What would a 40 km/h limit mean for Ontario?

On January 28, pretty much all the major news sources in Ontario reported that the Government of Ontario is considering a couple options to facilitate the widespread introduction of lower speed limits in urban areas:

  1. Changing the default urban speed limit from 50 km/h to 40 km/h, either on a province-wide or municipal basis, or
  2. Introducing the concept of a “speed limit zone” where speed limits are assigned to areas within a city, rather than each individual street.

Because none of the articles really explain the significance of these options, I feel the need to explain these concepts myself.

Continue reading

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Notes from Europe: Parking in the Bike Lane

Last year, I posed the question of how to address the issue of vehicles parking in bicycle lanes.  I thought that perhaps my trip to the world’s leading cycling countries would provide me with some insight on the matter.

But looking through my pictures after getting back to Canada, I realized that almost every picture I took of an on-street bicycle lane suggested problems with parked vehicles.

Here is the new town centre of Houten Zuid, where I was taking a picture of the new train station, Houten Castellum:DSC_1673

In the next picture, I was showing the very simple way in which traffic is calmed on this rural route heading out of Utrecht.  This is an “advisory” bicycle lane, so I’m not sure if whether or not the van is allowed to park there:DSC_1503

And finally, a creative use of the European “No Stopping” sign outside an ice cream shop in Utrecht:

NO STOPPING - Sorry, you may not stand/park here.  Parking spots 15 metres further, on the left.

“NO STOPPING – Sorry, you may not stand/park here. Parking spaces 15 metres further, on the left.”

Despite this issue being prominent in my pictures, I did not actually experience any problems with cars parked in bicycle lanes while in Europe.  This is mostly because I didn’t experience bicycle lanes much in the first place.

Painted lanes make up only a very small sliver of the bicycle facility spectrum in the Netherlands and Denmark.  Far more often, traffic speeds or volumes are considered to be high enough to require a physically separate path, or traffic speeds and volumes are lowered to the point that bicycles comfortably share the street without any dedicated provision.  In either of those situations, parking is not a problem.


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Notes from Europe: Cycling in the Suburbs

This summer I spent three weeks in Europe, experiencing two of the world’s most bicycle-friendly regions: the Randstad Region in the Netherlands, and the Øresund Region in Denmark and Sweden.

Northern European urban regions, of course, have a very different structure to Canadian ones. But outside of the ancient centres, there are more similarities than you’d expect.

Over the next few weeks I will be covering some of the more surprising commonalities between Waterloo Region and the world’s leading cycling nations.

Suburban Cycling in Europe

When people visit the Øresund or Randstad regions, they tend to stay in the city centres:


Copenhagen, Denmark


Malmö, Sweden


Utrecht, The Netherlands


Den Haag (The Hague), The Netherlands

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

(And of course Amsterdam, though I didn’t visit).

These areas all have exemplary levels of cycling, but they are so different from the typical North American urban form that is difficult to see how we could achieve such a level of cycling in our domestic context. Instead, people come to the conclusion that mass cycling in Europe is simply the result of factors such as the small-scale built form and the society’s culture – elements which would be quite challenging to replicate here.

But what is very exciting from a North-American point of view is that even suburban areas have substantial cycling rates, despite having low densities and segregated land uses.

And apart from the high-quality bicycle infrastructure, many areas even look remarkably similar to Waterloo:

This is not Keats Way

This is not Keats Way

This is not Homer Watson Blvd

This is not Homer Watson Blvd


The most striking example I found of a bicycle-oriented suburban community was Houten, The Netherlands.

Cycling in Houten

Houten is a town about 7 km south of Utrecht, which was mostly built post-1964 to accommodate Utrecht’s growing demand for family-oriented housing.  It now has a population of almost 50,000, and as with many other suburban communities, the majority of residents work elsewhere.

The bicycle path becomes a shared street at the sign.

Houten, The Netherlands

And yet, the level of cycling is phenomenal.  I couldn’t find overall modal share statistics, but the municipal website says that 42% of all trips under 7.5 km (i.e. within the town) are taken by bicycle. My guess is that it translates to around 30% of all trips, which is on par with much larger and denser cities such as Rotterdam and Copenhagen, and well ahead of anywhere outside of Northern Europe.

The reason for the high cycling rate is no mystery.  The town was designed from scratch with the goal of minimizing short-distance car trips and maximizing safety.  Cycling routes are direct, while almost all car trips involve leaving town and traveling around the ring road.  Cycling around town is incredibly convenient, safe, and comfortable, thanks to severely limited motor vehicle speeds and volumes.

Residential street in Houten

Residential street in Houten – The curves keep vehicle speeds low

What about Waterloo?

Waterloo Region will never achieve cycling rates on par with Houten, because the latter was custom-built for the purpose.  But I believe that Waterloo is one of Ontario’s best-poised regions to become a very bicycle-friendly community.  While many view our suburban nature as an impediment to bicycle-friendliness, it can also be an asset.

In more dense communities like central Toronto or Hamilton, bicycle infrastructure projects are often fought viciously because they necessitate taking space away from other uses, typically motor traffic movement or parking.  But in Waterloo, infrastructure is introduced fairly easily since many of our arterials have space reserved for expansion that has yet to be allocated to motor vehicles.

But in the end, the key reason that Waterloo is poised to become a great cycling region is that there is no other alternative. Unlike cycling or driving, walking and public transit are highly dependent on density.

There are a few corridors such as University Avenue and King Street which are seeing development at a high enough density to support high-quality transit service. But even in the most ambitious development scenarios, a large proportion of Waterloo Region’s residents will continue to live in areas too spread-out to support frequent transit service or have a meaningful number of destinations within walking distance.

Statistics Canada notes that in the current situation where cycling is a negligible part of transportation, there is a strong inverse correlation between density and car use.  Based on the European experience, if cycling were a more central part of our transportation system, this would not be so much the case.

Posted in Waterloo | 3 Comments

Waterloo Region Elections – Oct 27 2014

Make sure to cast your ballot on Monday, October 27 as our local communities in Waterloo Region gear up to elect new mayors, councilors and trustees.

Our friends at TriTAG, have a summary of candidate positions on active transportation issues, ranging from the LRT to our bicycle network strategy.

Be informed and encourage your friends and neighbours to vote :)

Posted in Community | Tagged , , , , ,

Municipal Candidates endorse cycling and active transportation in Waterloo Region

It’s exciting to see our Municipal leaders lining up to sign the Active Communities pledge support active transportation. It’ll be even more interesting to see how this pledge translates when it comes to approval of the Uptown King St protected bicycle lanes.

Both voters and candidates can take the active communities pledge.

Full text of the press release by TriTAG and Share the Road below!



Campaign invites municipal candidates to endorse cycling and active transportation before Waterloo Region residents go to the polls on October 27th.

WATERLOO REGION – September 2, 2014.  Twenty-four municipal candidates from Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo have pledged to support walking and biking in their communities if elected, more than all other Ontario municipalities combined. In the wake of recent opinion polls that show growing support for measures to promote cycling, this Ontario-wide campaign is asking candidates in the upcoming October 27th municipal election to back policies that support cycling and other forms of active transportation.

In addition to having the most council and mayoral candidates supporting the pledge, the Region also boasts the first two school board trustee candidates to support safer walking and cycling to school.

“Waterloo Region has recognized and embraced the importance of active transportation, and has shown leadership and dedication to creating more walkable, bikeable and livable communities. The benefits of this approach are becoming widely recognized, a fact that is reflected in the broad support for the Active Communities Pledge amongst candidates for municipal and regional office in the upcoming election.” said Justin Jones, Manager of the Bicycle Friendly Communities program with Share the Road. “At Share the Road we’re pleased to see so many champions for active transportation emerging in the Waterloo Region, and look forward to working with whichever candidates are elected to ensure that all communities in Waterloo Region continue to be provincial leaders in creating healthier, more prosperous and better connected communities.”

The Active Communities Pledge campaign invites all municipal candidates to:

  • Promote active transportation, including cycling and walking, in their community;

  • Support the construction of new projects that serve to make walking and cycling easier and more accessible to all residents, regardless of age or ability;

  • Support their community in applying for a Bicycle Friendly Community designation from Share the Road or, if the community is already recognized as a BFC, work towards achieving the next award level by the end of this upcoming term;

  • Work to ensure that their community supports and contributes to the implementation of the Ontario Cycling Strategy #CycleOn by developing programs, projects and policies that enhance safety, drive tourism, provide economic spinoffs and promote overall health in the community;

  • Support the development of a Complete Streets Policy in their community to ensure that all roads serve all road users in a safe, effective manner;

  • Ensure that their community has a dedicated funding source for active transportation projects to ensure consistent, continuous improvement in the conditions for cyclists and pedestrians.

Cycling and active transportation advocates in Waterloo Region and across Ontario are emphasizing that the Active Communities Pledge is about boosting awareness of the issues, not pressuring politicians.

“Candidates and voters know that neighbourhoods and communities that are walkable and bikeable offer a better quality of life. They reduce traffic congestion and cut pollution, boost local retail spend, draw in new tourist dollars, promote a healthy lifestyle for adults and children, and help build a friendlier, more cohesive community,” said Mike Boos, a member of the Tri-cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG). “Active transportation will also be vital to the success of ION rapid transit. Moreover, communities that have focused on building walkable, bikeable places have proven that the long-term infrastructure costs associated with active transportation are much lower than auto-dependent infrastructure, resulting in a lower tax burden for our residents in the long run. This campaign is about increasing public awareness, building voter support, and encouraging our local politicians to make a commitment to bike friendly policies that will benefit our entire community.”

The cities of Waterloo and Kitchener have already been recognized for supporting bicycling and active transportation through Silver Bicycle Friendly Community designations in 2014.

The Share the Road Coalition, which is sponsoring the province-wide Active Communities Pledge Campaign, released a province-wide poll (2014) showing that:

  • 68 per cent of the Ontario Residents said that the provincial government should invest in infrastructure for cyclists to encourage more people to ride their bikes more often. The survey also indicated that:

  • 70 per cent of Ontarians agree that better infrastructure would get more people riding their bikes

  • 66 per cent of Ontarians agree that getting more people on bikes benefits everyone, not just cyclists

  • 89 per cent Of Ontarians support programs that are focused on getting more children to walk and bike to school

For a full list of candidates who have signed the pledge go to: http://www.activecommunitiespledge.ca/see-who-signed.php

The Tri-cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) is a local grassroots organization advocating for the ability to walk, bike, or take transit in Waterloo Region with dignity. In addition to supporting the Active Communities Pledge, TriTAG is preparing a survey on walking, bicycling, and transit issues for local municipal election candidates, the responses of which will be published in October.

For information:

Mike Boos, Executive Committee Member, Tri-cities Transport Action Group 226-476-1313 ext. 804 or media@tritag.ca

Justin Jones, Manager, Bicycle Friendly Communities, Share the Road Cycling Coalition 416-617-4973 or Justin@sharetheroad.ca

Posted in Cambridge, Community, Kitchener, News, Waterloo, Waterloo Region | Tagged , , ,

August 2014 Open Streets and Bicycle Security

I love my home in Waterloo Region. This past weekend was the first at home since before Father’s Day. Being away really helped me see my community through fresh eyes again. There are so many community builders who are helping to shape us into a livable, sustainable city.

There were lots of people out to Open Streets Waterloo this past weekend. It surprised me cause my neighbourhood was super quiet, it seemed lots were away, but everyone who was in the city seemed to come to Uptown.

It was quite a bizarre mix, kids zone to urban evangelists to crotch rockets to wrestling.

And a real twilight zone lesson on bicycle security.

Right outside the Starlight, I came across this bike frame that was still locked, but had been totally stripped, as in only the crank and bottom bracket remained.

I figured it was a good example of how not to lock a bike, especially a $1500 mountain bike.

DSC_0991After I snapped the picture, the guy in the grey shoes (top right) rather sheepishly said ‘I guess it’s worthy of a picture’.  And then promptly unlocked the bike and proceeded to tell me his story.

The night before he’d come to the Starlight, and partied way too hard. After drinking himself silly, he passed out in the washroom. His friends somehow got him home.

He was dumbfounded how in one night on the busiest street in town, his $1500 bicycle was dismantled. I wanted to tell him how to properly lock his bike, but he was hurting too much.

Hal are you around?

While we’re on the topic of bike security, what do you think about Waterloo’s new on street parking?

On Street Bike Parking, Waterloo (Willis Way and Regina)

On Street Bike Parking, Waterloo (Willis Way and Regina)

Some other pictures from Open Streets Waterloo.



Waterloo Active Transportation Coordinator John Griffin

Waterloo Active Transportation Coordinator John Griffin

Red tiger striped leotards are wrong

Red tiger striped leotards are wrong

music rocks

music rocks

Waterloo Parks new playground, kids loved it!

Waterloo Parks new playground, kids loved it!


Posted in Bicycles, Community, Security, Stolen, Waterloo | Tagged , | 6 Comments

A note to the Danish tourists who are horrified by our car culture

Dear Horrified Danish Tourists, (i wish i had a photo of a horrified danish tourist)

There are a number of Canadians (lots actually) who are likewise horrified and are working to change car culture, lessen the need for parking lots, refuse to be traffic, live active life styles and are working out meaningful community #waterloobikes #awesome

via National Post – link

An open letter to the people who hold power and responsibility in Canada,

My girlfriend and I (Danish) were tourists in your country for 5 weeks this summer. We had the most incredible adventure and met the most wonderful Canadians, who welcomed us warmly into their homes.

Apart from these people, who sincerely do your nation credit, our overwhelming memory of Canada is one of cars, traffic, parking and the related obesity and unfulfilled communities. It is an impression that we have since shared with other tourists who have visited Canada.

Before arriving in Canada we had a genuine impression of a clean, healthy and sustainable first world country. Upon arrival in Toronto we were horrified to see great oceans of car parks deserting the landscape and 12 lane high ways, rammed packed with huge SUVs, with people going no where. A greater shock came when we discovered that this kind of infrastructure is not reserved just for the sprawl surrounding towns and cities but that highways actually run through city centres too. As humans trying to enjoy Canada’s major cities (Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Halifax) we were treated like second class citizens compared to cars. The air was dirty, and the constant noise from horns and engines was unpleasant.

An observation that was especially noticeable in Halifax was the sheer amount of land in the city centre given to parking. Ginormous swaths of prime locations for living (parks, shops, cafés, market squares, theatres, playing fields etc – human activities which are key to quality of life) concreted over as homes for an ever increasing number of SUVs (most trucks and SUVs we saw contained only one person. The most SUVs we saw in a row were full of singular people driving through Tim Hortens). We asked the Canadians that we met how they felt living in such a car culture, here are a few of their responses:

‘Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger trousers.’ Ottawa

‘It’s only 10km to my work place. I would love to cycle, it would only take 30 minutes but it is simply not possible. I don’t feel safe. Instead I park and sweat, meaning after 25 minutes stuck in traffic I drive my car to the gym and waste another 25 minutes of time I could spend with my family.’ Quebec City

‘I hate cars in the city so much that I actually find myself slowing down as I cross the road, in a tiny effort to exert my authority as a human being over all that metal.’ Toronto

‘It seems to me that birds fly, fish swim and humans walk. Except in North America where you are expected to drive-everywhere. You wouldn’t put a fish in a submarine!’ Montreal

‘I am obese. My children are overweight and most of the people who live around here. I am surrounded by fast food chains, car parks and highways. I would love to ditch the car. My neighbourhood doesn’t even have sidewalks.’ Levis

As we explored more of the country we tried to console ourselves that at least a few cities were making an effort to make life liveable for humans – small local businesses, cycle infrastructure and pedestrianised streets. However, it felt like a token gesture rather than a genuine effort to make Canada a healthy, happy and sustainable country. Pedestrians were squeezed onto narrow pavements and forced to stop every 100m to cross the road, bike lanes were little more than paint on the ground for the cyclists to help protect the parked cars lining every street. We heard that the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is actually tearing up bicycle lanes to make way for more cars!

Walking and cycling are human activities that bring great life, health and economy to communities. Streets that prioritise cars over humans are bad for business, bad for health (mental, social and physical), unsafe and break down communities.

I write this letter to appeal to you to take radical steps to transform Canada into the healthy, happy and sustainable country we were expecting. You are a nation of the most fantastic people, we know because we met them everywhere! As citizens they deserve much, much better.

Come on Canada! When tourists visit Canada make sure they remember it for for its parks rather than parking.

Sincerely yours,
Holly Chabowski

Posted in Bicycles, Bring it, Community, Vent | Tagged , ,