Monday, May 4, 2009

Ottawa Citizen Article: Crackdown on Cyclists on the Gatineau Parkway

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


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)


" 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.


The Vegan Vagabond said...

Great response Matt! My only suggestion is to maybe agree with the stop sign and riding in big packs crack down and say your only beef is with the two abreast thing. This makes is sounds like you are open to making it safer etc.

Not sure if this would be helpful but the OBC recommends double file as a safer option on roads like the gatineau's the link:

I personally think the parkway should always be closed to traffic (way too much traffic in there!) and they should have scheduled buses or a fee to get in with a vehicle. Maybe that's asking too much.

rob.parniak said...

Good job Matt. This situation really, really sucks but unfortunately I don't see a simple way out. What we do is against the law and it's hard to imagine the cops not enforcing it after publically claiming they will do so.

I see the park as a recreational area and cyclists as a user group. I would like to think we can be cut a little slack in how we use the park as oppossed to other open roads... but I just can't see it happening now.

The Tuesday night "A" Loops are some of my favourite rides. But to be honest, they've been out of control for a while now: huge groups riding/racing all over the road and taking way too many risks with traffic. I fear we've ruined it for everybody.

Closing the park on specific (Tuesday?)evenings for a few hours seems perfectly reasonable to me. They already close a section for the roller skiers on Tuesday evenings. I get the impression the NCC is open to considering this kind of thing if approached in a manner they can relate to -- maybe a job for the OBC?

I don't feel like I have enough background knowledge or experience to comment on this with any authority but it definitely gives me an uneasy feeling. Reminds me of being a teenage skateboarder constantly getting kicked off the rails and ledges downtown while pleading with city hall for a skatepark...

Matt Surch said...

I pasted in the letter I sent to the editor above.

Matt Surch said...

I hope you are right Rob, I think there might be some wiggle room to work out some sort of agreement with the NCC. Perhaps a middle ground would see the Parkway closed more often and riders expected to limit riding double paceline the rest of the time, I mean, actually limit it to two abreast.

Matt Surch said...

The Citizen will run my letter (a tighter version) later this week. Stay tuned.

Andy said...

Matt, the cycling community is fortunate to have someone as passionate and articulate as you step up to the plate here.

This situation truly sucks... yet again highlighting the misunderstandings between cyclists and the motorized crowd.

Thank you for all you are doing!

Anonymous said...

Disagree with the one way thing. I like climbing up blacks.

And stop signs - good lord, we wouldn't need stop signs if it wasn't for vehicles!!!
I betcha the horse and buggy thing of the past didn't have stop signs.
Stop signs are to hold back the big metal pieces from crashing into each other and so are stop signs.
Come to think of it, we spend a heck of a shit load of money on stopping the big metal pieces from colliding in with each other.

I'd say - start charging a fee for the gats - vehicles only.
That would deter the racers.
Open from 9am to 6pm only.
Vehicles not respecting cyclists charged 800 bucks. That means a 4ft perimeter around cyclists...
Charge - 10 bucks.

Other places do it.
The NCC is to damn socialist thought in a weird way to ever do that.
Yet, year after year there are more and more deaths up there.
From kids racing I take it.

It's damn weird the way the NCC operates. It is a government entity though, so what should we expect. Mandates and mission statements don't make sense in these entities most of the time...

thanks for the write up. Fully agree with most points.

I surely hope they don't make the parkway one way loop. That's just kind of stupid really.

I hope they use their heads and start charging. Brings in some revenue. Limits the racers.
Can bus in old folks etc...

What we have now in the park has been over run by vehicles.

Cyclist are not the problem. Its the motorized clan of a mess that is causing all the heart ache. I see the crosses representing that ... as more die each year.

Time to shutter down or at least start charging a fee (tourists don't mind fees. Those racing will though... and, they'll put up one hell of a fuss. Screw'm)

Rob Young said...

Good letter Matt...

However, I think there is little chance to have an exception made to the the Quebec law for Gatineau Park. These things are not gone lightly.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely think that many auto/motorcycle drivers in Gatineau park drive fast for the road, especially considering how many cyclists use the park.

I cycle in GP a lot during the summer. I'm fine with having a 15 riders in a group limit. In a car, driving the speed limit, it can be a challenge passing cyclists in Gatineau park. Passing a long train of cyclist is even more so, and some practical limit is not unreasonable.

I think it is important for the response from the Ottawa cyclist community to this not sound too entitled.

Cheers, congrats on getting your letter in the paper!
Rob Y

rob.parniak said...

Have there really been that many auto-related deaths in the Park? Certainly seems likely but I really can't recall anything at the moment... I'm aware of a cyclist dying in a crash though.

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt - that is an awesome well thought out article. I hope that the Citizen posts it as an "Op-ed" piece as opposed to just a "letter to the editor". It is too long and too involved to be posted as a LTTE" and I fear they might edit it down too much.

Note that I wrote in as well and posted on triRudy today and like you suggest an campaign from well established and educated organizations such as the OBC and local shop owners. Avery Burdett also has suggested something similar and has posted on the OBC forum in this regard.
Anyway - nice work - lets all stand (ride) together and work toward some reasonable accomodations for us cyclists.

Matt Surch said...

Rob Y., I understand your position with regard to group size, but I echo an OBC member (on their thread on the issue) when I say that enforcing the rule seems impossible. Who gets the ticket? #16? All #16+? What if the 16th rider has just caught the group while carrying a faster pace? I think the rule is being enforced (or they say it is) because of the large groups like the As and Bs that get a carried away with their girth. I think there is certainly room to improve there. Closing the parkway at 6 on tuesdays would be great.

As to the matter of tone and entitlement, I agree on a strategic level. However, I do believe that cars should not take top priority on the Parkway. I think there are creative ways to improve the situation for all involved, (excluding the car racers!).

BTW, just some quick notes on our group ride last night. More cars honked at us than ever. This occurred when we were riding double paceline and single. We were fewer than 15. A van/suv thing passes us on a blind corner descent while we were traveling 58-64k/hr. In other words, they had to break the speed limit in order to pass us. Not sure how that can seem like a good idea. Taking the lane at 60 seems perfectly reasonable, but drivers will continue to want to pass because we are on bikes. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

More cars honked at us than ever

- no doubt, I use to find when Lowell Green use to say anything bad about cyclists (as though everyone on a bike is clumped into a group - from the guy down the road carrying a 12 pack to racers...) the traffic, in general, would behave a bit differently.

In Ottawa, I think the media is people's bible.

Hence, I think it was wrong for that editor to blame cyclists first in his article.
Things the media puts in its junk for it to sell does some harm to others.

just my take on it.

I surely hope those that use the park speak their lip on the mater.
I have been to other countries where the automobile has completely taken over many parts of the city. Its not nice.
Most of those places are 3rd world nations...

Michel Gaudet said...

I'm a cyclist. I ride in the park often. It's no wonder motorists hate us. If you've never done this, it may be an eye-opener: take a car ride around the loop on a nice summer evening. You'll quickly see what a menace cyclists really are. More often, it's the group of 10+ that are pimped out in team kits that ruin it for the rest of us.

Matt Surch said...

Michel, lets remember that many motorists enter the parkway with a pre-existing 'hate' for cyclists. Ride in the city on any given day and note how little it takes to provoke a motorist. Many are simply looking for a excuse to shit on us. Road rage is very well researched. Cyclists provoke the first stage of Rage by simply being on a bike, moving through traffic with ease compared to cars. We are also doing something that is healthy, which is another hot button. Then ther is the eco-ness that can make drivers angry. And finally, homophobia provoked by the sight of men wearing tight clothing. My point? Cyclists on the Parkway are not the cause of hate. Hate can only be predicated by a preexisting history of negative thoughts about the target. So we are talking about general perspectival issue.

If I go for a drive on the Parkway on a warm summer evening (which I will never likely do), I will expect to encounter cyclists, lots of them. I will know what it is like to be one of them. I will identify with their experience. If they don't afford any room to pass at any point I will think they are a little clued out. I would not go so far as to think of them as menacing. That's over the top.

Lets avoid getting into yet another 'US' versus 'THEM' conversation. Cyclists in 'pimped out team kit' are not the other. They are cyclists too, and most importantly, people. They are not to be villainized any more than motorists. It is not helpful for riders who are not involved in group riding to join the lynch-mob against groups of racer-types, claiming the high road. Lets encourage sensible pack riding. When a car approaches, make some room; make an effort.

Anonymous said...

Matt Surch for President !!

Matt you write as well as Obama speaks ! Good on ya !