Nobody bikes to the dentist

It’s an ongoing joke on #ottbike Twitter. People post a photo of a bike in front of dentist’s office, or a clinic, or a hospital and marvel that it is actually possible to reach healthcare on a bicycle. This joke is a jab at the people who claim that the new hospital being built here in the next few years needs masses of parking.

We chose our dentist and our doctor and our optometrist with an eye to biking and walking and transit. It’s easy to get to all those places from our house by bike. It’s easy for the spouse and the teenager to get to work and school afterwards as well. What’s complicated is getting the youngest two to the dentist and to school on the same day.

I’m sharing this riveting tale not because it’s so fascinating to examine the minutiae of our everyday life, but to show that zoning decisions taken by our institutions have effects on people’s lives every day. Schools are far apart because of the implicit assumption that every family has easy access to a car. But not every one does.

The reason it’s complicated to get to school and the dentist on the same day for us is that the children aren’t zoned to go to the closest primary school to our house. That would be perfect on dentist days, since that school is about 1.5 km away, between our house and the dentist. We could bike to the dentist and I could drop them at school on the way home. Instead, our zoned primary school is five kilometres northeast of our house and is not walkable or bikeable. I’ve tried to bike with the children, but all the options were so stressful that we gave up after we started having anxiety dreams about the trip. Bike Ottawa has this nifty new set of maps in which you can do bike route planning with different settings for stress. Level 1, the lowest stress, is listed as suitable for children, and the levels up to 4 increase to highest stress. The routes I tried with the kids are either Level 3 or 4. I tried to get a Level 2 route, but the site told me it was not available. When I tried to find a Level 1 route, the site had me starting at our house and then biking to some pleasant place in Quebec along segregated bike lanes. It reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Well, on second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.” Indeed, but it is their school. So we don’t bike and they take the school bus.

On dentist days I can either take them to the dentist and then to school, or pick them up from school and then go to the dentist. Or I can take them to the dentist and abandon the whole school day. This latter seems rather extreme, but all the options are complicated and/or expensive. When we had a car, I just got in the car and drove where I needed to go. Now that we don’t own a car, the project is rather more involved.I started to write an explanation, but it got so detailed and confusing I drafted this flowchart instead.

If we look at the flowchart we can see that the cheapest and fastest option is Option 3, which involves biking to the dentist and biking home, and ditching school. Options 1 and 5 involve the Vrtucar, and cost about the same in terms of parking and car fees. In Option 1, the kids get a bike ride out of it too. Options 3 and 5 involve public transit. These options cost both time and bus fare.

I have tried all of the options and can freely state that the public transit options are the worst. One day I used option 5 and got home at 1.30 p.m. from a 9 a.m. dentist appointment. All of the buses that day did not come according to their schedule, and because they’re not that frequent I racked up more than an hour just waiting for various buses. I gave up on the last bus, the delightful route 9, and walked the last 2.5 km. The cost of the fares is not negligible either.

The car options seem all right, at first blush. There is the cost of the Vrtucar, but the travel time is pretty quick. Last time I drove to the dentist, however, I parked on a street on which parking was forbidden after 3.30 p.m. The dentist was running late, and I was looking at the time and paying the bill and feeling a bit panicky. Then I went outside and found a $100 ticket on the windscreen. Of course I disliked getting the ticket, but the city is perfectly within its rights to give it to me. I also disliked worrying about parking. I was sitting in the dentist chair thinking that when I’m on my bike I don’t have to worry about such time limits.

I decided after that to resort to Option 3 on all possible occasions. Little had to have a filling done recently, so I excused her from school for the day and we biked downtown. We went to buy wool for some mittens and a hat for next winter, we passed a little free library, we smelt the scent of the locust trees that were blooming at that time. We went to the dentist. We biked home, did some baking and read some books. Total cost of transportation: $0.00. Time spent together: priceless.

 

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