Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour

This past weekend, June 9-10, I road my sixth Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. This is one of the signature events for the Ottawa Bicycle Club and has been very well run for 41 years. This year's tour was no exception.
The tour is an organized ride from Carleton University, in Ottawa, to Queens University, in Kingston, and returning the next day. Attracting riders form all over, the tour accommodates 2,000 or so riders over four routes:
The Classic, by far the busiest route clocks in at 177km each day.
The Century, really the Classic route with the start moved to Perth. Still a respectable 100km each day
The Cruise, a more southerly route a little longer, maybe a little flatter then the Classic. Officially 179km each way.
The Challenge, 225km of hilly Eastern Ontario roads. Starting with the Classic, this route takes a northerly detour through Almont, Elphin and Boilingbroke before rejoining the Classic route before Westport.
This year I road the Challenge route on Saturday and the Cruise Sunday. Both days were brilliant. The weather was overcast, with a short period of light rain on Saturday. The rain came towards the end of my eight hours in the saddle, not so heavy as to make riding miserable. Just enough to motivate to end the ride as quickly as possible. Sunday was sunny and hot, a beautiful day with the danger of over heating. The Cruise route had good shade and everyone in our group managed to remain well hydrated. We finished strong and together. A great ride a great tour. Thanks OBC and the legion of volunteers that make this fine event possible.
I didn't bring my camera, so I'll link to a Fliker slide-show of the Ottawa Bicycle Club's Rideau Lakes Tour through the years.

If this inspires you, register early. The Tour sells out every year.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cycling Culture or Cycling Infrastructure Which Comes First

A question flloated through my twitter feed this morning:
I quickly sent off a response: "Infrastructure; You don't need cycling culture. Citizens choose transport mode that works. Infrastructure tilts balance 2 bike".
Cycle Ontario responded: " but would the culture not create the need for the infrastructure thus making the political decision easier"?
Here we have it the classic chicken and egg dilemma. If we build cycling infrastructure will cyclists appear, out of nowhere to use it? Making the case for cycling infrastructure self evident. Unfortunately, it takes huge political effort to get even the most basic infrastructure built. Once built, as we've seen in Toronto, cycling infrastructure remains vulnerable to political fashion and whim. Wouldn't a vibrant cycling culture make the political heavy lifting easier? A vibrant cycling culture might be able to mobilize votes, or exert political pressure through lobbying. Votes and lobbying are the fuel of the political process, and probably not something "cycling culture" can deliver. I am not sure there is a "Cycling Culture" as a single thing that can be harnessed or mobilized. As Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize states in the tongue in cheek, 18 Ways to Know That You Have Bicycle Culture. You likely have a vibrant bicycle culture if you never think of bicycle culture, and just ride your bike. 

There is a larger question of just how do you grow a bicycle culture. Portland's department of transportation published a neat graphic illustrating the four types of cyclists, by proportion of population:
If you focus on culture first, you're getting the <1% "strong and fearless" to convince "enthused and confident" 7%, and ignoring the 60% of "interested but concerned". I see a very big problem counting on such a small group to do any political heavy lifting. When you deal with the reality that this small group is split into several "cultures". Ottawa's cycling community supports the Responsible Cycling Coalition and Cycling Vision Ottawa. The former group is solidly against infrastructure believing, sincerely, that cycling infrastructure is a threat to cycling. The later group advocating strenuously for cycling infrastructure. If you are counting on "cycling culture" to deliver infrastructure, you had better get the right one.

If culture is not the answer, then is it really a case of "build it and they will come"? In a word no. Even is the most successful North American cities infrastructure has not pushed cycling's modal share above 10%. It is not enough to make cycling seem safe and comfortable, it has to make sense as well. Once again Copenhagenize has a good guide:
Private automobiles are a convince, there is no reason to prioritize them as well. The answer is not cycling infrastructure in isolation but in combination with a public transit and walking strategy that returns the city to a more human scale.