Friday, June 11, 2010

Biking in Ottawa

I posted a tweet earlier this week that it biking in Ottawa is great for leisure but lousy for transportation. We have these lovely bike paths and they do go for many kilometers. But if those are not on the way to where you want to go, you're out on the street with the cars. Or on the sidewalks with the pedestrians.

I have an old bike. I am not a cyclist. I don't wear special clothing to ride my bike. I just get on with whatever I'm wearing and go to where I want to go. I'm not particularly fast, so taking up a whole lane, being a road warrior, doesn't always fit the situation. I've even been yelled at and told to "get a car" when I took up a whole lane on Rideau once. Getting yelled at when you're biking makes it an emotional event as opposed to just getting where you need to go.

This month, the police in Ottawa have taken it upon themselves to educate people about the fact that bikes are vehicles and need to behave that way so they're ticketing people for things like riding on the sidewalk and not having a bell. As I shoo away drug dealers and users off my steps to go get my bike I sometimes scratch my head at our priorities. Nevermind, the law's the law.

After being "touched" by a bus outside the Chateau Laurier riding on Wellington, I refuse to ride on the road there unless the traffic is really light. I ride on the very wide sidewalk, going very slowly, avoiding pedestrians and being mindful of the fact they have the right of way.

When you get on a bike in Ottawa, you're taking your life in your hands. We have some seriously crazy bike lanes that all of a sudden end, that reappear, that put you in the middle of oncoming traffic (I'm thinking Laurier to Nicholas, the bridge behind the Rideau Centre, going along Scott St., just to name a few spots) and other wild manoeuvres. Imagine taking your kid along Elgin up to the Rideau Center to ride into the Market. I'm sorry, you'd be up on the sidewalk so fast...

Other cities around the world have managed to encourage bike traffic. One of my Sunday morning regulars informed me that Copenhagen had a radical plan to reduce city streets available to cars and make them more pedestrian and bike friendly. They've continued to successfully open up more and more downtown roads to people-powered transportation. She said that Ottawa's currently in the process of reviewing possibilities for us. Talks are underway right now.

Dealing with people and their health, I'm interested in people exercising and incorporating exercise in their normal lives rather than having to carve out special time to take classes and go to the gym. I think people should be encouraged to travel by bike and not be limited to paths along the river, but be in paths that are functional so we can go safely where we want to go. I'm sure as a driver I'll feel inconvenienced if a downtown road is closed off to cars, but the possibility of riding safely would make it so I'd take more biking trips and not need so much emotional strength and bravery just to take the 15-minute ride from my house to where I teach yoga.


meg. said...

Not sure if you've seen this video but it makes me so happy!

Biking downtown is scary, I never feel safe and as a result, rarely do it. Now that I have to worry about tickets on sidewalks when the street isn't safe I'm not sure it's worth it at all.

StephaneB said...

Funny coincidence that you posted this the day before the Ottawa naked bike ride!