Sunday, July 24, 2011

Citizen Ruth

From reading a few articles on the Laurier Avenue segregated bike lane, I couldn't help but notice the high level of whining from members of certain groups about it. Apparently, the installation of a simple 1.3 kilometre segregated bike lane meant the end of the world for some people despite reality. The details are not as important as the response to some of those complaints...which is where I came into the scene.

The city of Ottawa, like many other modern cities in the world, has provisions in place to assist people who are in wheelchairs get from their homes to work, doctor's appointments, schools, shopping and any other place. However, the segregated bike lane here in Ottawa has meant that some of these people would have to be picked up and/or dropped off in a slightly different location than what they're accustomed to. This, it seems, has been interpreted by some as yet one more adaptation they are forced to make and that this forcing victimizes them even further. That's the part I can't understand, especially since a minor change like having to be dropped off 50 feet from their "usual" place doesn't actually prevent people in wheelchairs from being able to get where they're going.

This is where I threw my hat - or bike helmet -  into the ring - as it were.

I am a person who has a disability. In fact, as I write this entry, my left leg is not working and so I am not out triking today despite the beautiful weather. I have actually been in a wheelchair and may very well wind up there again. So, I am very empathetic to issues around disabilities, access to services and mobility in general. However, more than anything, I detest the endless whining I hear from certain groups of people. I don't mean just people with disabilities but any group in particular.

So, I wrote a letter to Ottawa's mayor and all city councillors showing my wholesale support for the bike lane itself. One of the councillors wrote back to me, asked me to submit a letter to the editor of a newspaper and to, otherwise, continue showing my support for this bike lane.

So, I did.

I wrote a letter to the Ottawa Citizen...and got a phone call from one of the editors there. Apparently, my letter of support and written by someone with a disability provided enough of an interesting take on the issue that they sent out a photographer to both take a picture of me on my trike and to make a small video. The main caption on the item erroneously identified me as someone who is in a wheelchair but both the letter I wrote and the video that was made clearly indicates that I am NOT currently in a wheelchair...but that I have been in one.

I am not heartless or flippant about the issues facing those of us with disabilities. I am not out triking today, despite the gorgeous weather, because my left leg isn't working properly. However, I will not gripe and slobber endlessly about it as much because there isn't anything that can be done about it as it annoys the hell out of everyone else.

Luckily, the weather is only supposed to get a little damp for the next couple of days but I am quite sure I will be back out on my trike in short order...and, yes, taking advantage of that awesome segregated bike lane on Laurier Avenue.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Recce trip and why it's good.

Actually, for me, any trip in my Catrike is good but yesterday's trip (July 14th) was especially great.

One of the reasons Adam and I like our Catrikes is that we can carry quite a lot of items relatively easily. Heading out for a picnic is a very simple exercise, logistically and literally. We can stow all kinds of items and travel for greater distances without the worry of dropping anything or of having to try and balance items in panniers as we would have to do on bicycles.

However, one of the ventures we have yet to try is going camping using our trikes. These days, I am good for about 50 kilometres before fatigue puts all that to a stop for the day. So, we were mighty impressed at the discovery of a campground located within city limits, not to mention my own. We had passed by its entrance last year when we did our 80 kilometre round trip to Kanata but only this year did we think about doing an overnight trip there.

The distance isn't so much of an issue for me - at least this year - but one of the issues we need to consider is cargo. As I said, we can carry quite a bit on our Catrikes but that doesn't mean we need not be judicious with our items. Camping is an especially item-intensive prospect unlike any other holiday. If you are travelling to a place you generally don't have to bring your own bed or house with you but, with camping, you do. Most campers pack up their vehicles and head out but it's not generally a huge issue with gasoline powered cars or trucks. It is, however, a massively different issue when one is packing a Catrike and it is this area where we are attempting to keep our loads as light as possible.

One of the ways we are dealing with this is to see how little we can get away with bringing. We both tend to pack very lightly anyway so, for us, Catrike camping is possible but as we've never done it before still an unknown quantity.

Enter yesterday.

We thought we could reduce the number of things we would need to bring with us by, for instance, eating out instead of bringing food with us. However, as our planned route doesn't really take us past too many restaurants nor are we keen on the idea of leaving our trikes unattended to eat we thought we would follow our planned route up to the point where we would want to stop and eat. At that point, we would see what was around and plan accordingly. We weren't certain we would be able to find much more than a variety store but we lucked out at Britannia Beach. While we did bring a picnic lunch with us yesterday, did note that there is what looks to be a half-way decent burger joint on site. No, it's not top  nutrition but, under the circumstances, will certainly work. That means we won't have to pack a lunch with us and, thus, will have more room for camping supplies.

The day was sunny, very warm but - whew - not that wilting humidity that reduces everything to gelatinous puddles. That's not due here 'til Sunday.

We rode up to Hog's Back and crossed at the Hartwell locks. I got lots of help lifting and carting my trike over the top and, for all that, I am extremely grateful. I could have done it but it was still nice to get help there.

Our route took us through the Experimental Farm, a completely delightful and serene place. We followed its pathway well beyond the western edge of the farm itself and eventually found ourselves deposited to a point just south of the Iris transit station. The day was now getting wonderfully breezy which, when experienced in some of the more wooded areas of the bike path, felt magnificent.

We made it to Britannia Beach in a little under 2 hours (including the couple of breaks enroute). We then sat back and enjoyed a fantastic lunch. I tell ya, you can eat a peanut butter sandwich (which I did) and it'll still taste like a 5 star dish after 2 hours of triking.

Heading back, we just travelled east along the Ottawa River parkway bike path, stopped at the ByTown museum at the foot of Parliament, enjoyed a well deserved ice cream and did some people watching for about half an hour before heading back.

We travelled 48 point something kilometres and had an extremely fantastic time of it. I am sure one overnight camping trip will be just as enjoyable (she said, hoping the weather deities hear her and take the hint).


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How many planets do we live on?

Of course it's a silly sounding question and the answer is obviously 'one'...but you'd never know it in listening to some people.

I'm referring to the new segregated bike lane on Laurier Avenue which just opened up this past Sunday and we decided to give it a try and see for ourselves what it's like. In a word, the bike lane is FANTASTIC! Time was, cyclists of all kind had to share the road with cars which isn't a problem in itself except for the fact that many automobile drivers don't like bikes on "their" road and many cyclists never bother to follow the rules of the road either. That often meant an uneasy relationship between cars and cyclists and any collisions of any kind were always much worse for the cyclist than the car driver - no matter who was to blame.

This segregated bike lane, all 1.3 kilometres of it, means that cyclists and motorized vehicle drivers can travel on the same road in relative safety. Car drivers need not worry about cyclists suddenly darting out in front (yes, many of them do) and cyclists need not worry about car drivers passing unsafely (yes, many of them do).

This plan to convert the parking lane on Laurier Avenue to a dedicated bike lane was revealed as far back as late last year. Yet, there are certain groups of people who, faced with the rapid approach of its grand opening, decided to complain bitterly about the changes they would face. People with disabilities who use wheelchairs were complaining that the new segregated bike lane would make it so much more difficult for them to get to work because the ParaTranspo bus would not be able to drop them off at the front of their destinations. Another person with a disability was worried that the existence of the tiny concrete barriers (which is not one long continuous thing, by the way) would increase her chances of tripping as she has a leg problem.


The installation of a segregated bike lane in this case has meant that one would be dropped off a short distance from one's usual place, not in a different city. The city has also removed some of the barriers to address this situation. As for the other complaint, what had been on Laurier Avenue previously was a long line of parked cars which would be just as hazardous as the existence of these shorter, fewer concrete curb-sized barriers.

The complaints are really without basis and I am speaking from the position of one who has a disability. I may not be in a wheelchair at the moment but I have been in a wheelchair and neither I nor the doctors knew whether I would get out of it or not. I have faced barriers to movement and may very well face those same ones in short order.


You have to look a little more closely at the effect that something like the installation of a segregated bike lane will have on the city overall. In other words, it's not about you. It's not about me either - it's about all of us. A segregated bike lane improves accessibility for cyclists, eases the worries of car drivers who are rightly afraid of the sudden appearance of a bicycle (it's happened) and helps to promote the city of Ottawa as a bicycle friendly city. We even made a small video showing just how open and unobtrusive this lane is. Change is inevitable and it is totally unreasonable to expect the entire world to stop evolving because someone (or a group of 'someones') doesn't personally like it. You have to look at the overall effect that something like segregated bike lanes has on society.

We live on one planet, not planet 'you' and a whole bunch of other planets. If you cannot or will not adapt to the reality of positive changes, even if you don't personally feel you will benefit outright, then please move aside and let the city evolve into something a little friendlier for those of us who don't drive.

It is not that I have no empathy for people with disabilities. Trust me, I have all the empathy in the world for us. What I have no empathy for is what I see as people with disabilities who play the 'disability card' and act as though any decision anyone makes for the betterment of us all is a personal affront to them and a sure sign of their repeated victimization.

Get over yourselves.

We live on one planet and we need to find a way so that everyone gets their needs met as much as possible...not just yours and not just mine either but everyone's. Okay? Everyone.


Monday, July 4, 2011

50K on a gorgeous day...

No, I'm not actually holding up any sign; I'm trying to cool down my armpits at Rockcliffe Airport.

Every July 1st, Adam and I make it a point to get out to Rockcliffe as much to see the visiting airplanes as to get some exercise. In years past, we had taken the bus(es) to get there and then walked from there to downtown. We have made this trip through coolish days and even managed to get caught in a "sudden" deluge one year. This year, however, the weather was picture perfect for a trike trip. Sunshine, bright blue skies, light winds (if any) and even lighter traffic.

We packed a lunch and left the house around 8:30 after a good breakfast - of course. Our route was the same one we use for the weekly Sunday Bike day with one major difference. Once at the north end of Mooney's Bay, we veered to the right and headed towards Vincent Massey Park. Since the city re-profiled the path itself, it's been a lot smoother to sail downwards. It's also made the return uphill trip a lot less daunting, too.

The day was warming up very quickly as we rode along the pathways and even the occasional foray onto suburban streets as we transited from one pathway to another was an easy one. There were very few cars on the roads where we were even though the combination of it having been Canada Day and the presence of TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made Ottawa a huge attraction. In fact, the various pundits had predicted there would be close to 500,000 tourists milling about the city itself.

We stayed away from the downtown area and quite understandably so. We did encounter a few more vehicles along Sussex as we sailed the final few kilometres east to Rockcliffe but drivers and other cyclists were generally very well behaved.

So, we made it to Rockcliffe - a journey of about 24 kilometres by the pathways where I stayed with the trikes and Adam wandered around the collection of light aircraft, snapping pictures and taking movies. These made me smile. Our annual saunter to Rockcliffe is one of the rituals we do to - more or less - welcome summer and I was quite relieved that we were able to continue this tradition and on trikes no less.

After about half an hour, we decided to head back, stopping at Rockcliffe Park for our picnic lunch. The only minor glitch in all this was that the ice cream stand was not open and didn't look like it would be open this season at all. Getting an ice cream is a part of this tradition so we wound up racking our brains to come up with an alternative. Adam snapped his fingers recalling that the ice cream stand at Hog's Back is open. We knew this because we stopped there on the way out with me looking for a bathroom (long story).

So, we finished lunch, climbed into our trikes and continued our return trip by reversing our original path. Mostly, the day was getting quite hot but the low humidity made for a very pleasant journey. We got to Hog's Back and enjoyed a small ice cream all to the sounds of South American music belting out over the speakers. It was a lot of fun as people there were gearing up for Canada Day celebrations. In short order, though, it was time to make the final 20 minute trip back to the house before the day got even hotter.

An interesting thing did happen once we had maneuvered through Mooney's Bay heading south - I heard the first cicada of the season. I make it a point to note the date of the first cicada. That telltale buzzing of those elusive insects is a surefire sign that summer is, indeed, here.

The only other sniggly point I noted was having encountered a motorized medi-scooter in the bike lane on Hunt Club...going the wrong way. Please, people, bike lanes follow the same pattern as motor vehicles. You wouldn't drive a car the wrong way on a road, would you? It's no different in bike lanes so, please, follow the rules...

Okay, I'm done.