddybike on (in) his recumbent. There were speeches and photo opps and waivers to sign; helmets were mandatory. Which is nonsense, as Ontario has no helmet law for the over eighteens.
It was a politically correct event with Kristy Ducan (Liberal Party, although I don’t know how she looks like so I can’t say if she was there), Peter Stoffer (NDP) and John Weston (Conservative Party of Canada). I would have expected the Green Party to be there but with one member in the House, it is not easy being green. Two senators were there too. The others must have had sober second thoughts about this whole thing.
By coincidence I learned from a Cycling Canada gentleman who participated in the ride that they have breathed new life in the CAN-BIKE courses and that they updated the schedule. That is good news, eventually CAN-BIKE will gets its own web site.
Breaking the rules
And then the 15 minute bike ride began. Some cyclists disappeared before the ride began to pick up their kids, I estiamate we were left with 20-25 people. Man, did we ever broke all the rules that you can possible think of. We left the Hill westbound, through the entrance that I was just sent away from, friendly waving to the RCMP officer (na-na-nana-na), ignoring a stop sign or two, we cycled behind the Confederation building and the Justice Building, in front of the Supreme Court (judges shaking their heads behind the stately windows of the Art Deco building), through the park on Wellington and on to the side walk in front of the National Library and Archives (Hola, hablamos Español already?).
Virtually everyone ignored the bike lane on Wellington and chose to cycle on the side walk, much to the displeasure of some pedestrians who grumbled that cyclists should be in the bike lane. A lane which appears from nowhere, near the Library and Archives and can easily be overseen initially.
What is a house leader?
Just in front of the Portage bridge (shoot! we missed 20 counts on the bike counter) we turned right, down the steep-ish Brutalist path that connects to the paths along the Ottawa river. We happily cycled east bound again, ignoring the two signs to get off your bike in the tunnel and the narrow stretch behind it (MP Weston was one of the few to get off his bike from what I saw) . Further east we cycled up along the locks again. I had a chat with John Weston’s wife Donna and his daughter about living in two places (John goes back to his riding 50 weekends a year and has an incredible track record of good stuff. He’d be an ideal future Green Party leader candidate actually.)
After the locks, we cycled underneath Wellington to Elgin. Everyone cycled across the cross walk (is this legal, a blond lady wondered. I said no it isn’t, but she kept cycling anyway), then in front of the war monument towards Wellington on the side walk, crossing Elgin to get back on the side walk along the Langevin Block that houses the Privy Council Office and back on the side walk to the Hill acroos Wellington, passing two RCMP’s who looked somewhat puzzled to see all those cyclists cycling on the side walk.
We bumped into the deputy house leader, introduced by Peter Stoffer. The young racers didn’t know what a house leader was so I suggest Peter to explain it: “a referee”.
And so ended one of the most interesting bike rides I have ever taken. On the National Health and Fitness Day no less. We broke all the rules but did wear a helmet. It is dangerous out there on Parliament Hill.
Despite the wild ride, that could have been coordinated better, it was a start of a good initiative to get the Federal Government involved into cycling. Perhaps it is better to get local cycling advocacy groups involved that are familiar with the area. I’d like to see John lobbying with Olivia Chow (NDP) to get that Safe Trucks bill passed. The Minister of Transportation doesn’t think that side guards for trucks are necessary, but since everyone chose to cycle on the side walks, I would guess that the electorate disagrees with the Minister.
For next year, I suggest the route goes from Parliament Hill via the parking lot to the Portage Bridge, across the Ottawa river, turn east along the Ottawa river to the Alexandra Bridge and back on the Ottawa side across the locks and back to the Hill. A nicer and calmer route with great views on the Parliament buildings. This year’s route was more like a runners route actually.