Monday, May 25, 2009

Bike Fashion, Radio Conversation, Damnation.

Velo Vogue!

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


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.


Chrisssssss said...

Nicely done Matt, here is an email I sent in response to the NCC and CBC. Solidarity!

Hi, I enjoyed you coverage of the cycling debate this morning and as a cyclist and a motorist who uses the park quite frequently I can see both sides. Certainly the large Tuesday group needs better organization such as road captains or leaders who would indicate to cars when to pass. I have been stuck behind them for long periods of time and forced to make dangerous passes to get by. That said, the other 95% of the time I have never had a problem with double file riders of groups of 10-20 people. If cyclists and cars must "Partager la route" why is that cars can have an entire lane, but cyclists cannot have a single metre for double file?

Since this story first started in the Citizen, as a cyclist, I have never seen such aggressive behaviour by cars who now feel empowered to enforce the law and honk, shout and cut off cyclists. This is always the case with the law, it implicitly empowers the mob, the dog pack. So I ask who is the real threat, the real aggressor? Why is it that cyclists always seem to bring out some latent aggression in our automobile-centric culture with its, I just gotta get there, get out of my way mentality that treats cyclists as some sort of obstacle to get around. With the exception of passing large groups four across, cyclists are certainly more exposed than cars to danger and the number of times I have felt exposed on a bike far outweighs the inconvience of getting caught behind the Tuesday group. Tell me, how many stories have you heard of cyclists being killed by cars versus cars being killed by cyclists? Cyclists are a inconvienence to cars but cars are an actual threat to cyclists.

The number of routes designed for cars far outnumbers those for bikes, so why are trying to crack down on one of the few places cyclists feel they can practice their sport? I don't think people understand how rare a place Gatineau Park is for cyclists. In terms of solutions, one interesting idea I have heard is make all or part of the park (perhaps the Forture to Champlain loop) one way so that there would be a true balance between cars and bikes.

In general I applaud the NCC and the City of Ottawa for its approach to bike culture, andI apprecitate the police for cracking down on the motorheads that spped around the park. Now all we need is a truly progressive policy for Gatineau park.

Anonymous said...

I admit, as a mtb, I use to race through the gatineaus. Swearing under my breath at them.

Then, I switched more to road. I have a much much better appreciation and the pain the road riders have up there.
I am converted!!! Aleluah!!!
Cause I'd probably still be smoking to this day!!!
(I took biking to get fit and to get off cigarrettes, both of which I still hold true to this day!
Sometimes one has to fall down to have a real appreciation for ones health!)

The NCC should embrace the fact that there are so many fit people in Ottawa-Hull!!!
Unlike so many many other places on the planet that would just dream to have such an atmosphere. For it brings out good competition, lower health care costs overall, better eating, etc...

In my view, I would love to see the gatineaus closed down. This would force everyone to step outside the box to enjoy mother nature as it should be. In a vehicle, one is very very far removed from that. The true prestine beauty of the land lost to eye balls just trying to focus on what is ahead. On a bike/foot/jogging/running/wheel chair etc... one gets a sense of their true surroundings. A real appreciation for it.
I can see it when the gates are closed in the early fall. As many are out of the vehicle and out enjoying it all. In a vehicle, our demeaner changes. It's like giving someone a club (going back to our ape days of evolution...). We become fearless almost. We have not evolved into the automobile... In just 100 years we stuck a human in a box that moves above 100km/h! Not to mention the inefficiency of that, the waste/pollution that threatens our winters...

In that regard though, I would be satisfied with closing the gatineaus from 6pm to 9am.
This would allow the aged, disabled, etc... to enjoy the gatineaus without all the traffic during the week days still.
And, close off the gatineaus to those racing up there for no good reason with 200+hp under their feet (enough power to kill many people).

With our growing population, will come more carelessness. A percentage of this base grows with the population. And, unfortuneatly, they are attracted to the gatineaus for racing.
One of these days a cyclist is going to get killed up there from one of those racers. Lets prevent that from happening.
There is a problem up there. There are solutions.

I personally, would love to bring my young ones up there during the week nights. But, not a hope in hell with some of the hoodlums that take their race machines up there carelessly with 200+hp to boot!
Imagine if more people would bring their young ones up there early on in their development. We'd have some top notch cyclists representing Canada on a world's stage in no time flat!!!
We do have world class athletes in Ottawa that have represented Canada on a world's stage. And, we can continue to do so. But, when our sand box is threatened by large massive vehicles, its difficult to accomplish this goal.

In conclusion, I would love to see the gatineaus closed from 6pm to 9am. They do close off the northern part and they do close down Pinks past 9pm already.
Either that, or start charging an entrance fee to limit access (avoids racing machines with 200hp+ from entering ...). Tourists don't mind paying an entrance fee. I know I have in many other places. And, when I am playing a role as a tourist, I'm a lot more careful of my environment...
Perhaps some of this money fed back into the gatineaus or into athletic youth programs?
As long as its not spent on foolishness...

All in all, the gatineaus have done me well over the years. And, I'm sure it has many other people. Kept them fit, alive, away from the bad (junk food, smokes, over excessiveness etc...).
That forest is my saviour.

Anonymous said...

opps - forgot to add - I DO NOT AGREE WITH opening the park just one way. Sometimes I want to get away from the typical route, so I head up blacks. Blacks is a great climb.

I don't believe this is a solution what so ever... just some make believe band aid solution by those that don't use the gatineuas all that much (I'm up there 3-6 times a week during the summer. I call it the cottage).

chow. (yah, I'm anonymous and loving it. Un attached.)

Anonymous said...

Just some comments:
1) vehicles owe a duty of care to cyclists. In the gatineaus, passing is "dangerous driving" if done so unsafely.
So, theoretically, a vehicle must wait until it is safe to pass.

2) a vehicle gets a whole lane. Why can't a cyclist? Vehicles are getting larger and large. Cyclists typically remain the same size year after year.

3) road rage - typically comes from a number of elements. It can be someone having a bad day. But, if someone feels threaten, one may take action...

4) cycling laws - some are okay. Some are stupid. Like bells. What the heck is up with bells and bikes. I heard someone from OBC got a ticket for not having a bell. Bells cause more confusion. Its like a horn in a vehicle.
Double side by side riding, I feel is a crazy law same with limits on the size of the bike group.
As you mentioned, side by side is more safer than single file.
Next comes bike helmets. I feel that bike helmets should be an option. But, if you land on your head don't ask me for a band aid. Its your choice.

Good on yah for speaking up. If more of us did that, those in the vehicles would be crowded out a bit more... instead, Goliath gets its way. The automobile empire is a huge huge empire.

(just a correction though - I think the NCC contracts out the policing to the park. The RCMP is just doing its job. Its up to the NCC to relax its laws. Did you know they even have a "law" in their books, the NCC, for spitting in the park!!! good lord!!! an empire around stupid rules...)

Anonymous said...

The NCC rep held some pretty weak comments. As typical.
It is a federal entity though...
I suspected so.

Cyclist have been around for much much longer than vehicles.

If the good lord wanted a road for vehicles in the gatineaus, the good lord would have built a road.

The good lord built human-kind with two legs to move, to hunt, to seek etc...

We should all get off our rear carcuss and use what we have and admire the prestine beauty of the land. Many other places just have mounds and mounds of concrete.
Thank goodness many people fight for bike lanes, bike paths, the forest etc...

(for those not able to bike/walk/jog/run/wheel chair etc.. may we offer alternative means of transportation - energy efficient tour buses subsidized. Heck, we subsidize gasoline in a big big way right now. In reality, I heard a barrel of oil should be sitting at 400 dollars a barrel...)

tks for speaking up!

Anonymous said...

I suspect a lot of people will be protecting the NCC though.. expect that.
The games are good at that level.

(hence some of the comments from callers - I wouldn't doubt it if most of those people that did call in were from the NCC or buddy buddy networks of...)

Anonymous said...

You may get a slight taste of the real Ottawa.
I call it "smartly corrupt"

(going against the grain is tough)

Much appreciated though that you put your azz on the line. Cause many would not. Many just go with the flow of the dead fish.
(lots of people protecting the empires that lay the land)

Anonymous said...

Just one comment Matt. If we are successful in getting one evening for cyclists in Gatineau Park, I don't see Tuesday as the best night. There are crits at the NRC and the Women's time trial series on Tuesdays. Wednesday seems a better evening (Thursday is the Open TT series). The Tuesday loops should change their evening.

Matt Surch said...

Thanks to all who are speaking on the Parkway issue here. Its important to hear many perspectives on the matter. There are details to be addressed in the near future, but there are fundamental issues that underlie the situation at hand. The psychological element of automotility some remark on is a complex topic that is rather difficult to address within the time scale at hand. I have rather developed views with regard to this topic, much of which ties into my academic background. A multi-pronged approach is necessary at this time. I plan to collaborate with others in developing a web-site that addresses harmonization of bicycles and motor vehicles. The site would be a receptacle for materials bearing on key topics, such as psychology, infrastructure, grassroots movements, and competition.

While we need a long term vision of a reality where cycling is no longer relegated to the margins, we also need practical solutions for our imminent challenges. This Parkway issue is one such challenge. I don't want to be interpreted as arguing that Parkway closures to cars at certain times or changes to the flow of the Parkway are magical, silver bullet solutions. They are not. Rather, I hope to facilitate whatever measures can be taken to reduce the friction between motorists and cyclists so as to set the stage for more substantial change. In order to engender a new awareness of traditional cycling practice, we must first demonstrate that we are a community of reasonable people who acknowledge differing perspectives. Yes, we want to change some of these, but we must first gain access to ground from which we can speak, and be heard, above reprisals for being inconsiderate egomaniacs.

I would also like to remind some of the readers to be aware of the able-bodied bias we can fall into in discussions like these. Proposals to close the Parkway to cars entirely might be good for all of us who are able to enjoy the Park under our own power, but this would leave a lot of people out cold. Of course, it would also limit options for hikers and mountain bikers, which does not seem fair. In addition, closing the Parkway to cars entirely would not improve relations between cyclists and motorists in general. Awareness needs to be raised about group cycling in general. Exclusion of cars from the Parkway altogether might actually feed into a sentiment that cyclists should ride there rather than on other roads. Lets put the car ban suggestion to bed.

As to the suggestion with regard to day of the week to close the Parkway to incoming cars after 6, I think Wednesday also sounds good. Sure, it conflicts with the mtb races, but I don't think this is a big issue. If such a closure is to be initiated, a consensus will be sought on the day. It'll be up the the parties who come to the meeting to decide.

A final note for today: please be aware while posting here and on other fora that the NCC is tracking this issue here and elsewhere. It is not productive to say anything online that you would not say to an NCC staffer's face. Anonymity is irrelevant; defamatory comments and other abusive language can be used against us. Better to keep it civil. I am not commenting on anyone in particular here, just a friendly heads up.

Matt Surch said...

What's it like for neophyte to take up commuting by bike in Ottawa? Check this out:

In order to help bring about a more accessible, safer, more inviting reality with regard to urban cycling, we need to see things through multiple lenses. The above blog, and hopefully more to come like it, will help inform decision making processes around cycling in Ottawa by highlighting the stumbling blocks people encounter when attempting to integrate cycling into their daily lives.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be a tough sell. 2% of Ottawa bikes. Places like Denmark have out numbered vehicles. And, so is Portland.

If you get a chance, research Portland. Back in the 50s the federal government wanted to get the economy rocking and rolling, so they dumped millions into the infrastructure (like we are doing now!). Many places jumped on, like Denver. They built and built. Not knowing the consequences. They built a ring road around the whole city. Brought more traffic, more smog, more boom and bust economy (unsustainable) etc...

Then when they came to Portland, they said no. We like our little community. They implemented street cars etc... To this day, they export street cars. I'm not sure what Denver exports? John Denver? The real growth in the economy comes from real products. Real products contain efficiencies.
Tourism is the world's number one export.
Another thing that is growing as the population ages is adventure racing and such.
So, if we merry these two together...
Tourism + healthy living = a cycling community that can be an export (really money coming in from another economy).
As the gatineaus stands now, many typicaly tourists would not go up there on a bike. Without all the traffic they might. A truely exportable product.
What we have now is really a negative impact. As fuel is subsidized. So, any vehicle up there really has a huge negative impact - economically & socially (as we see with those racing 200lb vehicles).

We need new ways of thinking.
That's going to be tough in a government town though.
Lots and lots of protection there is to keep things status quo. Lots of things...

Vancouver is changing though.
It had to, for the olympics.

It takes change. Sure Ottawa has in the past, I'm not sure what direction it is heading now. It's a money making machine at this state... when a money making machine is present, people loose site of why they came here in the first place. (for nature and to get away from it all - the hustle and bustle of a big city).

I think the fact that we are having these discussions is a sign that things may be heading the wrong way...

(btw: these discussions only occur at the start of spring and near the fall - when the automobile is the bigger threat up there... during the summer, everyone goes to the cottage etc... and, we are "free" to bike in peace)

Matt Surch said...

Many good points there. Here's a friendly reminder for all those with input on these matters to attend the cycling summit this saturday. Don't forget to register.

Anonymous said...

Just to add this (eyes are watching them as well - and the like)

As for the NCC, had a good run in with them this past weekend! Off the bike trail near the Casino. There were two patrol NCC people on bikes. Both were using up the whole damn pathway on either side of the line! Not a care in the world for on coming traffic. Guess they have more rights then the rest of us or what!!! Here they are bitching at us for going 2 by 2 and there they are going 2 by 2!!! Hypocrites!
One of them could hardly stay on the bike as I think it was there first time ever on a bike. Swaying side to side.
It was a very fashionable site to see and I wish I had a camera!

incompetent I say.
(the ottawa citizen had a good article on hiring of new grads by the government a couple of weeks back. They have a big recruitment on new grads - new grads only apply! Paying them big bucks with no experience. Perhaps these were some of them?)

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