I was in the best shape of my adult life when I commuted to work (23km each way) by bicycle every day. Even if “every day” wasn’t really every day because of rain (it’s one thing to arrive at the office sweaty, it’s another thing altogether to arrive sweaty, soaked and grimy) or because I had to “dress up” for a customer meeting (see “sweaty” above).
I was fortunate enough to have decent bike “infrastructure” (and I use that term lightly) between home and downtown that kept me mostly separated from cars for about 20 of the 23km and reasonably safe as a result. There was a very long (about 8km) stretch of unlit road that I had to take that wasn’t really an issue, because my commute times coincided well with daylight.
My bike commuting “season” always ended around mid-October, because it was just too dark and unsafe. It’s one thing to have lights and reflectors that made me easy to see (that wasn’t the issue), but even my powerful expensive headlight couldn’t do a good enough job of lighting the road in a safe enough way for me to avoid potholes, debris, sewer grates etc. along that unlit stretch.
Add an Ottawa winter to the mix, and fuggedaboutit. The bike trails I used were closed, unmaintained, and simply unfit for travel on 2 wheels. Riding along the side of a normal road was a non-starter, too. If I wouldn’t commute daily in the summer without a safe bike path, why would I try in the winter without one? There is preciously little cycling infrastructure that’s winter-maintained in Ottawa, none of which is actually accessible to me. So I never rode in the winter.
This is why the story of Oulu (in Finland) is so simultaneously inspiring and frustrating.
Now I recognise that a place like Oulu has a real head start in terms of infrastructure—they made the right decisions years ago and committed to executing them—but this is really one of those build-it-and-they-will-come things. Ottawa isn’t serious about winter cycling infrastructure because not enough riders ride in the winter. But not enough riders ride in the winter because Ottawa isn’t serious about winter cycling infrastructure. Someone needs to blink first.
Remember what I said at the top about being in the best shape of my adult life while commuting by bike? Now imagine if we managed to convert 10% of drivers into riders… think about how that would impact public health on the aggregate. People would be in better shape, consume less medications, pollute less, free up the roads, free up parking, etc.
How expensive would proper bike infrastructure truly be?