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In deciding what to write about this week, I couldn’t help but think that biking might be a good subject. Biking, that accessible, low-tech, help-you-get-ultra-fit way of exploring the city and countryside, without the need of emitting harmful exhaust and enabling you to take time to really notice and appreciate your surroundings.

I must admit that some of my bike plans for various reasons were nearly derailed this week. Was I ever happy though that I did still choose to bike! The day was Sunday and the weather was gorgeous. Everything was lush and the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. Added with the fact that I was biking with a friend, things could not have been much more perfect.

Of course, not everyone is into cycling. For that reason, I decided to write this blog with tips about how to get started, stay involved, and become part of the movement to get more “people-powered” vehicles on our roads.

Getting Started

I have a few friends who are nervous about, or just learning, to cycle. As a result, I know that the concept of cycling, particularly in the city, can be daunting. Apart from deciding what bike to get (which is a matter not covered here, but which I found is discussed elsewhere at places like BikeAdvice.net), this can be a major hurdle.

Does one need to be concerned? Of course. There are bicycle accidents and one needs to be careful. Not to be alarmist, but as many of you probably know, just this week four bicyclists were run down and killed by motorists in Quebec. But by learning a few safety tips, you should be able to avoid problems. If it is any encouragement, I have been biking for years and have not had any unfortunate incidents with motorists, or anyone else for that matter.

Perhaps the most basic tip to keep in mind is that generally the rules of the road as they apply to vehicles also apply to cyclists. So yes, stop at red lights and stop signs. Signal with your hands toward the direction you are turning. And make sure you have a bike light if riding at night so people can see you.

A few places with other helpful safety tips for cyclists include the Healthy Ontario and the City of Toronto’s websites. Also worth noting is a program being organized by the Canadian Cycling Association called CAN-Bike. The program is being offered in conjunction with assistance from the Region and area municipality community centres. With courses being offered from May through June, now is the time to sign up.

Sticking With It

Cycling around your neighbourhood and while going to work, shopping and the gym can all be great ways to work cycling into your daily routine and ensure you “keep with it”. Requesting that your work or other routine places of destination provide bike parking and showers can also be a great help.

However, another great benefit of cycling is that it can be (minus the fuel burned to get you where you want to cycle at) a zero-emissions form of recreation. If you’d like to start cycling on a recreational basis around Waterloo Region, there is a list of bike clubs featured in a recent article in The Record.

Just keep in mind that the difficulty-level and types of rides of these groups vary. Some rides are also better suited for road bikes or hybrids, while others require mountain bikes. The best advice here is to take your time to find one that is right for you.

Encouraging Others

Perhaps you are already enthusiastic about biking and want to be part of the movement that encourages others to be as well. Wonderful! If you are like me though, you may not be aware what you can do about this. So both for the elucidation of myself and others, I investigated the matter.

In the process, I unfortunately have come across, as they say, some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that unfortunately the public meeting on the preferred “Regional Transportation Master Plan” (RTMP) just finished last night. The good news is that:

  1. People still have a week or so if they wish to submit any outstanding comments on the RTMP.
  2. The Region will also start working in the next few months on an “Active Transportation Master Plan”, which will map out in greater detail transportation planning with respect to bicycles and other forms of active transit.
  3. On a more local level, the City of Waterloo has started a “Transportation Master Plan” to review its existing transportation system. Likely similar activities are going on throughout all of the Region’s municipalities, given that they must all update their Official Plans to be in line with that of the Region.

For details on how to get involved at the regional level, just visit the MovingForward2031 website.

If you want to get really involved, consider participating in a two-week GPS bike survey with the Region. This involves carrying a small GPS unit that tracks where you are cycling. Using this information, the Region can determine where best to place bike lanes and paths. To learn more, contact Transportation Demand Management planner, John Hill, at the Region.

My concluding advice on getting involved at the political level with cycling issues? Well, despite (as I’ve already admitted) my limited political involvement with transportation issues, I have been active enough to say that your voice can make a difference. I’m being completely honest when I say there are many well-meaning people working in public office in and around Waterloo Region. They just need to know that they have the public’s support when making decisions that promote us living in a more sustainable community.

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Hopefully, this blog post has given you some inspiration to either start cycling or cycle more. As I’m sure you’re aware, if not now then before reading this post, not only is it healthy, it’s good for the environment. Consider also voicing your concerns about cycling at the municipal and regional level. By doing so, we can help bring about the necessary changes to make cycling become an even more accepted and supported activity in the Region.

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