Bike Friendly Ottawa?

Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on social and environmental issues and appreciates her aging yet reliable bike.

Is Ottawa bike-friendly?

We have an enviable network of recreational pathways, and many other decent biking routes. We have Sunday Bikedays and Bixi bike rentals. We can transport our bikes if need be on the O-Train and some OC Transpo buses. And we now have a segregated bike lane on Laurier Avenue, launched on July 10.

The League of American Bicyclists and the Share the Road Cycling Coalition say we’re bike-friendly – to a point. They’ve awarded the City of Ottawa a Silver Bicycle Friendly Community Award for its cycling initiatives.

Silver is not the Award’s highest designation, and cycling in Ottawa is not always smooth sailing. Ottawa has far too many accidents involving bikes, and numerous problem areas, some documented on Ottawa Biking Problems, where people can report on challenges they encounter.

So we’re not Copenhagen, where over a third of people commute by bike every day; nor, fortunately, are we following Toronto’s example of removing cycling infrastructure.

We could do more as a city, but there are some signs that we’re gradually changing infrastructure and attitudes to make cycling safer and more convenient, so that biking becomes a real option for getting around, for more people.

Some of the recent changes in this direction include the NCC’s Park and Cycle pilot program, which provides parking lots for commuters to leave their cars and cycle the rest of the way downtown; the addition of cycling directions for Ottawa to Google Maps; and services like complementary Bluesfest bike parking offered by Citizens for Safe Cycling and Bluesfest.

Ottawa also has many resources for people looking for assistance or gear, like Can-Bike courses and Recycles and Recyclore bike shops. (See Ottawa Start for additional cycling links.) We’re also starting to see a slightly greater diversity of bikes available for people with a range of abilities.

Then there are the people and groups who are helping change our perceptions of what is “cycleable,” and encouraging us to see cycling as something that most people can do, whether it’s a commute to work, a leisurely outing on a bike path, a mountain bike ride or a quick trip to the grocery store. This includes bloggers like Andrea Grant’s Apartment 613 post about bike-accessible places to go swimming around Ottawa; Ottawa cycling advocate Kathleen Wilker’s family biking blog; and Ottawa Cycle Chic, which does as much for promoting cycling as an everyday activity as it does for bike fashion. (I have to say that I’m pro-helmet, myself). As well, the organisation Cycling Vision Ottawa aims to support people of all ages and abilities to feel comfortable on their bikes.

These developments are important for Ottawa. As cycling advocates point out, biking not only has environmental and health benefits but also gives us a connection that we wouldn’t otherwise have to nature, to the urban landscape and to each other. A recent Sustainable Cities Collective post states that “the most vital element for the future of our cities is that the bicycle is an instrument of experiential understanding” – i.e., a way to really get to know and connect with our communities and our city.

In other words, a bike-friendly city is also a friendly city. Sounds like a good idea for Ottawa.

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