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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dear Ottawa Police

Dear Ottawa Police Service,

In the last few days I've read two articles related to police targetingpeople who are cyclists. I'm concerned by what I read.

The first related to a "crack down" on people who cycle at night -- becauseaccording to the article police have found that they are a source of crime(might I add that I've never heard police announce a "crack down" on caruse at night). The second article, below, again describes how the OttawaPolice Service isn't making things easy for cyclists. In this case, yourconcern seems to be with cyclists infringing into pedestrian space. I would be very excited if you would show similar concern about carsinfringing the space of pedestrians or cyclists -- like those motorists whocut me off every time I try to use a crosswalk.

So my question for you is multi-part, and you may not be able to answer all of it right now. If anything, I hope to get you and your colleagues thinking:

1. Is the Ottawa Police Service is knowingly making these efforts to, ineffect, dissuade the travelling public from choosing to cycle?

2. Is the Service aware of the effect this sustained negative publicity toward cycling can have on the public's perception of cycling as a viabile choice for commuting or just "getting around?"

3. Does the Service understand that there are much larger issues than policing at play here -- notably public acceptance of this more sustainableand city-friendly mode of transportation/ healthy cities/ inviting places to live?

4. Are you going to start thinking about these broader issues when you undertake policing initiatives?

Thanks and warm regards,

A Bad turn on Pretoria bridge
David Reevely,
The Ottawa Citizen

Periodically, the Ottawa police set up on the Pretoria Bridge, which
ticketing people for biking on the bridge's sidewalks.

This month, the police are putting extra focus on cycling lawbreakers, apolice spokeswoman said on Friday, though she couldn\'t say whether they'd been particularly busy on the Pretoria bridge last week. Still, the Citizen got two letters complaining about it the same morning. Something wasdefinitely up.

The Pretoria Bridge is the easiest way to get a bike across the waterwaybetween Carleton University and the Ottawa River. It's low, so there's no steep uphill climb or stairs to contend with. All the other bridges (Bronson Avenue, Bank Street, Laurier Avenue, Mackenzie King) are so elevated that a cyclist has to circle around through roads and ramps that resemble highway clover leaves to get on and off; getting from the path to the Pretoria Bridge is more like taking a simple off-ramp.

When you reach the end of the ramp, the trouble begins. Unless you comeoff the bike path and hit a green light, the temptation to turn onto thesidewalk and keep your momentum is powerful. If you use the bridge sidewalkto get from the path on one bank of the canal to the path on the other, andobey the law in every way, you're in for a long dipsy-doodle around thetraffic islands at the west end. They're there so that turning a car fromPretoria Avenue onto Queen Elizabeth Drive (or vice-versa) is easy, smooth and quick. Pedestrians, pushing bikes or not, get the shaft.

If the police give you a ticket for riding on the sidewalk, there's nopretending you didn't see the signs. There are four, each set off by abrightly flashing yellow light. They all say "Please walk your bike on the sidewalk," which actually suggests not doing so is legal, if rude.

Even if the signs were firmer, it's hardly a fair fight -- like dropping the speed limit on a stretch of wide arterial road to 40 km/h for noobvious reason, then waiting to nab the speeders. The law's the law, but it's an ass.

I watched the bike traffic cross the bridge at an afternoon rush hour atthe end of last week. Most cyclists used the road; there are no bike lanes,but the road is wide enough to be generally safe. Of 22 who took theirbikes on the sidewalk while I watched, 17 rode and only five (including awoman and the young girl with her) walked them. Fifteen minutes there wouldhave yielded the police $595 worth of tickets, if they could write themthat fast.

Presumably the no-bikes-on-sidewalks law is to protect pedestrians,though the Pretoria Bridge\'s sidewalks are wide enough to accommodate both.An afternoon\'s cyclist-hunting would pay for a lot of paint. The city couldput lines on each of the bridge\'s sidewalks. Cyclists over here,pedestrians over here, problem solved. (Even without the lines, the hazardis nothing like that posed by pedestrians walking on the wrong side of thepaths by the canal itself; the National Capital Commission commandeered all the best cycling routes in the city yet refuses to take responsibility forthem as the commuting routes they are. But that's a different column.)

The new footbridge over the canal, midway between the Pretoria andMackenzie King bridges, is explicitly meant to take bikes. Wojciech Gryz, one of the project's managers, says the footbridge is to open at the end of September.

"It will be divided into two lanes, each two-and-a-half metres wide, and pedestrians and cyclists will share," Gryz says. "There won't be any signs, and they won't have to get off their bicycles."

So on the footbridge, it'll be OK for walkers and bikers to mix. On the Pretoria Bridge, it's a ticketing offence. The Pretoria Bridge sidewalk trap is a minor annoyance, but it's the sum of such annoyances that makes for a transportation problem. The Spacing Wire website (www.spacing.ca/wire), which reports on urban transportationand other uses of public space in Canada (particularly Toronto), last week mentioned an Singapore-based group called iwant2bike2work.org, a cycling lobby whose elegant mission is "To make bike commuting so convenient, it's irresistible." Wouldn't be a bad motto for a city transportation department desperate to lessen congestion.

Spacing Wire also notes that Toronto is starting an experiment with a bike-locker program. For $10 a month, you can rent a fully enclosed one-bicycle space at one of several strategic spots around the city, with a door locked with a city-supplied key. The idea is these lockers will bemore secure than locking a bike to a parking meter or post and leaving itthere all day, and will save riders the trouble of stripping off and hauling into work all the easily snatched parts of a commuter bicycle --seat, front wheel, air pump, water bottle, panniers -- that a lock doesn't protect.

Meanwhile, we're practically entrapping cyclists for doing something on one bridge that's about to be legal on another. Toronto is serious about non-auto commuting. Ottawa isn't yet.

David Reevely is a member of the Citizen's editorial board and a good-weather bicycle commuter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree that there is enough space for bicycles AND cars on the Pretoria bridge.

Most car drivers hug the curb, leaving no space for bikes.

Whenever I bike over the Pretoria Bridge, I take the full lane for my safety.

2:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

THE COPS DON'T CARE! They are just doing their job day in and day out.
Thats where all the laws starts and some stop... empires form... citizens complain... taxes are paid... cops follow the rules of the road (well, not aways...).
So, CALL THE CITY!!! Thats where your voice counts!
roads and cycling committee is the one you want to voice to.

11:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The area around Pretoria bridge is poorly designed. Reasons why cyclists take the sidewalk - mainly safety. Poorly designed road or too busy road. Not the cyclist fault. If they get hit they are stuck with the injury. Not the driver. The automobile is the bigger threat, yet cyclists get blamed and those in the auto don't want to pay more for gas (taxes on it). Who is to blame?
I blame the great automobile empire!!! its rich and its lazy!

11:29 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something that should be mentioned is that most B&E bandits do not/cannot drive, for varying reasons. That is why the police choose to 'target' cyclists at night. It is a mistake, and counter productive to try to lump this aspect of policing with any activist's perception of anti-cyclist policies. Remember--those B&E ne'er-do-wells steal an awful lot of bikes!

9:47 PM


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