Last week I participated in Bike to Work Week Ottawa. I went to their website, and pledged that I would ride my bike to work five days last week. It was difficult to decide how many days I would actually bike ahead of time, because I’m not all hard core you know, but the weather outlook seemed good when I checked on Monday, so I decided to pledge for the full five days. I ended up biking only three of those days in the end. One day poured rain, and another day I had to go to an offsite meeting. Did I cheat or fail? I’m still not sure, but I do know that no one has followed up with me to confirm what I did, and the pledging page is now closed and so I can’t update it.
Today on the website, this information is posted:
Thank you to everyone who made Bike to Work Week a huge success.
We had 649 pledges and that amounted to 50 171 km logged.
Well, make that 50 151 km please.
My opinions of Bike to Work Week in general…There were some good events that went along with it, such as a lunch and learn, a barbecue, and some free bike tune-ups. But other than that, I’m not sure what the point of it was. It was put on by Enviro Centre and seems to have been run across the country, but I found the details on their website a bit vague. The City of Ottawa seems to be involved, but in what capacity, I really don’t know. And like the Commuter Challenge, I don’t believe that events like this really change anyone’s behaviours. I would have biked those three days whether it was Bike to Work Week, Take the Bus Week or Drive to Work By Yourself in Your Over Sized SUV Week.
I also question the fact that the police chose to crack down on cyclists who were not following the laws of the road during Bike to Work Week. I feel a bit bad for the few people who dug out their bikes and made the effort to participate, only to be dinged for it for any number of reasons. A promotional blitz with some warnings being handed out could have been a lot more effective than actually ticketing people. I did witness one woman who was “pulled over” for going through a red light. I’m not sure if she ended up getting a ticket or not.
The week allowed me the opportunity to observe and think about biking to work. I do love it, mostly, but there are some real challenges that make me question the fact that I do this. So perhaps I will just turn this post into a little rant about biking in Ottawa. If you simply cannot bear to read more about this overdone subject, feel free to move on until I can think up a topic that doesn’t involve running or biking. I will let you know.
The first problem that I have with biking to work is that, since I moved offices over the winter, I no longer have access to change rooms or showers. There isn’t even an electrical outlet in the bathroom at my office in case I want to do some repairs to my helmet-hair. There are going to be a lot of bad hair days for me this summer, just to warn you. And I hope the products I bring along can prevent me from becoming too unpopular at work. On really hot days, I will likely just take the bus.
The real problems however, are of course the pedestrians, cars, other cyclists, and road conditions around Ottawa. Honestly, downtown pedestrians are often my biggest fear. They seem to be trained to look and listen for motor traffic only. I have startled many a person with a shout or ringing of my bell just as they are about to step out in front of me.
Some people in cars just do not want to see bikes on the roads. You can see it in the way that they try to intimidate people on bikes. I am an assertive, but very defensive cyclist. I know and obey the rules of the road. I am not obnoxious cutting in and out of lanes, and I respect the cars and other cyclists out there. But when it’s my right of way, I don’t hesitate to take it, and I am not shy at shouting out to warn a driver that I am there. So far no one has yelled back at me; they usually just look embarrassed. I’m not going to tell you about any near-misses or specific instances where I felt in danger on my bike because my Mom reads this and she already worries about me on the roads. In fact, the ride is always perfect, like butterflies and roses and kittens!
Other cyclists who ride in an arrogant way make things harder for the rest of us. I was once following another cyclist on a quiet street with a nice bike lane. She blew a stop sign, which seems to be the norm, but there was a truck going perpendicular to her, and he was already stopped at the stop sign. He clearly had the right of way and yet she hadn’t even slowed down. He whipped around the corner and pulled up beside the cyclist and started yelling at her. It was frightening. She stopped; he went on his way, and she looked back at me shrugging and said to me that she had no idea why he was so angry. I just smiled at her and shook my head. I was upset both at her and for her but didn’t feel I had the energy to discuss it. Ultimately, I didn’t really think she would have wanted to hear what I had to say. I just think that cyclists act this way, it puts the rest of us in more danger on the roads. There is an angry driver now behind the wheel, and he is angry at cyclists in general.
On a related note, I was wondering if anyone else detests the new bump-outs on newly redone streets such as Wellington West and Somerset St. as much as I do. Having ridden my bike along that route both before and after the changes, and also having driven my car beside cyclists on that stretch, there is just no avoiding the squeezing of cyclists in and out of traffic. There was an opportunity there to provide a nice wide road for cars and bikes to share, and instead they have made numerous points where the road constricts to push everyone together. I just don’t get it. Before this construction, I had no trouble biking that stretch, and now I always avoid it.
This has turned into a too long and rather rambling post, but to summarize, I like being able to bike to work. I enjoy saving money on bus passes for seven or eight months of the year. Mostly it is enjoyable and it wakes me up in the morning. My commute is short and quick and overall it takes me around the same time as coming to work by bus. And if you see me on the road, please say hi! I have become recognizable by my pretty blue and white bicycle panniers.