Comment 88977

By Charles A-M (Ottawa) (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:02:36

This is the important point that made the difference in Ottawa. The municipality won't do anything for cyclists unless the politicians direct them to, and the politicians won't do it unless it'll help get them [re-]elected. A lot of lobbying and dialogue with council candidates by Citizens for Safe Cycling ( and other cycling advocacy groups helped to elect a pro-cycling council, and more importantly, helped to inform the returning councillors of how cycling is useful. Positive messages are important. Have a look through CfSC's web archives for some of the things they did back in 2010.

But there were other things that moved Ottawa forward, too. Our Cycling Plan was approved in 2008 after years of delay (the first transportation plan in Ottawa with a price tag attached), and a pro-segregated bike lane group lobbied hard behind the scenes, meeting individually with councillors, to get them to bundle in with the cycling plan approval a direction to staff to do a pilot east-west bike lane. That idea was acted on in 2010 with the initiation of the Laurier Avenue segregated bicycle lane pilot project which ends later this year (council will decide this summer what happens at the end of the pilot).

While there was a price tag on the cycling plan, the City budgets took another couple of years to stop being counted by tens of thousands of dollars annually and start being in the hundreds of thousands and millions. What it took to get that change was to move cycling from the "Strategic Initiatives" budget category (which is a tiny part of the city budget for which all of the non-priorities fight for) to "Growth" which is the part of the budget that includes road widenings, sewer extensions, etc. Accordingly, the staff in the cycling/TDM department were moved from the traffic department to the planning department (which also moved them from a suburban office building to City Hall proper). This made all the world of difference, because it was the managers in the traffic department who kept removing cycling funding from the city's draft budgets, forcing an annual fight to get it put back in (which council did each year!)

The people at Ottawa City Hall who work on cycling projects are all [commuter] cyclists themselves (one was even snapped up while he was president of CfSC), and very passionnate, regularly working late. Our main local newspaper also has a number of [commuter] cyclists among its ranks, and they maintain a blog at

Which reminds me that the biggest catalyst for recent change in the cycling political-culture in Ottawa was the July 2009 "Kanata Five" incident, where five recreational (i.e. Geared-up racing/touring) cyclists riding in a painted bike lane on a major suburban road in Ottawa's west end were plowed down by a hit-and-run driver on a Sunday morning (who later turned himself in). They all survived, some with severe injuries, but the flurry of coverage of that controversial incident to cycling stories in the first days/weeks, as well as the follow-ups with the cyclists on their progress, led to regular coverage of cycling issues in Ottawa media. At least every week there started to be a cycling story, whether it was a small buried tidbit about a non-fatal collision (which are relatively common but weren't previously reported by the police and paramedics in their news feeds) or about cycling-related events or activities, or a columnist writing about a cycling related experience they had the other day, etc. (And subsequently the hoop-la over the controversial bike lanes which eventually settled on Laurier)

Back in 2003, Ottawa boasted at being one of the top cycling cities in North America, largely due to the recreational pathways first built by the National Capital Commission in the 1970s and the weekly Sunday Bike Days where long stretches of parkways are closed, also by the NCC, every Sunday morning in summer, also since 1970. Then other cities started catching up and surpassing us while Ottawa coasted on this long running, mostly recreational, reputation. The above is how that got turned around and Ottawa got its bike back.

Good luck making it happen in the Hammer!

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