Wave, July / August 2012
Two years ago, I wrote a column in this magazine praising the benefits of active transportation. At the time, I made the argument that walking, biking and busing to work were great alternatives to the automobile, and challenged everyone to give it a try, just once.
Well, guess what? I was wrong about trying it just once.
The truth, as I have discovered, is that once is not enough. In fact, I believe you need to try it at least three times before deciding whether biking to work is the answer to your transportation needs.
How did I come to this conclusion?
It all started when I returned to work last month from a year's maternity leave. During my absence, two things happened: first, I didn't do any cycling; second, my office relocated from Wolseley to the Exchange District.
You can see the problem. Upon my return to work, I not only had to get back into the habit of biking to the office, I also had to identify a new route to get there - through some of the busiest streets in Winnipeg. And that's when things got a little complicated - or at least I made them complicated.
My first ride to work felt like I was going to the moon on the space shuttle. I felt uncomfortable with my route and less than confident in my ability to ride my bike (despite the cliché, "It's like riding a bike"). And then there was the weather. I was caught off guard by the sudden rain showers. Needless to say, all I could think about that first day was how much easier it would have been had I driven my car to work.
Then I realized my mistake. I had neglected to follow the basic steps for successful active commuting, which I had shared in my previous column - plan your route, be prepared for a variety of weather conditions, and try out new routes when streets are quieter, like on the weekend.
This is what I learned from my first day back riding to work:
This is the key to success, as I learned after my first uncomfortable ride to work. As a result, I did two things: I checked out the new City of Winnipeg cycling map to find a direct route that included a bike boulevard (Warsaw Ave), a bike lane (Harrow St.), a cycle track (Assiniboine Ave.), and a bike lane/sharrow (Hargrave). I also asked people who also cycle into the downtown for tips on the best routes. Check out the City of Winnipeg's website for the cycling map and Green Action Centre for a description of the new cycling infrastructure.
Never leave home without my rain jacket. Our weather has been very unpredictable lately (even for me, a girl from British Columbia) and you just never know - so be prepared. Dress in bright, bold colours and have front and back lights on the bike to be more visible on the roads.
A practice ride (or two) would have helped me feel more confident during rush hour traffic. I also signed up for an adult cycling course to help me navigate the new cycling infrastructure. To find other great city cycling courses offered in your neighbourhood, check out:
- The City of Winnipeg's adult cycling course through the Leisure Guide;
- Manitoba Public Insurance's cycling safety program;
- the WRENCH program; or
- your neighbourhood bike shop.
The third time was the charm - I worked out the kinks in my route, I now feel more confident and prepared, and enjoy arriving to work happy and energized after a safe and comfortable ride into the office! I've also noticed that cyclists and pedestrians greet each other with a smile - when was the last time another motorist smiled at you!?
Give active transportation a try, actually three tries!
Deanna Betteridge is a co-ordinator with Winnipeg in motion.