Spacing Ottawa: ‘the everyday cyclist”

Spacing Ottawa contributor Allegra Newman introduces the panel.
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Spacing Ottawa contributor Allegra Newman introduces the panel.

Spacing Ottawa contributor Allegra Newman organised an evening at the Alpha Soul Cafe in up and coming Hintonburg on September 21, 2011 with the theme “Everyday Cyclists”.

The panel at the Alpha Soul Cafe

Panelists were Colin Simpson, City of Ottawa Senior Project Manager, Transportation – Strategic Planning Unit; Kathleen Wilker, Community Cycling Advocate, Co-chair Hintonburg Cycling Champions and free lance writer, Schuyler Playford, Assistant Community Project Coordinator Causeway Work Centre and Ian Fraser, West Wellington BIA Cycling Committee.

Nibbling on spicy chick peas -which I took for peanuts first- participants were asked to write down ideas.

As I am an every day cyclist myself (although not always too loyal to cycling in winter), I thought I am going to listen in. We took the car as we just got a bargain deal from Bestbuy on an HDTV and had no time to go back home to switch to bikes. So I wasn’t sure if I was a there as a driver or a cyclist, as the media doesn’t allow me to be both. We hid the car behind a big tree and walked a kilometer and half so we would look a little sweaty so that no one would ask how we got there so clean and well coiffed.

Cycling Vision Ottawa's Gabi Desrocher did take the bike.

After a round of introductions and mingling we were asked why cycling is important and what the city has to do to improve cycling. Answers to the first one were predictable, like: cheap, healthy, envirofriendly, but also fun, space saving and sponteneous. Answers to the second one were better traffic control, more education in the schools on cycling, better road maintainance but also Bixi expansion and signage.

Lots of ideas and solutions, less so in terms of volunteers.

About 30 people attended. Cycling in North America is still very grass rootsy, and I felt a bit like Vaclav Havel, sitting with friends in a cozy Prague cafe, secretly planning a new government after the revolution. There were veggie snacks and Kichisippi beer, woolen sweaters and blond beards. The only thing missing was thick cigarette smoke. Last year’s Dutch speaker Angela van de Kloof of Mobicon couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw a crowd of 100, something that apparently never happens in Holland as cycling is just so every day that there is no need to talk about it. It would be like getting together for the everyday vacuum cleaner, to paraphrase a quote from Mickael Colville Andersen of Copenhagenise (how did he end up with a double name by the way? Fort Mc. Murray nobility?)

The president of Citizens for Safe Cycling made a pitch for cooperation with city councillors, as they are the ultimate decision makers; he shared some stories on how they worked with the city councillors in the past and how both sides appreciated eachother.

Colin Simpson gave a great overview of things to come: no less than eight pedestrian/cycing bridges are planned, a bike path along the O train, rural roads get as much paved shoulders as possible. He talked about the next cycling masterplan he helps writing. The city certainly appears serious with implementing a complete bike network after ignoring demand for two decades. Causeway’s Schuyler Playford explained a new bike sharing system for the Hintonburg area.

It was clear that not everyone is tuned in to the latest and the greatest, and for those it was likely an eye opener on how much is going on. More than half didn’t know about the on line bike trip counter, others had no idea there are already cycling advocacy groups and web sites with lots of cycling information. This made me realise that advocacy groups have to do even more to get the word out: about cycling and about themselves. Encouraging was the number of young people (mind you, the older you get the more people are young), like Risa (CfSC board member, spotted in a corner), Schuyler and Kathleen.

Ottawa City Councillor Hobbs (right) is always at cycling events, and admitted she tweets but has no TV or internet at home. Not a bad idea. Karen (left), physiotherapist, promotes Dutch/Danish style cycling (sitting straight up) in urban areas, which is much better for your wrists and neck as well as safer as you can see more around you.

There is always a bit of a trap in these gatherings. Preaching to the converted, everyone agrees that the world has to change. It is much harder to actually get something done. Volunteers are hard to come by. There were good suggestions, not new, but always valuable: obey the rules, teach your kids, think of other social groups who are less affluent and for whom a second hand bike is all that is available in terms of transport. Organise public support was another good suggestion, and that is exactly what Citizens for Safe Cycling does for 27 years already. A serious concern of many cyclists is the behaviour of some cyclists in traffic, knowing that the 5% who ignores the rules provides fodder to everyone who doesn’t like cyclists.

At the end of the evening, we drove home again and installed our HDTV. Cheapskates extra ordinaire, we still use our rabbit ears (9 channels). Annual cable TV cost buys you a new bike every year. On the bike, you get great scenery, never a dull moment and all in Super Retina HD (I should trademark that before Apple does).

Enjoying the posts: sign up with your email address at the bottom or top right of this page. The pics are a bit grainy, as I scale them down for faster downloading and bandwidth conservation.

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