Cycling Commentary – Separation and Motivation

Our society has advanced to the point where we are separated from the effect that we’re having on the world around us.  For example, we turn on the tap in our kitchen sink and we get a seemingly endless supply of clean, fresh water.  Do we ever think of where it comes from, or the path it took to get from its source to the kitchen?  Probably not, because we’re separated from the process.

Similarly, on a weekly basis, we put out a bag (or in my neighbour’s case five bags) of garbage on the curb in front of our house.  A truck comes by and takes it away and it’s quickly erased from our mind. There’s no thought to where it goes, how it gets there, and what happens to it because we’re separated from the process. The same can be said for the food we eat.  Or the technology we use and the clothes we wear.

On a similar note, when we’re in a car, we’re separated from the world around us.  Car advertisements promote a “quiet” ride, meaning we can’t hear the world outside our car.  They’ll also promote a 12-speaker stereo system, bluetooth connection to our smartphone, satellite radio,  and now smart cars – all features that continue to separate us from any interaction from the outside world.  Windows are rolled up so air conditioning can run in summer and the heater can be turned on in winter.  Everything about cars serves to separate us more from the outside world.

This is one of the main reasons motorists feel a sense of entitlement when driving out on the roads.  Anything that interrupts their “driving experience” is a nuisance.  And it’s this driving experience that is promoted and accepted in our society.  Driving a car is more than a convenience; it’s part of our way of life.

I don’t think many people will argue against the benefits of walking, cycling or public transit or other non-car-related modes of transportation.  However, if you were to take away their free parking in the city, there would be an uproar.

In order create a fundamental change in someone’s habits, there needs to be an incentive.  So: How do we get people out of their cars and onto their bikes?  Here are my suggestions:

  1. Employers can offer incentives for employees who take public transit, cycle, walk or even car-pool to work.  This type of program would not only benefit the employees, but the employer would benefit by having healthier staff. A study in the Netherlands showed that biggest motivators for people to ride to work were (1) cash, and (2) social or peer group motivation. There’s even an app called Biko, where sponsors have aligned with Biko to offer deals at restaurants, coffee shops, breweries.  Biko started in South America but is now available in Toronto and Vancouver.
  2. Disincentivize driving by charging more for parking at malls, offices etc.  while offering safe (lockers), free parking for bicycles.  For example, there’s currently no financial incentive for people to take public transit to the University of Waterloo because monthly parking is cheaper than a bus pass.  Stores will resist this, stating that their business will drop, but at the same time, cycling and pedestrian traffic will increase.  In Waterloo, the new LRT construction on King Street has taken years and millions of dollars.  However, cycling was not part of this huge overhaul in infrastructure.  On-street parking on King Street took precedence over bike lanes.  Construction is still taking place, so I’ll reserve final judgment for now.
  3. Connected, protected bike lanes and trails so cyclists will feel safe from motorized traffic.  Check out this before/after shot of bike lanes in London:

    Before/After photos of a road in London. Cycling infrastructure CAN happen and it has happened!

  4. Bike share programs.  KW has started a program here.

It can be done but it will require a shift in the way we think about things and it will require a government that is willing to make drastic changes. 

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Tribute to Gord Downie

How do you measure the impact that someone you’ve never met has had on your life? Sometimes it takes their passing to ask ourselves this question.  We found out Gord Downie had cancer in the spring of 2016, and with his death this week, I found myself trying to rationalize the passing of another musician, and categorizing it in a manner similar to other recent deaths like Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Tom Petty: legendary musicians whose music is part of my life soundtrack

But with Downie’s death, it’s much more personal and I’ve been trying to reconcile these emotions.  It feels like it more closely resembles the death of a close friend or family member, rather than a rock star.  Gord felt like one of us: Canadian.  And he showed us how to be Canadian and to be proud to be a Canadian.

I could list dozens of Tragically Hip and Gord Downie songs with Canadian references, but you can look that up.  Instead, I’ll recount my Hip history, in part as a record of my musical tastest, but also because by doing so, I hope to be able to get others to appreciate the impact of Gord and the Hip’s music on our lives.

I first heard of the Hip in 1989 when I was in fourth year at the University of Waterloo.  My roommate had “Up to Here” on vinyl and was raving about them.  I listened, but the music didn’t stick with me at the time.  The 80s were ending, and I was never really into 80s music in high school or university; I was still into classics like the Beatles, Stones, CCR, Neil Young.  Their name came up again in 1990 when I was in Ottawa for Canada Day.  The Hip played a set at Landsdowne Park.  Still relatively unknown, they shared the bill with Colin James and Kim Mitchell (who was the headlining act).

In 1991, when I was in grad school, they released their second album, Road Apples.  They probably played the college scene a lot, but I didn’t see them.  I did see other Canadian artists that were emerging around this time: Blue Rodeo, the Grapes of Wrath, Sarah McLachlan.  I was aware of the Hip but still didn’t have their albums, nor had I seen them live.  In 1992, “Fully Completely” came out and I remember the first time I heard “Locked in the Trunk of a Car”.  I was in my car (driving, not locked in the trunk) and I was consumed by the darkness of the song.  The pounding beat of the song felt like the beat of a pounding heart.

It wasn’t until 1995 (after their 1994 album “Day for Night”) when I finally saw them live.  They headlined the festival: Another Roadside Attraction and I saw them at the Cayuga Speedway near Hagersville (I did appreciate the significance of seeing them “out at the speedway”).  I found the setlist from that concert here. I saw them again in 1996 at Maple Leaf Gardens after the release of their 1996 album “Trouble at the Henhouse”. In hindsight (and with 20+ years of perspective), I can look back at this show as the most Canadian music experience I’ve had.  The opening band, Rheostatics, became a favourite soon thereafter.  The Hip of course, represented Canada in the best possible way.  They were unique and unashamed to be Canadian and sing about Canada.  They made it cool to be Canadian.

They didn’t gain the kind of popularity in the US as they probably deserved, but that was part of their appeal.  They belonged to us, and we didn’t want to share them.

I saw Mr. Downie perform some of his solo material in 2011 at the Harvest Greenbelt Festival near Hamilton, and then I was lucky enough to see the Hip in 2016 at Copps Coliseum on their huge cross-country tour (I know the name of this venue has changed, but it will always be Copps to me).

This week on CBC’s Q, Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle mentioned this lyric as possibly the most Canadian lyric.  It’s from the Hip’s song “Fireworks”

If there’s a goal that everyone remembers,
It was back in ol’ 72
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I remember is sitting beside you
You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey
And I never saw someone say that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr
And the song “Bobcaygeon” rings of imagery that we can all envision.
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time
Below, I’ve included a few photos I’ve taken over the years.  Gord Downie’s music career spanned over 30 years and I’m at an age when I’ve been able to follow all of it.  When news of his death became public, dozens of tributes and interviews came out.  His impact on other musicians and artists was immeasurable.  But his musical impact on millions will go on for generations.
Hey man, thanks!

Gord at the Harvest Greenbelt festival in 2011

Walk of Fame in Toronto

The Hip – Copps Coliseum – August 2016.

August 2016

I dug out my 50 mission cap. I worked it in to look like that.

October Long Weekend Cycling – Summer Weather

I’ve always thought that weather is perfect when we’re not talking about it.  It’s easy to say it’s too cold or too hot or too humid or too windy or too wet to go for a bike ride.  2017 has been an interesting year, weather-wise.  Summer was probably “average, in terms of temperature and rainfall, but it seemed like we didn’t have the heatwave that we normally get, and it seemed to rain every few days.

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Cycling Book Review – A Purpose Ridden – by Ryan Correy

When I write these blog entries, I usually assume that I’m preaching to the choir.  Most readers are likely people who actively ride bicycles.  And that’s great!  When I started this blog, my hope was to encourage more people to cycle but also to get cyclists to cycle more.  Whether or not that’s happening, I can’t say, but I’m always interested in discovering what motivates people to get on a bike.

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