Fredericton, New Brunswick, is a quaint old town on the St. John River. Frederictonions frequently refer to their home town as a small version of Ottawa. It is a green and spacious place. A river runs through it, it is hillier than Ottawa though. During a visit to Fredericton, Dutch ambassador Wim Geerts was approached by deputy major Chase for advice on cycling, being the ambassador of the world’s bike friendliest nation. The ambassador, who has been promoting cycling during his five year stay in Ottawa, approached me to see if I could contact councillor Chase for some advice.
Off to Fredericton
I had a number of email exchanges and a few months later I was on the plane to Fredericton for a presentation for an internal city work group and a presentation to the public. I have done a fair number of presentations to the public, from planners to to councillors to Kiwanis and the general public, but this was a presentation in which I was going to use a lot of Ottawa materials too for the first time. In fact, I gave two presentations, one being the 10,000 ft overview of cycling in the Netherlands, the myths surrounding cycling in Canada and how Canada can build on the Netherlands’ experience. While embassies often have the reputation of a a world of receptions, some are quite involved in more local issues, such as knowledge exchange in certain areas of expertise, be it cycling, soil remediation, sustainability or reforms in certain sectors to name but a few.
Motivated by Ottawa’s progress
The second presentation was about advocacy.This is more about public engagement, communication and is focused completely on Ottawa. I find that you can show a lot of pictures about Denmark, New York, Seoul and Melbourne but the bottom line is that we live in Canada and what better motivation than to see all that great material appearing from our own Nation’s capital. (I use many pictures that you can see on my blog).
Problems not unique
Often, cities think that their problems are unique, but they aren’t. So when I address problems, the audience is often relieved that the issues have already been recognised and addressed in other places. While the bigger cities have large bureaucracies to do studies, smaller towns often have a harder time collecting all the relevant information. So I make sure I pack as much in a presentation for the audience to run with it and develop their own plans. Although the Internet is a great place to find information, the information is also very scattered. Having some one presenting the whole bundle helps people getting started, I learned from the feed back.
Here are some impressions of my visit. It rained from when I arrived to when I left three days later. So while the pictures look a bit dreary, the many people I met insisted that they do see the sun quite often. While everyone mentioned ‘the Hill’ as a major barrier, the city is fairly flat along the river.
The public presentation attracted about 70 people. That is a good number, considering the 9 am start time on a Saturday morning and the really crappy weather. I had a great time, I was invited by Charles to come to Fredericton for a year, met briefly with Gerry Blom who organised “Go Green, Go Dutch, Go Bike’ and had a quick chat with the Fredericton Freewheelers. I had a separate meeting with the Fredericton Community Bicycle Organisation. The mayor, the deputy mayor and councillor Megarity were in the audience too. During the break, we organised maps of Fredericton where people could leave notes with comments for Darren, the city engineer who will oversee cycling improvements.
Room to grow
Fredericton has room to grow for cycling as a means of transportation. While there are challenges, such as the hillier landscape, there are already some gorgeous trails going right through town. Connecting existing paths is essential and concentrated bike parking can grow. More joined bike events organised by advocacy groups and the city would be a good idea, such as a bike Sunday and a kids bike parade. These are all low cost initiatives to increase cycling.
That hill is nothing more than a mental block. It takes less time to learn how to get up it than it does to learn how to bike in the first place. Our author, while hitting on all kinds of relevant issues in our city, missed two critical points though: 1) people don’t ‘commute bike’ here because of apathy, plain and simple, and 2) despite the generic lack of commuters, the road bike, mountain bike, BMX communities are actually pretty vibrant. Guess we can’t all be hipsters.
The talk was actually focussing on every day cycling, for people who need to go to the library, or the post office, or cycle to elementary school or locals who badly need a coffee from Second Cup. I purposely didn’t focus on cycling as a sport as that would take me a whole day.
Indeed, the great thing with cycling is, that there are so many different ways to use your bike that even hipsters have found a purpose for it ;-).
Thanks for the feed back Titus.
Aaaaaand my apologies for being caustic that day. As a local advocate for cycling, I am often discouraged by people’s automatic put-downs — yes there is a big hill; no, we don’t have enough bike lanes; no, the local government is not interested in us. That being said, those mountain bikers, road bikers and BMXers also contribute to the community — not just because they ride on two wheels, but because they support the IDEA that bikes are cool, affordable and fun. And really, a commuter will only grow and develop because they started with something else. Where do they come from? The childhood love of a bike.
I couldn’t have said it better. We all have our bad days. Only by repeating the message to council and getting involved in advocacy can you change your city. From what I heard in Fredericton, there are at least a number of councillors and city staff on board, so build on that.
As an urban cyclist myself, I do agree that “the hill” is the biggest thing I hate about cycling in this city. I live at the top of the hill and it’s a pain (literally!) to bike home.
That said, one thing I would love to see implemented is something Toronto uses: post and ring locking areas. You can lock two bikes to each one and the city has over 17,000 of them. Here’s a link about them: