Ontario Bike Summit, Day 1

The Ontario Bike Summit started Monday at the Museum of Nature, and continues on Tuesday.

Bug Me, says Watson: What’s a public meeting without politicians to speak? This meeting opened with an abundance of them. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson spoke of the increased volume of cyclists (155,000 in May) and their increased visibility. Speaking of the Laurier Separated Bike Lane (SBL) he made it clear that he understood some cyclists did not like the project, but “they don’t have to use it”. It is designed to offer a safer route for cyclists, to encourage more cycling, and to facilitate tourists who cycle from hotels to the pathways. He reiterated that it is a trial project, and that if doesn’t work, or the problems predicted by business owners is too much, than it can easily be picked up and the street repainted. In the context of the whole city budget, it isn’t a big deal.

The Mayor was at his populist best, and reminded attendees that politicians do what the people want (a variation on the squeaky wheel fable) so don’t be shy (his words) to write and tell the mayor that we want more cycling facilities. If there’s enough demand, the City will provide. His email address is Jim.Watson@ottawa.ca.

Marie Lemay, NCC, reminded us that it was about 40 years ago that the NCC pioneered bike paths and bike Sundays. While she portrayed this as a pioneering effort (all thanks, I might add, to St Douglas of Fullerton) I thought it came across as a double-edged sword, since post-Fullerton the NCC returned to its pretty-view-for-the-motorist mode.

Lemay acknowledged that the world has moved beyond recreational cycling, facilities for which the NCC provides in abundance, and now has to address utility cycling and commuting cycling. She mentioned the all-day use of NCC parking lots for park-and-bike. I wonder how they are going to enforce that, so that lots such as the one beside Tunney’s Pasture don’t simply become all-day free parking zones for cubicle dwellers in the Pasture.

She emphasized that coming issues for cycling include winter clearance, since so many cities have established that a climate like Ottawa’s is not a reason to stop cycling in winter. As a society, we need to recognize the health benefits of cycling and active transportation. And, like Watson, she encouraged attendees to keep pushing politicians while the time is right and the topic is hot.

It is a virtuous cycle: more facilities brings out more users who demand more facilities. (It is, after all, how we got to have so many roads everywhere, and will work for cycle facilities since planners widely acknowledge that the cheapest cost per user is cycling infrastructure).

Two of her slides:

Yasir Naqvi, MPP emphasized that cars and motorists are still a huge majority, and they are vocal in expressing their concerns to their MPP’s. Cyclists therefore cannot assume that government is doing what they want, they have to compete with motorists for dollars spent. “Speak up”, he advised, echoing the previous politicos.

Wim Geerts, Ambassador from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and well-known and popular friend to cyclists in Ottawa and Canada, noted that it took The Netherlands forty years to fix their auto-mania, but that having made all the mistakes and learned what works, we can do it much faster by simply copying what they did (he has a list of Dutch consultants handy). He emphasized the importance of proper segregated cycling infrastructure and the culture shift to prioritizing active modes of transport and not motorists. He also noted the average journey to work in the Netherlands is  the same as in Ottawa (8 km) so don’t buy the argument that European cities are denser or smaller.

The first keynote speaker was Dr Andrew Pipe from Ottawa U. The good heart doctor’s job is to help people die young as late as possible. Preventive medicine is more than fridge magnets, it is reducing the risk factors before the problem worsens. In his view, sedentary lifestyle caused by unwalkable suburbs is a major contributor to obesity and early death. He pointed out that TB was beaten like this:

Note that the disease death rate is plummeting before it is even identified by science, and continues to drop for a hundred years, before drugs and medical treatments became available. It was beaten through geographic detective work: Dr Snow mapped the incidence of the disease, and identified the well at the centre of the outbreaks, and went out and sabotaged the pump. No dirty water– disease over. No committees, government panels, priority setting exercises, or consultation. As a society, says Dr Pipe, we talk too much and take action too little.

Epidemics can never be treated one person at a time. Obesity and diabetes have to be treated by public health measures that affect a whole population. He noted that the City of Ottawa, predominately white and upper middle class, is much more active (due to widespread availability of cycling and walking facilities) than surrounding Ottawa valley communities. Those who flee the city to the healthy countryside promptly die quicker:  the best place, with the best numbers, a virtual cardiovascular Shangri-la, is urban Ottawa.

Inactivity is the root of the problem. Inactivity is directly associated with increased automobile use, which is associated with suburban, exurban, and rural living. Inactivity is second only to smoking as the biggest root of the problem.

He pointed out that we deliberately design our growing cities and small towns to be auto dependant. He blamed “plans”  (read “planners”) for causing elevated disease levels. We shape our physical communities, and in turn, they shape us. Form follows function. Continuing our urban policies of the last 40 years is not only wrong, it is delusional behaviour because we know its wrong!

There are two causes of disease: pathological  and political.

Dr Pipes proposes a popsicle test for determining the health of communities:  a kid should be able to walk to a corner store, get a popsicle, and get home before it melts.

The second keynote speaker in the morning session was Dr Rodney Tolley, of Walk21. Note that he will be speaking again on Wednesday evening at 7pm in the Champlain room at City Hall, all are welcome to attend.

Dr Tolley explained that what is good for walking is usually good for cycling. Walking has numerous beneficent features: it is inclusive (we see and interact with our neighbours and other citizens), it builds community cohesion, promotes personal security, provides freedom for children and the elderly who are denied mobility in automobile-centred sprawl, promotes road safety, and is cheaper than catering to autos to boot!

Dr Tolley does a great parody, he calls it  the modern “anti-people planning manual”, which supposedly directs engineers and planners and politicians on how to deliver the worst results. He then moved on to outline the peak car theory:

As fuel prices rise, people look for alternatives. Peak oil is a theory with numerous adherents; he postulated that peak cars may also be happening, as people decide cars and commuting are not worth it:

We need to fix streets to attain the five C’s:

And we need to adjust our urban planning processes to repair sprawl and make suburbs walkable and mobile for young and the old, not just motorists. The “silver tsunami” of our ageing population means we have to re-engineer our suburbs to be lifetime cities, not mid-life cities. Also needing repair are urban arterials that blight neighborhoods in the effort to cater to rush hour commuters (Hello Bronson!):

Dr Tolley pointed out that we need  good branding to make walking sexy again. Thus the arrival of new names, such as active transportation, livable streets, smart growth, iwalk, etc. which serve to counteract the pro-automobile bias built into the language over the last six decades : road “improvements”, reducing “congestion”, improving “safety” (for whom?), moving more vehicles instead of moving people, promoting growth,  “freedom to move”, etc. etc.

Colin Simpson spoke about the origins and progress of the Laurier Separated Bike Lanes (SBL) which caused lots of excitement from a number of out-of-town attendees. It made me realize how quickly we take this initiative for granted, and focus on its flaws rather than its benefits.

Andy Clark, from the League of American Bicyclists (www.bikeleague.org) emphasized the need to act on simple solutions. What took Copenhagen 40 years took Portland 15 years. Building on their knowledge, NYC leaped forward in five years and Seville, the most recent big-city convert, has moved from predictions of automotive disaster to an active transportation model in just 3 years.

A session on cycle tourism noted that there is abundant evidence that tourists interested in cycling stay longer and spend more than motoring tourists. For all bike projects, a business case and followup data collection is vital to selling the benefits.  It is important to have shovel-ready projects and ideas at hand in advance of elections and other stimulus spending sprees.

Bike tourists can be categorized and measured in three categories: shoe string cyclists often camp or stay at hostels, economy tourists stay at B&B’s or hotels, and comfort tourists (often silver-haired) like organized trips with themes (vinyards!) and luxury accommodation. There are also event rides and theme tours centred on specific historic or cultural themes.

Ginny Sullivan, from the Adventure Cycling Association, emphasized the need for integrated marketing, branding, consistent image, and outreach to users and beneficiaries (eg the businesses along a route). 

John Scott from Essex County noted that they encouraged new B&B’s along the key bike route and saw 75 new ones appear to take advantage of the cycling traffic.


The Ontario Bike Summit continues Tuesday at 8am at the Museum of Nature, Ottawa.

The Citizen coverage is at http://cycle.ottawacitizen.com/featured/bike-friendly-ottawa-still-has-work-to-do

4 thoughts on “Ontario Bike Summit, Day 1

  1. Tolley missed the sixth, and most important, of the C’s.


    The best indicator, best predictor, and best sustainer of walkability, is a compact variety of uses in a small area, with small, direct, walking distances between them.

  2. Did anyone point out that the Laurier SBL connects *really* badly with the paths at the west end? You’ve actually pointed this out in previous posts.

    1. In the near future you should be able to take Laurier west to Bay St. North on Bay, in the bike lane (not segregated) and then connect to the western pathways via the new NCC segregated bike lane that they will be building on Wellington to the Portage Bridge. That’s the plan.

    2. What, you mean again? It’s been “pointed out” zillions of times. The problem isn’t that the lane ends in the middle of knowhere, the problem is that people don’t pay attention to when the many connection opportunities are pointed out. Instead people think that pointing it out again will somehow change the project that is building something to connect to.

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