The awful news that five bicyclists had been seriously injured in a hit and run made front pages all over Ottawa this week.
This isn’t supposed to happen in our bike-friendly burg. We are, after all, a two-wheeled city from way back. The Ottawa Bicycle Club was founded in 1882. The first car didn’t arrive until 1899.
According to the 2006 census, 2.19 per cent of people in Ottawa get to work by bike. This is far short of cycling havens like Amsterdam, where 30 to 40 per cent of commutes are pedal-powered, but about as good as it gets in North America. In Toronto, it’s one per cent.
Bikes aren’t just for affluent obsessives in Lycra. All sorts of people use them.
Those “one less car” bumper stickers you see on some bikes can come off a wee bit sanctimonious, but my eye-rolling is mixed with sincere appreciation.
Bikes and bike paths are political winners here. The city of Ottawa counts more than 310 kilometres of bike routes and 610 kilometres of roadways with bike lanes or paved shoulders, and last year’s Ottawa Cycling Plan proposes to double this by 2025, in hopes of tripling the number of bike trips and significantly reducing accidents.
Local activists agitate for more and safer places to ride here.
Bike friendliness, however, must cut both ways. Just as cyclists must constantly guard against inattentive or aggressive motorists, bikers and walkers often battle over rights-of-way on Ottawa’s paths.
For pedestrians, some cyclists can rival the cluelessness of the most self-absorbed SUV-driving caricature, terrorizing them on sidewalks, zipping through red lights, speeding the wrong way on one-way streets.
Biking Toronto’s slogan, “A citizen on a $20 bicycle is as important as one in a $20,000 car,” makes a fine point. But don’t forget the citizen in the $2 flip-flops, eh?