Urbanism and Active Transit

Last year I started volunteering with Bike Ottawa, a group that advocates for better cycling infrastructure to keep the increasing number of people on bikes safe.

It turns out that when you start thinking about what makes people on bicycles safe, you quickly start thinking about how similar changes can make the lives of pedestrians safer. And that leads to how we design our streets to make them more accessible for people with mobility issues (and other disabilities). and then how all those things connect with public transit (or more to the point, how much better public transit needs to be both in terms of service and in terms of connectivity to bike paths and sidewalks, and providing benches and shade for people waiting).

I have been connecting with all sorts of people who know lots about these issues, and it has been a great year of learning – about how to get around my city more effectively, how much I am capable of on foot or by bike, and how to spot and (occasionally) fix problems. I am now a master of Guerilla construction signage adjustments to clear sidewalks and bike paths.

That culminated this weekend with a lovely walk around anOttawa neighbourhood that has been in the news a lot this year because of big, sometimes expensive, questions about how to use some public spaces.

I biked there, met up with other people I know from various cycling groups plus the guy who now leads an urbanist book club and some complete strangers. We were led on our walk by a woman who walks everywhere – an average of 120 km per week.

We talked about the environment, smart density, desire lines, the importance of consultations with users to ensure designs work (hello Flora Street pedestrian bridge with your incredibly sharp turns and unploughed stairs in winter).

Flora Street Bridge in Ottawa, showing the ramp on left, with cyclists and pedestrians, and stairs on right, with people climbing them or walking by. Image on left is from and the one on the right by Scott Norsworthy.

It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, and it reinforced my view from earlier this year that infrastructure is a feminist issue.

We are already planning our next walk, ideally to a suburban area to look at the challenges for people who want to get around without a car.

Until then, we will be dreaming of active transportation and urban spaces that look more like this:

Clockwise from top left: Alexandra Bridge in Ottawa, with many pedestrians; a bike lane that goes right through a mall in Singapore; a bike lane in England being used by someone in a wheelchair. She is protected only by flexiposts as large vehicles drive by; the very busy pedestrianized Rue Mont Royal in Montreal.