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.

 

#MeToo: Woman on a Bike

One evening last summer, I was cycling to a meeting in Hintonburg along the multi-user path (MUP) that runs just north of Albert St. I noticed another cyclist, a male, approaching on the path that comes south from the Ottawa River at Bayview. He joined the MUP I was on, and we cycled a little ways until we reached the intersection of Bayview and Scott. He pulled up beside me and said, “Hi. I was wondering when you were going to recognize me.” I laughed and we started chatting. It was a man I have known for more than 25 years, someone who is in fact part of my family. He was going to the same meeting, and we proceeded on our way together.

When he first spoke and I responded by laughing, in my head was the word NEVER, just like that, in large caps. I thought, “That’s weird,” and left that thought to the side for the moment. The next day I took it out to examine it and made a surprising discovery, quite aside from the fact that my internal monologue is rather insistent.  I realized that if I encounter another person, either in a car, or on a bicycle, or on foot, I do a quick scan. If I think that the other person is male, I don’t look directly at him. I keep track of where he is by using my peripheral vision, but I don’t ever look at his face or in his eyes. This is what enabled me not to recognize my own brother-in-law on the MUP last summer.

Once I was aware of this, I noticed myself doing it all the time. In the summer when I leave the house I am almost always on foot or on my bike. Every time I encountered a man-like shape, I averted my gaze. How could this be, that a modern  woman spent her time out in the world not looking directly at men? This did not feel like empowerment. This felt like me scuttling around feeling unsafe.

That’s exactly what it was. What’s more, I can identify the exact moment when this behaviour began. It was one summer when I was in university, so quite a long time ago, more than 25 years. I was working as a gardener at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto. Every morning I biked down Sherbourne St, long before there were any bike lanes, to catch the club launch over to the yacht club on the Toronto Islands. One morning when I was between Dundas and Shuter, something went wrong with my bike. It was the chain, or a flat tire, and I got off to try to fix the problem. Out of the corner of my eye I could see someone approaching. I straightened and smiled, hoping they would be able to help. Instead, the man starting undoing his fly. I drew myself up to my full height of almost 5’4″ and said frostily, “I beg your pardon?”. (My sisters for some reason found this very funny when I told them). But it worked. He was abashed, stopped trying to expose himself, and went away after telling me I was asking for it and gesturing to my clothing. I thought, “I’ve heard that women are always blamed for what they are wearing no matter what they are wearing. But this is ridiculous. Buddy, I’m wearing a Laura Ashley pinafore dress.” (Forgive me for the pinafore. It was the early 90s.) I was wearing a dress to my landscaping job because women were not allowed to wear shorts on the launch and I did my landscaping work in shorts. Sometimes I wore a dress over my shorts, and sometimes I pulled on a skirt right before I got on the launch. I was the only woman on the horticulture team, and the only one who had to dress differently on the launch.

I wheeled my  bike over to the nearest phone booth, found my emergency quarter in my back pack and called home. One of my parents came to get me in the giant burgundy station wagon. I went home, called my boss to tell him what had happened and that I wouldn’t be in that day, and spent a quiet day. I fixed my bike. The next day, I biked back down Sherbourne St. and back to work.

That was a bad summer. Then, like now, I biked almost everywhere. Frequently, when I was out on my bike, men called to me, commenting on my hair, my body. Each time I prayed that my bike would not let me down. It did not. It was that summer that I learned to avoid looking at men, as if doing so would prevent them fixing their gaze upon me. It didn’t, of course, but I suppose it subconsciously gave me enough of a sense of control that I could countenance going out into the world. I just adapted, did not even notice my adaptation, and kept on biking.

Fast forward fifteen or so years. I am married, a mother, and taking an evening course at the University of Ottawa. I’m not a young woman any more. I’m a grownup. I bike there, using the Cummings Bridge because the Adàwe Crossing for pedestrians and cyclists has not yet  been built. I have to turn left onto the bridge from North River Road. It’s early evening in the fall, already dark and traffic is very light. I have my lights on my bike. I take the lane. A blue pickup truck turns onto North River from Selkirk St., revs the engine very loudly, close passes me on my bike, screeches to a halt at the intersection. The driver leaps out of the cab, and approaches me, shaking his first and shouting the most foul obscenities. His body is a lot bigger than mine, his vehicle is a lot bigger than mine and he is using both of them to threaten me. Just as the driver got close to me, the light changed and he got back in his truck and took off, speeding up the bridge. I had memorized his license plate, so when I arrived at the university I called the police and made a report.

A few days later, a male police officer called to tell me that he had given the guy a call and given him a warning. He also told me that in a situation like that I can’t ignore the laws of physics. I was legally allowed as a vehicle to make the left turn, but the truck, being so much larger, would always win in a dispute. I thought, but did not say, “I bet you say that to all the gals. Would you say the same thing to a 120 lb woman who had just gotten beaten up by her 200 lb husband? She is also very much on the wrong side of the laws of physics.” But I didn’t say anything. I just thanked him and hung up.

That incident reinforced my feeling of being unsafe and I stopped cycling by myself after dark except on very rare occasions. Of course I’ve had many other encounters when I was spoken to or touched in a way that I did not like and that made me feel unsafe, both inside and outside. Thinking about these experiences made me realize that all who live in a city live in a different city from each other. My city is full of men who might be creeps and vehicles that might run me over. Others live in a city mediated by their own experience of racism, or barriers to the handicapped, or bias against the LGBTQ community, or of being a child. Councillor Diane Deans is perfectly right to call out the city of Ottawa for its lack of gender parity at the highest levels of decision making. The lack of voices other than those of middle-aged white men in cars makes Ottawa a city that responds well to their needs and poorly to the needs of the vulnerable (not white, not straight, not male, not able-bodied, not in a car, not an adult…).

A message urging pedestrians and cyclists to make eye contact with drivers at intersections to make sure that said driver isn’t about to run over you doesn’t work for me. If I’ve identified the driver out of my peripheral vision as male, I’m not looking anywhere near his eyes. If I’m not at adult eye level, could I even see the eyes of the driver? Did the person who dreamed up this strategy not think about the perspective of a woman, or a child, or someone in a wheelchair? What I want when I’m on my bike or on foot is to be nowhere near cars at intersections but on dedicated infrastructure for my mode of choice. I don’t want to be making eye contact with someone who may or may not be a creep.

A campaign urging pedestrians and cyclist to “Be Safe, Be Seen” at night doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t matter how many lights I hang on my coat or put on my bicycle. Being seen outside at night is not the same as being safe. It is the opposite of being safe. Why is there no acknowledgement that the night is not the same place for a white able-bodied cisgender man as it is for the entire rest of the population? What I want when I’m out at night is to feel safe from the depredations of cars, but also safe from verbal assault and threatening by men. “Be Safe, Be Seen” doesn’t even come close.

Each time I urge myself to get out there at night on my own, I remember how I felt each time I was threatened or harassed: humiliated and terrified. Cities need to be designed for the most vulnerable so that they are welcoming to all, day or night.

 

The Scar

Middle has a scar on his cheek. He got it in the spring, when he had a fall biking home one evening from soccer. Sometimes when I look at it I find myself back on the road, biking with the spouse and Little in front of me, and Middle behind me. Then I hear a crash and a scream, and I brake my bike swiftly, and look around to see him lying on the road. I get off my bike, but my limbs seem to be moving through water and it takes seemingly hours to disentangle them. I run back to him, still lying next to his bike, and as I run, I see a car approaching him from behind. My heart leaps in my throat. The car has time and room to pass, and I lift my boy and carry him to the sidewalk. The spouse runs to get the bike. Middle sobs on the sidewalk. There is blood on his cheek and his leg, and he is clutching his arm.

We get into coping-parent mode, and decide I will take him to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario for X-rays, in the car-share car. Luckily there is a Vrtucar parked about 200 m from the accident. I stop off at home, for snacks and drinks and books and a blanket, because I am experienced in the ways of CHEO and know what I will need in the emergency room. We get to the hospital, he is registered, and finally I can sit with my arms around my boy and the blanket around both of us. Then the images come back, and I am seeing him on the road again, with the car bearing down on us, and I’m trying not to cry. What if? What if that car had been right behind him when he fell?

His arm was not broken and neither was his cheekbone. The scrape on his cheek didn’t look deep at the time, but still it left a scar. The doctor who examined him asked me several times whether he was wearing his helmet. Yes, yes, of course, but that is not the question, I kept thinking. The question you need to ask is, what sort of infrastructure was he biking on? That would yield you some useful data. But I didn’t say any of this.

He was biking on North River Road south of Montreal Road. There was little traffic and there was no collision with another vehicle. His wheel hit something in the road a bit askew and suddenly he was off his bike. There is no painted or segregated bike lane there. Usually on the way home from soccer we would all be biking on the Rideau River Eastern Pathway, a National Capital Commission multi-user path. It’s a lovely safe route right along the river, well away from the road over most of its length, and the children have been cycling there since they learned to ride. It’s our route to the wider world spring, summer and fall.

It was a very wet spring in Ottawa, and the path was closed because of flooding. Earlier that day I had seen lots of bike traffic on that stretch of road, including our very own city councillor biking to work. I thought to myself then that it might be a good idea to put out some pylons to make a temporary separate path for the cyclists on the road. All over Ottawa this spring, while the MUPs were flooded, so many cyclists were forced onto roads. I don’t think temporary segregated lanes were provided on any of those roads.

I recently read that a (segregated, protected) cycle track along a road is one ninth as dangerous for cyclists as a road with no marked cycle lane at all. That statistic is one good reason to keep asking for safe transportation infrastructure for all, including children. A lot of my motivation for bike advocacy is based on statistics. There is a good solid evidence-based case for why safe cities are better, and cheaper, for us all. But now, in addition, I remember that feeling, the feeling as I looked up and saw 2 tons of metal bearing down on my own child.

I didn’t cry at the hospital. I held it together and took my boy home and was in bed by 1 a.m. Then I cried. I wept my fear and terror into the spouse’s shoulder. I know now that I did not weep it all out that night. Every time I see the scar on Middle’s cheek, the fear is back. Please make the city safe for all. Please.

Peace and porches

Peace and porches

Or, stop cutting illegally through other people’s neighbourhoods.

I spend a lot of time working in my garden. Planting, weeding, pruning, dead-heading — there’s always a great deal to do. Recently, though, I’ve been trying to go into the garden and just be. I have made the garden in order to be a refuge and a place of peace, and I’m attempting to find that peace there. I look closely at each individual blossom and leaf to appreciate the complexity and beauty of even the smallest thing. I pay attention to the butterflies and bees and other winged insects that work so busily there.

Lately I’ve been especially enjoying all the birds in the front garden from the vantage point of our new porch. Over the last decade and a half, I’ve planted six trees in the front and side gardens in order to provide us and the sidewalk with shade, and to provide the birds with habitat. Until our porch was built, I hadn’t realized how successful that bird-focused project had been. Now, there is always “a melodious noise of birds among the spreading branches” (Wisdom of Solomon, 17:19): goldfinches, robins, cardinals, sparrows, cedar waxwings…we can just sit quietly and gaze as they fly about.

The front porch also gives us a lot more contact with neighbours. Most Overbrook front gardens are fairly shallow, and the sidewalk (or road, for those streets without sidewalks) is not far away. People frequently bike or walk past our house, and if we’re sitting on the porch we often exchange friendly greetings. Sometimes it’s no more than a “hello”, but often people stop to introduce themselves and their dogs, to chat about the new porch or the garden, and to talk about how they’re going to the lovely park by the river and how much they love the neighbourhood.

20170908_162140
Both these vehicles are making illegal turns at around 4:30 pm

The porch is a place for us to enjoy the peace of the garden and has also become a place for us to enjoy the fellowship of the neighbourhood among the trees and flowers. It is difficult for us to enjoy these chats against the frequent noise of the traffic that comes down our street. We have to pause in our chat until the racket has gone away. Some of the cars drive sedately, but others roar past. I have even seen an enormous car-carrier truck on our street waiting at the light at the end of the road.

As far as I can tell, no part of Overbrook is protected from commuter and commercial traffic cutting through the neighbourhood. Some signs forbidding turns at certain time of day serve as acknowledgement of the disruption this causes, but have little to no effect in reducing the volume of traffic. I have noticed that other neighbourhoods, like Kingsview Park, are protected from through traffic. Overbrook is almost entirely a residential neighbourhood. I wish we had more front porches here, so that chats between neighbours could turn into conversations between friends. I wish that Overbrook were protected better from traffic, so that we could all find peace and quiet in our gardens

.

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

The OCDSB has, in two recent decisions, decided to sentence all high school age children in Overbrook and Vanier to a bus commute to a suburban school, Gloucester High School. On March 7, the board voted to close Rideau High School, after vigourous opposition from the community. This decision ensures that all children in the English stream in Overbrook and Vanier would be sent to Gloucester High School. I wrote a letter after their initial vote and attended the meeting at which the final vote was taken. An excerpt from my letter:

I am writing to you to express my disagreement with your vote to close Rideau High School, and to urge you to change your vote the next time around.
Rideau High School serves a very special community within Ottawa. It has a high number of indigenous and Inuit students, as well as a high proportion of new Canadians. The programs that are in place there work well and there is no compelling argument that setting them up again at a school that is further away will provide any improvement. 
There is significant evidence to suggest that students in need do better at smaller schools. A growing body of research shows that it is particularly important for students in high school to have physical activity built into their day. Walking or cycling to Rideau High currently provides at least part of that. Gloucester High School is not at all a pleasant place to cycle to, and putting high school students on buses will not improve their mental or physical health. 
I understand the point that Rideau High School is underpopulated at the moment. I have seen no evidence of creative problem-solving on the part of the board to deal with this issue. Closing the school seems to be a very blunt instrument; in recent years, Viscount Alexander was also under threat of closure and has seen something of a Renaissance once a French immersion program was introduced there. 
Last night saw me again at the headquarters of the OCDSB on Greenbank Road. (I booked a Vrtucar; because I got home at 10, the spouse returned it so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark. How jolly it will be to book a car every time I need to get the children’s high school: read on).

Our school trustee made the following motion:

Trustee Ellis has given notice that he intends to move as follows at the Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for 21 March 2017:

Therefore be it resolved:

A. THAT starting in the school year 2017-2018, grade nine students residing in the York Street Public School grade 7 to 8 English attendance boundary east of the Rideau River, and south of Beechwood and Hemlock be directed to LisgarCollegiate Institute (see attached map);

B. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, grade nine students residing in the Manor Park English attendance boundary (see attached map) be directed to Lisgar Collegiate Institute; and

C. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, Lisgar Collegiate Institute will accept grade nine students to the Gifted Congregated program if Lisgar Collegiate Institute is the closest high school offering that program to where the student resides. (This will create space for students from the above areas.)

I spoke in favour of the motion, noting that we live in Overbrook, 2.4 km from Lisgar, a safe and pleasant walk or bike ride for our grade 9 student.  Sending the children of Overbrook and Vanier to Gloucester would take them away from this reasonable commute and send them on to a very unsafe bike lane on Ogilvie, or more likely, the bus. We have no interest in sending our children to a suburban school, 5 km from our house, along an appallingly unsafe bike route, unprotected from vehicular traffic.  Here is some video of the bike lane on Ogilvie. The OCTranspo quick planner tells me that the route from my house to Gloucester High School involves 3 buses and would take 45 minutes (on good days when the connections work, of course).  There is also a two bus option taking 56 minutes. Friends in Vanier, living over 7 km from Gloucester High School, have a number of options, ranging from 38 to 56 minutes and two of those options involve 3 buses. My child can ride his bike to Lisgar in 10 minutes.
Several delegations spoke at last night’s meeting, and all were in favour of the motion. The board then voted against the motion. I am appalled that the board did so and now proposes to send all students from some of the poorest areas in Ottawa to a suburban school. Two other high schools are closer to my house than Gloucester: Glebe and Hillcrest.
Study after study has shown that the best outcomes for children occur when active transportation is built into their day. Further studies have shown that walkable neighbourhoods have more social capital. The school board seems to be disregarding recent social studies research in its decisions, to say the least. I thought the Prime Minister said when he was sworn in that we were in a new age of evidence-based decision making. The PM has no sway at the OCDSB, of course, although if his children went to high school in that board they would be going to Lisgar.
We bought a house about 3 km from Parliament Hill so that we could raise our children in an urban environment. We have endured the bussing during elementary school from our house to Manor Park PS with the expectation that there would be light at the end of the tunnel come high school. The board’s decision ensures that no child in French Immersion living in Ottawa or Vanier can walk or bike to school DURING THEIR ENTIRE SCHOOL CAREER FROM JK TO GRADE 12. I am enraged. Please excuse the yelling.
My fury is not abated by the fact that a neighbourhood significantly further away from Lisgar than ours, Lindenlea-New Edinburgh-Rockcliffe Park, continues to be able to send its children to Lisgar. Lisgar is much more my neighbourhood high school than it is theirs. If I lived in Lindenlea, my house would be about 4.8 km from Lisgar and an 18-minute bike ride. I can only conclude that the school board continues to draw its boundaries along class lines.
I turned to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study for more information. Their website notes: We are a team that brings together the University of Ottawa, the City of Ottawa, local Community Health & Resource Centres, Ottawa Public Health, United Way/Centraide Ottawa, The Champlain Local Health Integration Network, and other community-based partners. Our goal is to better understand the neighbourhoods in which we live, work and play in order to offer evidence about the dimensions that are important for community health and well-being. We also provide the City of Ottawa, health service providers, social service agencies, community organizations and residents with information on 107 neighbourhoods in Ottawa in order to help them to identify what is working well, and where community development is needed.
The survey provides the following information. The percentage of the population in the bottom half of the Canadian income distribution is 61.9 % for Overbrook-McArthur; 53.9% for Vanier North; 22.4% for Rockcliffe Park; and 25.6 % for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh, according to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The average percentage for Ottawa is 35.3%. Furthermore, median income after taxes is $25117 for Overbrook-McArthur; $28848 for Vanier North; $43788 for Rockcliffe Park; and $46050 for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh. The average median income for all of Ottawa is $35554.90.
I am not arguing that the residents of Rockcliffe Park etc. should stop sending their children to Lisgar. The bus routes from those neighbourhoods to Gloucester High School are similarly daft. I am pointing out the injustice that the children of  Overbrook and Vanier,who live much closer to Lisgar, and whose families are much less able to weather the extra expense and strain of having children attending a school much further away, are being shifted before those in wealthy neighbourhoods who live further away from Lisgar.
The school board is using the French Immersion children of Overbrook and Vanier in order to bolster an already bad decision to close Rideau High School. The board needs to show high levels of enrolment at Gloucester for next year in order to be able to pronounce the closure a success. This is a face-saving, self-serving exercise and is bad for the children of my neighbourhood.
Overbrook and Vanier children need to be able to use active transportation to get to school, and would benefit immensely from the Lisgar environment. The school board appears to be set on a series of policies (the closure of Rideau High School and now this) that would hollow out an up-and-coming urban neighbourhood that needs all the help it can get. This is not the way to plan for a successful future for our community.
The reason that the board is drawing the boundary this way is that residents of wealthier neighbourhoods have better contacts, more social capital, more time to spend on activism and are more adroit at navigating administrative systems. The poor cannot do this so well. The OCDSB does not want a posse of Lindenlea parents screaming bloody murder. I am an Overbrook resident with a lot of social capital myself, so watch me: BLOODY MURDER.

Car-free Family: Party like it’s 1928

Car-free Family: Party like it’s 1928

It’s a chilly day in February and about a year since we adopted a life without owning a car. This morning Little and Middle put on snowsuits, boots, ski mitts and balaclavas and went off to catch the schoolbus, chatting. The spouse and I walked together as far as the Rideau Canal (a bit over 2 km) and then I kissed him and walked home again. As we were walking, the teenager passed us, cycling on the winter bike, on his way to high school. Just another normal winter day.

Last week the wind chill was -28 and on Sunday 28 cm of snow fell here in Ottawa.It was this part of the year that most made us hesitate when we were considering giving up the car. It can be brutal.

But it turns out that it really is not difficult at all, and we love having no car.I am delighted every time I see the empty driveway and realize once again that oil changes have no power over me any longer.

Just because we have no car doesn’t mean we never drive. It’s just that driving is now for special occasions and there is a faintly festive air to it. We joined a car-sharing service about a year ago and if I need to do errands that take me far away or to places that are dangerous to bike to, I book a car and walk to the car-sharing station to pick it up. This is the first part of the new normal that makes me think of 1928; novels of that vintage are always having the manservant garaging the car, often in a rented space in a mewsnearby, and then getting it out again when the master wants the motor. Bunter did it for Lord Peter Wimsey, for example. The difference for us is the sad lack of servants in the slow lane.

The closest car-share station is about 1 km away, which initially I found a bit far to go to get a car. It’s about a fifteen minute walk. I got used to it quickly and now I love that there are two walks built into every car journey. The children are quite accustomed to the walk as well and recently Little remarked that we were lucky that the car was so close. Our nearest car is a Toyota Yaris; it’s a very nimble little car and reminds me of our late lamented Tercel. I can park in the tiniest space and the trunk space seems enormous, especially in comparison to a pair of panniers, my usual cargo solution. We booked an SUV for the trek out to the countryside before Christmas to cut down the tree. Now that was luxury, and the tree farm was gorgeous.

tree-farm

Friends and family sometimes offer us their cars when they go on holiday, to our mutual benefit. Their car gets driven occasionally, keeping the battery topped up in our vicious winters, and I am spared the chilly walk to the carshare.

For camping holidays  and to visit family in Toronto we rent a car. The first time we rented we had our eyes opened by the incredible luxury of modern car design. USB plugs! Heated seats! Backup cameras! Back when we bought out last car in 2007, such things were not available, or at least not in the Mazda5.  The best van for camping was a Chrysler Town and Country; we got three tents and associated junk into it without much effort. Note to self: the Ford Flex is a reverse Tardis. It looks huge on the outside and is a beast to park, and the interior has strangely little useable space. When we rent a vehicle, we enjoy the treat of the tons of room and millions of cupholders and return it with thanks at the end of the holiday. camping

The other solution that involves driving is to have things delivered, instead of us running errands in the car. Our pharmacy, in Old Ottawa East, makes deliveries. We get our vegetables from a local supplier and those too are delivered. This is an especial blessing in the winter when lettuce fetched on foot is liable to freeze. Online grocery-shopping in Ottawa is not that useful yet. It tends to be expensive and to offer foods that I never actually buy. Having food and medicine delivered seems delightfully old-fashioned and reminds me of accounts in novels, again, of the butcher’s boy coming on his bicycle or the milk float arriving early in the morning. Remember Father Christmas encountering the milkman in the Raymond Briggs book? Of course all these literary references to a less car-dependent time are grounded in actual fact.

A sort of delivery that in no way is reminiscent of 1928 is e-commerce. More and more I am liable to order things online. Instead of making the trek out to Westboro I can get Mountain Equipment Co-op to deliver for free if the order is over $50. I just save up the order until it’s that much. I try to buy local as much as possible, but sometimes that doesn’t work, as with the recent hanky purchase.

Now to the nitty-gritty. Even with all this renting and car-sharing, we spend less than we would if we owned a car. The total cost of car-share last year was $878.39. Gas is included in the per kilometre charge we pay. Insurance is covered by our credit card insurance. That was with me not skimping, getting a car whenever I thought I needed one, and frequent drives on orthodontist days out to Orleans (about a 40 km round trip). The amount spent on rental cars and gas last year was $1,382.25. All that driving occurred on vacation. Along with the car-share that means auto costs for 2016 were $2260.64. The amount spent on the car, car insurance  and fuel in 2015 was $4136.06. That is a difference of $1875.42. This year I am more used to being car-free and aim to reduce my use of the car-share. Mercifully the orthodontist visits are over for now.

Of course, one of the reasons that had us giving up owning a car was that the Mazda 5 was starting to show its age. Expensive work on the suspension was looming. Buying a new car was just around the corner. If we had bought another Mazda 5 GT in January 2017, and we did like it as a car, that would have cost us about $28, 000. Another car loan — no thanks.

Often we feel like we are cheating and not really doing the genuine car-free thing since our access to a car when we need one is so easy. If we were really hard-core we would never drive anywhere. That’s not quite possible for us in Ottawa yet. More on that later….

 

Escape from the school bus

Escape from the school bus

Three weeks ago: “Mum, there’s a lot of swearing on the school bus. You know, the f-word” (in hushed tones).

Two weeks ago: “Mum, someone swore at me in the school bus. He said to sit the f down” (in tears).

Last week: “Mum, people were hitting me on the school bus because I didn’t want to open my window and they were trying to make me” (in tears and trembling).

Right. I called the vice principal, who promised to reiterate to the children the rules of the bus. Now, the only adult on that bus is the driver and she actually has to drive.  I was skeptical how well these admonitions would work.

The child spent a very subdued weekend and told us frequently that he was afraid to ride the bus.

On Sunday night we decided to ditch the schoolbus. We’re carfree, and it’s spring, so the obvious choice was the bike.

And what had been holding us back from biking before this? Mainly the crappiness of the route to school. It starts well, on the path along the river. Then one gets to cross four lanes of traffic on a very short light and bike a meandering route through a neighbourhood, up a big hill and down another one, this last on a very busy road. Then the crossing of  another busy road with lots of cars turning left, and then, tada, at school.

The meandering route is caused by having to skirt around a cemetery with no access along its entire southern boundary, and by the horribleness of the direct route. The most direct way is along a busy road with lots of parked cars and those most useless of street markings, sharrows. Then there’s a bike lane marked by paint along the side of the road but no sidewalk next to it for Little to bike on. Not safe enough, not by a long chalk.

There are plans afoot to improve bike access along that route but they had not occurred magically over the weekend.

In previous years, distance had been a factor. The school is about 5k away, which was a little far when Little was in grade one. Now she can handle it easily.

For me, time is still a factor, since the children do the round trip once and I do it twice. It ends up being three to four hours of my day on getting the kids to school and back. The voluntary simplicity project we’ve got going in our house makes it possible, but it compresses the work of my day quite a bit. On the other hand, biking 20k may have some effect on the middle-aged-fatness reduction project which we’ve also going here.

So how was the ride on the first day? Fantastic, wonderful, awesome. The kids were so excited to get on their bikes and to get out by the river. After many years of biking with Middle I know I have to build birdwatching time into every journey. We stopped twice, once to gaze at gorgeous wood ducks, and one to look at a large hawk grooming herself. Little remarked on all the dangerous bits on the ride, tsked, and said, “There are too many cars on this road.” We arrived in the schoolyard in good time, all of us flushed and cheerful. They scampered off to class and I rode to Loblaws on the big orange bike to buy some mulch.

Middle put himself to bed that night at 7:45 after his 10k day. First question the next day: “Are we biking? Yay.”

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