Well that was fun! Last March 8, me and a couple of bike buddies got together to go for a bike ride and clear out the snow around some of the bike parking for Wellington West Winter Bike Day. It was a great time.
I had no idea ahead of time how it would turn out or how many people would come. The day was looking pretty nice, with a high of 0 and the promise of sunny periods. The good thing is that even if nobody turned up it was still fun to go out for a ride.
In the end about 10 people arrived, mostly bike friends from Twitter. Catherine McKenna, the federal Liberal candidate for this year’s election, also came out to give a hand. Jeff Leiper, the local councillor, showed up right on time. “Are my shovels here? They are supposed to bring shovels.” He had asked the city snow removal people if they could contribute shovels. Soon enough, a truck showed up with a dozen metal shovels which were perfect for the job. A good thing too because the snow hadn’t been cleared from most of these places all winter, and it had become icy, compacted and very crusty. The snow shovels that I had brought were totally useless for the job.
We made our way down the street, making space at the places where we shop. The work went pretty easily, and with the number of people that we had we were able to clear three or four spaces at once. Individual spaces took about 2 to 5 minutes to clear, with time spent chatting and enjoying the day as well.
There is a pleasure to be had in doing physical work with a group of friends. I never understood why people go to the gym and pay to exercise when you can simply walk outside and start digging.
How a person shovels is reflective of their personality. Some people cleared enough to get a bike in reasonably, thereby satisfying the goal of parking the bike. Other people were very diligent to clear right down to the bare pavement, satisfying the goal of clearing the snow. Personally I started in the “just good enough” camp, but because it was possible to force the shovel underneath the ice and crud that had compacted and lift out big chunks at once, I found myself dipping into the “doing a perfect job” camp quite a bit. It felt pretty good to be able to break off big pieces to reveal a patch of sidewalk that had gone months without seeing daylight.
I avoided a lot of the shoveling, instead shuttling back and forth with the shovels and directing the different groups to the next spots once they were done. I also popped into stores to tell them what we were up to out front.
It’s perfectly normal to think “Why on earth don’t you just lock your bike to a pole or shove it into the snowbank? Don’t be such a wuss, after all, you biked through the snow just to get here in the first place.” There definitely are bigger problems in the world. But if you have 40 pounds of groceries on your bike, or are towing a trailer, especially with a child, just shoving the bike into the snowbank is much more cumbersome; especially when it would just take 2 minutes to clear the spot of a whole winter’s accumulation.
I doubt that clearing out these spots will convince more people to give up their cars and bike around everywhere, but that’s ok. I am hoping that some of the stores realize that there are people out there now that are shopping at their stores and that we’re a part of the community as well. Also, drawing attention to the spot, maybe people are more apt to notice if it’s used or not. It’s important because in this neighborhood, businesses worry about car parking but only tolerate bikes, or so it seems, but with the risks of dooring it’s important to cut back on the cars parked along this stretch of road.
Some of the store owners were pretty appreciative, coming out to talk to us and show an interest in what we were doing. The manager at the Ottawa Bagelshop even sent out a dozen bagels fresh out of the oven for us. They were delicious.
I was really impressed that Jeff Leiper stuck with us through the whole thing. Most politicians would come out long enough to make an appearance and take off again, but he worked hard and diligently the whole time. Respect!
In the end we cleared out over 4o spots in front of 16 different local businesses in about 2 fun hours, including bagel chewing time. Afterwards we went to take advantage of some newly cleared spots and a tasty lunch.
The spots were quickly put into use:
— Giacomo Panico (@GiacomoPanico) March 9, 2015
Thanks to everyone that came out. It was great to meet some of you for the first time and to see others yet again.