Saturday, November 27, 2010

Segregated lanes?

Well, here I sit sipping a cup of coffee and watching the closest thing to lake-effect snow squalls that Ottawa gets. Actually, if the wind and moisture profile is just right, Ottawa can get some pretty good snow squalls though I readily concede that they're nothing like the kind places like Barrie or Trenton get. If you drive up the 400 from Toronto to Barrie you will pass a number of big yellow road signs warning of potential sudden white out conditions due to lake effect snow squalls.

It isn't called the snow belt for no reason!

We have had a couple of little snowfalls over the past few weeks or so and we now have a good 2 or 3 centimetres draped on everything. With the prospect of a few more snow squalls drifting through here it would seem that ski season is not too far off - but it also means that the triking season is done.

So that leaves us the prospective good winter's worth of x-c skiing, likely at the Sawmill Creek Constructed Wetlands whose trail system the city had expanded earlier this year (yay!). It also leaves me to watch for news items about cycling. With the city of Ottawa having just elected a new mayor, one who is purportedly extremely pro-cycling, Adam and I were more than pleased to learn of a proposed dedicated bike lane on Laurier Avenue. Of course, the article in question seems to be just as focused on how the BIA feels about a segregated bike lane on Laurier. It seems to me, though, that the BIA feel as though they own Laurier Avenue and that anything even remotely different from what they, personally, want is tantamount to a declaration of war.

Come on, what kind of garbage is that? Since when does making business easier to get to by cyclists cause serious problems? I would think that business could be boosted by a comparatively slow moving cyclist who could then take the time to actually look at a business rather than zooming past in a faster travelling car or truck.

In my mind, this amounts to nothing more than mere NIMBYism. The proposed plan addresses the concerns of business owners as far as such matters as access is concerned but the real issue here is how the city of Ottawa can improve accessibility for ALL people, not just motor vehicle drivers. Page 4 of the plan (it's a .pdf so keep that in mind if you click on the link) clearly states that,
"Emergency vehicle access, access to off-street loading zones, and access to building entrances and parkades are all maintained." (italics mine)

Unfortunately, this kind of having-to-justify-improved-access-to-businesses is exactly what's wrong with a lot of cycling and car problems. The fact is that bicycles of any description and cars do not mix well on roads and a large part of the reason for that is simply to do with visibility. My own experience has been that car drivers don't so much loathe having to share the road with cycles as that they simply do not see us on the road and that when they do see us they cannot know what we are going to do. In that respect, I can't blame car drivers for, what would you think if you saw a cyclist beat on down the road, hop onto a sidewalk, zip into a parking lot using the exit lane, run stop signs, sail through red lights and travel the wrong way on roads? My own thoughts on this are that the building and designating of segregated bike lanes can and will do so much to solve a lot of those problems. I'm not saying such a resource will stop any and all dumb shit some cyclists do but it will significantly reduce the occurrences. It would also reduce or even eliminate the reason for doing dumb things in the first place. Ask cyclists who are riding on the sidewalk why they do that and a lot will tell you that it's too dangerous to be on the road (which is BS, by the way, as evidenced by the large numbers of cyclists who do use the road and live to tell the tale) or that it's a lot more convenient. If the city builds a whole, connected system of roads with segregated bike lanes, this problem goes away.

But it requires a shift in behaviour on the part of cyclists and, more tellingly from the article on Laurier Avenue, a serious shift in understanding the realities of higher fuel prices, the fact that some people are choosing to give up their cars and do everything on bike and the fact that at least a few people are choosing to improve their own health by cycling instead of driving. I'm looking at you, BIA, so don't pretend I'm talking to someone else.

As for me, well, my trike is, for all intents and purposes, parked for the winter. I won't take it out again until next spring and only after a good rain washes away all the salt that this city likes to dump on everything. I will continue to write about cycling issues, including a few goodies like maybe some trail mix recipes or just some musings about prospective triking trips while slogging away trying to break a new trail in the wetlands after a good dumping of snow.


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