Saturday, May 30, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Bike culture is gaining momentum in Ottawa. If you can make it to City Hall on Wednesday, June 3 during lunch hour, you will be party to an entertaining showcase of cycle-chic fashion, the confluence of two seemingly disparate worlds. Looking good, feeling good and cycling need not be distinct.
CBC Ottawa Morning Radio Interview
On Friday I received an invitation to do a CBC radio interview to discuss the Gatineau Parkway issue I wrote to the Citizen a couple weeks ago about. I was happy to accept.
The interview can be heard here. Good thing I’m not running for office, because I can’t say I delivered my position as well as I had hoped. After 190k on the bike yesterday, and no coffee pre-interview, I have no reason to kick myself. I expected a sub-optimal performance. That’s fine, since I’m not participating in a popularity contest; this issue is not about me, but bringing about a better reality for Parkway users, cyclists and drivers alike.
An NCC staffer, Renée Bellhumeur, sat beside me in the studio while the host interviewed me first. After both interviews were done I took the opportunity to speak to Ms. Bellhumeur about steps forward. In the interview she stated closing the Parkway on Tuesday nights would not be practicable, as the process would have to begin at noon, etc. This point certainly holds water, but the conversation does not need to end there. I suggested simply closing the gates to incoming cars after 6. The cars still within the gates could leave, but no others would be admitted after 6. After a short time, this would be general knowledge, and people could plan for it, as they do for the other times the Parkway is closed. Ms. Bellhumeur was under the impression that the Tuesday night group would be opposed to this compromise proposition. We agreed that a consultation is the next step. She invited all stakeholders to meet with her to discuss this issue and work toward a resolution. Each of the three big local clubs should be involved, as should each of the local teams whose riders are populating the A and B loops. I will try to get in touch will senior members of each group ASAP to get this scheduled. If any readers can assist me in this regard, please get in touch. I can be reached at msurch at gmail dot com.
And a note on the A and B loops: it is no secret that these loops are a regular occurrence. Ms. Bellhumeur made mention of a post on one of the fora the suggested the loops be kept secret. Pretending the loops are not happening is not helpful. The NCC has been aware of the loops for some time. They have also video-taped the groups blocking the whole lane continuously. I suspect that many understand that this sort of behaviour is perceived as disrespectful to drivers. I suggested closing the Parkway on the Tuesday nights so as to minimize potential for such negative interactions. If this arrangement is struck, it might be wise to move the Wednesday ladies loop and whatever Thursday might loop is going on to Tuesday (Ms. Bellhumeur) informed me that the NCC is aware of large groups on these nights now). When the Parkway is open to traffic, efforts must be made to move over to allow drivers to pass. Sure, some will be agitated even if they have to pass two riders side by side, but I suspect many would be happy to see the large groups make an effort to let them pass. If I’m driving up to Champlain for an MTB ride, I know I’ll appreciate the pack helping me pass. Its not too hard to do. Riding with Duncan Beard, John Large and a couple other Wheelers yesterday was great, because we were able to learn from their experience dealing with cars while in large groups. They played facilitator roles, gesturing to cars when it was safe to pass. This kind of behaviour benefits everyone, and communicates respect for other road users. If we all show we are making an effort, I think we will minimize unpleasant encounters, and build a foundation from which arguments can be made for more car free time slots for the Parkway.
All this said, I did clearly say that riding two abreast is safer than single file, and that we do not expect to limit our group numbers to 15; the latter is not practicable. I honestly got the impression that the NCC does not strongly oppose these practices, but is mainly concerned about the really large groups.
Ms. Bellehumeur can be reached at email@example.com
Lets be serious, you want to see pictures before being subjected to more words, right? Rodd has posted his, and I am awaiting news of more going up (nudge nudge). I will update when I get more in. For now go here.
Thank you to everyone who came out for the inaugural Ride of the Damned. We numbered about 32 at the start, and everybody made it to Wakefield. The group split in half at that point, and the remaining riders headed north for the upper loop. We would have preferred firmer conditions on many of the dirt road sections, but that was outside our control. Some sections were very nice. The number of flats, about 12, is testament to the roughness of many of the roads. There were three tire cuts, requiring boots; I can’t remember one last year. Those who continued all the way up, over, and down got more than they bargained for, as we were at 150k upon our return to Wakefield. That put me at 190 by Ottawa, and I know Andrew was over 210 by home in Kanata. 190 is, of course, more than we had advertised. Fortunately, all the riders to do the whole distance were able to handle the work. But we realize it is important to get the distance right, so I promise to have a more accurate number for the next event we do. With time we’ll have the logistics down.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
It was sure great to spend Saturday pre-riding the smooth fast trails in short sleeves and shorts -- a first for me this year. We didn't feel as useless on the mountain bikes as we'd expected and thanks to the very generous support of Coach Vipond and his Oshawa family we were content and ready to race by Saturday night. The weather did it's best to break our spirit though with crazy rain and wind overnight. Oh well. We mounted up the mud tires and remembered the words of the great Sean Kelly speaking about Paris Roubaix, "I hope for rain because I know half the field gives up when it does." Or something like that.
I race in the Master Expert 30-39 category. Yes, I'm over the hill. It's a very competitive category though and I really enjoy the atmosphere. I can usually hang in the front group, occasionally win and always have fun. Perfect. The category has been dominated for years by a guy named Jon Barnes. When my best day collides with his off-day we can have a real race so I always try to crack him.
No luck this time! I gave it everything on the first lap and we quickly formed a lead group of three, but I could tell he wasn't having any trouble matching my pace and on the second of four laps he began to distance me. Chasing after him allowed me to hold off the rest of the group though and I came in for second place. Good race for Jon and I was satisfied too. This gang of guys is the measuring stick I use for my fitness and I'd say I measured up okay.
Anna was on the course at the same time in her Elite debut. After a great season at or near the front of the Expert field she made the big jump over the winter. The Elite race is one lap longer than Expert and generally requires some pacing adjustments. I think Anna played it conservatively for fear of that extra lap. She's a better rider than her result indicated and when she gets more comfortable in this new group she will shine.
Next weekend at Albion Hills maybe?
One of the ladies in our riding group sent the article below around via email this morning. I had to post a response. A few people have since suggested I submit my response to the editor, or perhaps forge an op-ed piece. I'll do the former (with some improvements), and perhaps follow with the latter if possible. My response follows the article below. Please throw in your perspective.
NCC, police to crack down on cyclists, motorists in Gatineau Park
BY DAVE ROGERS, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN MAY 1, 2009
OTTAWA — Don’t ride your bicycle in double file, in “packs” of more than 15 or speed through stop signs this summer.
The National Capital Commission and police are cracking down on cyclists and motorists in Gatineau Park as part of a share the road campaign prompted by the increasing number of traffic violations in the park each year.
“Gatineau Park belongs to all of us and for that reason it is up to us — motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists — to ensure that we use the parkways in a spirit of respect, civic-mindedness, sharing and caution,” Marie Boulet, the NCC director of Gatineau Park and the Greenbelt, said Friday.
There are 750,000 visits to the park each year between May and October and an increasing number of traffic violations.
Some drivers exceed the park’s 40 km/h and 60 km/h speed limits, park illegally and run stop signs. Cyclists sometimes ignore NCC regulations that require them to ride in single file and in groups of no more than 15 riders.
RCMP Const. Suzanne Lefort said cyclists who ride in double file or in groups of more than 15 face $95 fines. Cyclists who run through stop signs face $15 fines, plus the loss of three demerit points if they have a driver’s licence. Also, cyclists were warned about speeding last year, but this year they will be ticketed.
Drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 40 km/h could have their vehicles impounded for seven days.
Lefort said police issued 565 traffic tickets in the park in 2008, mostly for speeding and failure to stop at a stop sign. There were 35 collisions involving cars and motorcycles.
The NCC will distribute flyers explaining the traffic safety campaign.
Lefort said the RCMP, Gatineau and MRC des Collines police will patrol 30 kilometres of park roads daily.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
Edit: Here is the response I submitted to the Citizen:
Letter to the Editor Re: “NCC, police to crack down on cyclists, motorists in Gatineau Park” May 1 2009.
Since last spring, my group of riding friends and I have often lamented the manner in which cyclists are targeted on the Gatineau Parkway for riding two abreast, while it continues to be used as a race track for cars and motorcycles. If you've been on the parkway on a bike you'll know there are various spots marked with memorials for people who died in motorized accidents. But this point does not really address the issue at hand, which is about respect for cycling as a legitimate sport with strong links to both matters of sustainability and health.
Cycling for sport often becomes the catalyst for integration of cycling in day to day life. I've seen this many times in my years working in Ottawa bike shops. Cycling is also one of the best activities we can partake in for our health, regardless of age (even those with balance issues can ride adult trikes). Yet, the sport is conducted on open roads alongside traffic. Do kids have to resort to playing soccer on the street? No, their are countless fields in town. Do hockey players have to share the canal with skaters? No, tonnes of rinks abound. Is there any cycling specific infrastructure in the city? No. So cyclists try to get away from the traffic and enjoy some terrific terrain on the Gatineau Parkway.
The Parkway is where we do our sport. Riding two abreast is integral to road cycling in a group. In races, groups are far wider than this. But the general technique can be practiced riding two abreast. Nobody is asking the Parkway to be designated a car free zone. I think cyclists would simply like acknowledgment that the Parkway is one of the few relatively safe and interesting places for us to ride for sport. We would like to be afforded the right to conduct ourselves in a sporting fashion on the one piece of road that is not dominated by cars. Is this really too much to ask? Is it not enough that we already have to battle for our lives on city streets and roads, while drivers tell us we shouldn't be there? Please afford us the opportunity to enjoy the Parkway without the oppression of the ever dominant automotive imperative.
I realize that the NCC’s mandate does not explicitly compel the corporation to foster cycling culture, or any other outdoor recreation activity for that matter. But supporting cycling is not really a huge stretch, when the mandate requires the NCC to:
"prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance...."(1958)
"...to organize, sponsor or promote such public activities and events in the National Capital Region as will enrich the cultural and social fabric of Canada.... "(1988).
Just what sort of nature and character is appropriate for the nation’s capital? This is no small question, for it delves into the core values underlying our social structure. What sort of city is healthy, vibrant, diverse and welcoming? How does car culture figure into such a city? What about cycling? Once a mainstay in Canadian and North American culture, the bicycle as cultural artifact has all but been effaced from the history we are served via filmic and televisual depictions of urban life prior WWII. When the car came in the bike went out, and ever since cyclists have been treated with little respect on the road, while racing faded to the margins of sport.
I submit that cycling always has been and will continue to be an element that is both part of and a positive contributor to the cultural and social fabric of Canada, and certainly the National Capital Region, home of the two oldest cycling clubs in Canada – the Ottawa Bicycle Club (est. 1882) and the Brockville Cycling Club (est. 1883). As such, I, and I suspect all cyclists in the region, would like to see the NCC adjust their perspective with regard to the manner in which cycling can be legally practiced on the Parkway.
The fact that some groups of cyclists have slowed drivers due to their girth on the road does not justify creating and enforcing new rules; we are talking about a Parkway that was created for scenic touring, not rapid transit. Drivers need to recognize that the Parkway is the one road the car does not own. That recognition cannot come about unless the NCC adopts a fresh approach.
Riding two abreast should be allowed. Groups greater than 15 should be allowed. Cyclists should continue to obey stop signs. These amendments to the current policy would reflect a shift of perspective toward considering the recreation (cycling, along with inline skating and skate skiing) the priority for the Parkway rather than driving. Enabling safe cycling in this manner – rather than displacing cyclists to more dangerous roads – would surely contribute positively to the cultural and social fabric of the region. The renown of the Parkway could grow rather than wither, and riders from afar would be eager to ride a route known for its beauty, challenge, and warm embrace for the avid cyclist. Young cyclists could ride the Parkway, learning the sport and possibly even chasing Olympic goals, without fear of being run over, or ticketed. Such is a dream of possibility.