Thursday, 22 April 2010

Let's Send Clive to Copenhagen

I would like to congratulate the National Capital Commission, and in particular CEO Marie Lemay, for their enlightened approach to cycling in the capital. The Ottawa Citizen reports:

Ottawa has a car-first, bike-after attitude, says the chief executive of the National Capital Commission. And Marie Lemay said residents have to decide if that's really the way they want to build the future of Canada's capital.

One of the fundamental things that I think we need to have a discussion about is, do we want our National Capital Region to be bike- and pedestrian-friendly? And if the answer is yes, we have to be ready to do the things that implies. It might mean it will be more difficult for cars, for example, she said.

Do we make the decision that bikes and pedestrians come first? And if we do that, everything else follows.

Lemay said the place of cyclists and pedestrians will be a central question in the NCC's new, three-year initiative to develop a plan for Canada's capital. Public discussions on the plan are to begin this summer.
The Ottawa Citizen further reports:
The head of the National Capital Commission says she hopes Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien will join her and Gatineau Mayor Marc Bureau as they travel to a major bicycling conference in Copenhagen in June to pick up tips on how to turn the national capital into a cycling role-model for Canada.

“If it is him, I’ll be thrilled and, if it’s not, and it’s a councillor, I’ll be very happy. The important thing is that we do have a political champion with us,” said the NCC’s CEO.
Mayor Larry O'Brien as a political champion of cycling does not seem to be a very good fit. Indeed, we need someone to go the the conference who is already a political champion for cycling, who has the background and can come back even more enlightened and energized to lead Ottawa into a new future that is not dictated by the automobile. Who better to fill that role than Councillor Clive Doucet, who will almost certainly be back on Council after the next election, unlike Mayor Larry who does not even know yet whether he wants the job.
The Velo-city Global 2010 conference will feature four days of presentations and discussions by cycling experts and policy-makers from around the world. Topics include cycling in mega-cities; cycling in cold, hilly cities; suburban cycling; and lifting the social status of the bicycle, among many others.

The sheer fact of being in Copenhagen and observing the cycling culture there is also an important aspect of the trip, Lemay said.

“They definitely do put cyclists and pedestrians first. Even the signage at street lights. The priority is not to the car,” said Lemay.

“To see that and be immersed in a totally different way of thinking, then you can see that it can actually be done. I’m hoping from there, you move backwards, and say, ‘what do we like about this, and how can we get there?’ ”

Although the NCC has maintained recreational biking paths in the national capital region for 40 years, Lemay said she realized last summer the importance of moving beyond those paths to create a safe, integrated network of cycling lanes and pathways across the downtown cores of Ottawa and Gatineau.
One thing Marie Lemay has right, and that Clive Doucet would agree with, is that we need to build a city for ordinary cyclists. As the Ottawa Sun reports:
“When you have Lance Armstrong sending in a bib from the Tour de France, I mean, that accident went around the world,” said Doucet. “I think people are beginning to realize Ottawa is a wonderful place to be a recreational cyclist, but a terrible place to be an ordinary cyclist.”

Doucet said the reputation Ottawa had built as a cycle-friendly city had little to do with the municipality’s efforts. The National Capital Commission established and continues to maintain the vast network of bike trails that earned the city its good standing in the first place.

“If you strip away the NCC shared bicycle pathways, the city has nothing,” said Doucet.
Lemay makes the point that while avid cyclists may cycle anywhere and everywhere all the time ordinary cyclists will only cycle if they feel it is safe.
Lemay, who lives in Chelsea, said she owns a bike but is not an “avid cyclist.”

She said she’d love to bike around downtown Ottawa, but she’s concerned about safety on city streets. She believes this gives her something in common with other people who would like to use their bikes more, but don’t feel comfortable cycling in traffic.

“This is not about accommodating the avid cyclist. This is about integrating cycling into a sustainable mode of transportation,” Lemay said.

“It’s not about just one segment of the population. It’s everybody. It’s me. It’s all the other people that could be using their bikes if it was safer. If it was easier.
The City of Ottawa has to show that it is serious about changing from being subservient to the automobile to embracing the future, a future that already exists in much of Europe.

I have already presented my ideas and I encourage everyone else to let the City and the NCC know what they think.

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