The city of Ottawa has been accused of ignoring the education component of its cycling strategy while it builds its cycling infrastructure across the municipality.
To educate cyclists of all skill levels, the city runs CAN-Bike, a certified cycling curriculum created by the Canadian Cycling Association.
Ottawa’s spring and summer schedule provided 56 opportunities for children, adults, novices and experts to learn to ride a bike or gain confidence commuting on major roads. But 46 per cent of those were cancelled due to low registration according to city spokesperson Jocelyne Turner, a statistic the Responsible Cycling Coalition said is the result of poor marketing.
“The training as it exists is not being used because it’s not being promoted by the city,” said Avery Burdett, a co-founder of the small group that promotes vehicular cycling and opposes segregated bicycle lanes. “The city needs to take cycling far more seriously than they do. It has to be recognized that skills will reduce the risk of people getting injured.”
Ontario’s chief coroner reviewed the circumstances of cyclist deaths across the province between 2006 and 2010, and found that 73 per cent of cases identified cyclist errors as contributing factors.
The city’s CAN-Bike portfolio manager Janice Phillips agreed that skilled cyclists will be safer on the roads – that’s the drive behind the CAN-Bike program, which has a $40,000 budget in Ottawa. She said that some CAN-Bike programs are inevitably cancelled, but the program is built that way to increase opportunity ahead of demand.
“We’re trying to build it so we’re putting out more programs than we expect to fill,” she said.
Between 50 and 75 people take the CAN-Bike courses every season she said, and programs usually require a four-person minimum to proceed.
The schedule was dominated by children’s courses, but also included commuter traffic skills courses, and a teen course on Friday nights, a women’s safety course, a seniors’ course and CAN-Bike level one and two courses. Private lessons on your own driveway are also available. New this year, the city will also offer four autumn sessions for children in September, as well as an instructor’s course.
City spokesperson Jocelyne Turner said there has been increased demand for private lessons this year, as well as the free “cycling rodeos” and safety workshops that are offered in partnership with Ottawa Public Health’s injury prevention helmet promotion program.
Turner said those workshops have reached 2,805 children and 493 adults through 33 events, and more events are planned for the fall.
Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said the city should split its efforts equally between building infrastructure like segregated bike lanes and educating cyclists and drivers.
“We have to do both. I don’t think it’s either-or,” he said. “We have to reinstate really good education programs and get them into schools.”
He said CAN-Bike specifically needs more attention from the city.
“They used to do much more and then it got cut, and then it got brought back in a much more modest way,” he said. “But I think we have to find a way to really properly fund
and find a way to make available Can-Bike” or another education program, he said.
In terms of promotion, Canadian Cycling Association’s CAN-Bike co-ordinator Andy Wilson said the national organization gives local facilitators the logos and materials to promote the courses, and it’s up to them to market them to its residents.
He said the cycling association is partly to blame for the fact that CAN-Bike has not become the household name it should have been since it was created in the 1980s.
“It’s something we’re working on, the branding aspect of it. We’ve recognized that it needs to be a household name, it needs to be recognized and have a specific look,” he said.
Turner said CAN-Bike programs are promoted locally at city events, on the website and posters at city facilities, as well as in flyers distributed by Ottawa Public Health.
But drivers also have a responsibility to understand cycling signals and rules.
“The city could do more in active education, not only for cyclists but for drivers. It’s the whole ‘share the road’ thing. Both parties have to act responsibly,” said Bushtukah’s cycling manager Peter Shattmann.
Cyclist Michelle Tribe agreed, noting that there needs to be a culture of respect.
“We’re all kind of selfish about our spots on the road,” she said. “People are working 9 to 5 jobs and just think ‘Got to get to work, got to get home,’ and it’s a mentality of ‘everyone’s in my way.’ But you have the right no matter who you are or what vehicle you’re taking to be there.”