Archives for posts with tag: bikes

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Vancouver City Council recently voted to remove the elevated highway-like viaducts that have been cutting off its Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods with the rest of downtown Vancouver and False Creek.

Of course, this is a fantastic development for Vancouver, continuing a long history of progressive, people-oriented urban planning.

The removal of these viaducts will improve the surrounding area, making it safer and less hostile to pedestrians. And no, it won’t mean downtown Vancouver will not be inundated with cars. People who chose to drive downtown will find other options, and (hopefully), the money gained from unlocked development opportunities will go directly to transit funding.

As you may know, I visited Vancouver and the Lower Mainland this past summer. I had the opportunity to explore the spaces under — and over — the viaducts.

I was pleased to discover there was a bi-directional bike lane running the length of Vancouver’s viaducts. Approaching the viaducts from Main Street, the elevated roadway and its bike lane quickly climbs uphill, becoming suspended above the city. The feeling of biking the viaduct lanes was thrilling – high above the streets, the viaducts runs over many intersections, curving around the often-renamed Rogers Arena, and depositing cyclists to Yaletown at the base of Vancouver’s downtown core.

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I’ve explored car-style, human scale infrastructure on this blog before, where I described the thrilling experience of biking Halifax’s similar highway-to-nowhere Cogswell interchange, and Montreal’s Rosemont Flyover. Car-style infrastructure at a human scale, I wrote, offers a change in the rhythm of a city and a truly unique urban experience. That is, if it doesn’t define the urban form, and if adequate space for pedestrians is provided.

So, like many urbanists, I celebrate the taking down of Vancouver’s viaducts – ugly barriers that favour cars over humans, preventing vital urban life from thriving.

But I also lament their loss. We praise the Denmark’s cycling highways while we take down our own in Canada.

Imagine what the debate would be like in Toronto if there was a bike lane on the Gardiner Expressway!

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This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof

According to the Covenant House, there are at least 10,000 homeless youth in Toronto during any given year and as many as 2,000 on a given night.

Driven from home by abuse and neglect, homeless youth are more at risk of dying from suicide or drug overdose, and are more likely to be the victims of assault.

Many of these youth have dropped out of school and can’t get jobs because of their lack of education. Without job experiences and a chance to develop life skills, these youth have a difficult time moving forward with their lives.

Agencies serving homeless youth collectively advocate that young people need more job opportunities to sustain a secure and independent life. Employment opportunities are essential to alleviate youth homelessness.

Charlie’s has responded to this directive by providing vocational training for homeless youth. The rigour and structure of our Build-A-Bike program replicates the work environment, and in many cases, is the first step to employment for the homeless youth that participate in the program.

Charlie’s is a unique programming space, where students can overcome issues by focusing on a concrete project. We are a warm and welcoming environment, and the sense of belonging we foster is an essential “soft” contribution to alleviating youth homelessness. A past student we employed puts it well:

They hired me to be a “Shop Administrator”…. It was like jumping into the deep end of a pool. I grew as an individual, and learned a bit about myself… [which has] played a part in who I have become and the experience I have gained.

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We want to take this even further by hiring graduates of our Build-a-Bike program, giving them job experience to propel them forward. We plan to hire one teenaged participant to work with our staff to coordinate, promote and plan Charlie’s Rides for the spring and summer of 2015 and generate interest in Drop-In Hours with local high school students.

We also hope to hire one past graduate of Build-A-Bike programming to teach alongside our mechanic during class. Last year, just less than 10% of our annual operating budget was earmarked for honorariums for youth leaders.

Slowly, we will work alongside other amazing Toronto organizations to provide more employment opportunities for homeless youth. Every job opportunity, every honorarium counts!

Mobility Rings

Check out this map I made for Charlie’s Freewheels to publicize the impact their programming has on empowering youth in Toronto on the occasion of their Indiegogo campaign. It shows, quite simply, that your world it quite small if you walk everywhere, and you can farther, faster by bike. Bikes make the city smaller for everyone – and that makes opportunities for connection and engagement with the rest of the city.

I am pleased to announce I have started to write for Torontoist, one of Toronto’s premier news and culture blogs, as a freelancer, where this post originally appeared

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Today, the average Toronto cyclist is a 35-year-old male who lives in the old City of Toronto and cycles in the West End along established bike lanes. But a non-profit organization is working to diversify the city’s cycling population. Charlie’s Free Wheels teaches young people how to build their own bikes and ride them safely, and they’re pumping out young riders like no one else in the city.

Inspired by and named after Charles Prinsep, who died at 23 after being struck by a car on a cross-continental bike trip, Charlie’s Freewheels wants to encourage young people to explore every nook and cranny of Toronto by bike—and to know, love, and engage with their city. “A bike makes the city seem as if it’s smaller, so everything’s closer to me,” says participant Timothy Calupig.

The organization is based out of Charlie’s Bike Joint at Queen Street East and Sherbourne Street. Flanked by the Sherbourne cycling track, it’s well situated to serve kids from nearby Regent Park and Moss Park—low-income neighbourhoods that could use more cycling support. The not-for-profit bicycle shop out front supports Charlie’s by paying half the rent and regularly donating tools and parts at cost—and all its profits go to the program.

Charlie’s main focus is its free, 10-week Build-A-Bike program. The after-school workshop teaches kids and teens how to build bicycles and offers instruction on basic mechanics and safe riding skills. When students complete the program they get to keep their bike, and they also receive a new lock, a helmet, and access to Charlie’s tools during drop-in hours. After five years, 225 participants have completed the program.

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Charlie’s has also focused on getting more girls on bikes. Last year, it introduced a girls-only Build-A-Bike program that features strong female role models and mechanics who instruct and inspire their students. One participant, Jessica Julian, had just finished the program; though a bit shy, her admitting that “wrenches make make me feel bad-ass” might say it all.

Along with drop-in hours and group ride-alongs through the city, Charlie’s offers the Mobilized FreeWheelers program, which supports young cyclists speaking up about their transportation needs. The program also gathers locally specific knowledge of cycling and transportation based on the experiences of young people in marginalized communities. Its findings were exhibited at the Urban Space Gallery last February.

Charlie’s next few months will be eventful: The organization will build a pedal-powered parts washer, and prepare for a major fundraising campaign to get even more young people on bikes and promote cycling as a driver for positive social change.

Photos courtesy of Charlie’s Free Wheels.

CORRECTION: November 18, 2014, 6:00 PM This post originally stated that the Bike Store is a for-profit venture; that is not the case, and all its profits go to support Charlie’s Freewheels.

ceramic bowl

My parents house is full of stuff. It is brimming. Every room is stacked with old magazines, books and chachkas —  trinkets, never-used glasses and teapots. Old papers of every sort.

As part of this propensity for piling, my mother likes to put large empty ceramic bowls all over the house. Once a bowl is set down on a table- or countertop, it makes a tear in space, creating a vacuum that gets immediately filled with all sorts of the above-mentioned old papers/trinkets/never-used teapots.

My brother get furious at the existence of these bowls. His theory — which I back — is that the useless stuff would not accumulate if the bowl hadn’t created the space for accumulation. Simply: placing a bowl creates a vacuum in space. Refrain from placing the bowls, and  avoid an accumulation of useless objects.

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To bring this post from the realm of private domestic space to public urban space:
In Amsterdam there is a shortage of bike parking spaces. As a result, it’s common to leave your bike free standing and double locked (front wheel and back), not attached to any pole or official bike parking infrastructure in particular. You just leave it standing there. 

Of course, it’s riskier to park your bike this way — free standing and vulnerable — than affixing it to a solid pole or bike stand. But poles and bike stands run out quickly, and you often have no choice but to let your bike free flow. 

There are strategies to make your bike blend in, to make it seem like it is attached to something when it is in fact not. The most common of these strategies is to neatly line up your bike with an existing bike rack to make it seem as though it is attached to the bike rack, when in fact it is floating freely beside it. 

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With this strategy, there is a certain street-wisdom that follows:  you should always park you bike where others have parked their bike, making your bike less of a target, and diminishing the chances of it being stolen.

Sometimes, people line up their bikes spontaneously to create fake bike racks – strength in numbers makes the deception more effective. But this has to start somewhere – someone has to be brave enough to leave their bike free standing, floating, easily taken in the middle of a sidewalk or square.

Like the bowls that fill with useless objects in my parents house, leaving your bike free standing in the middle of a side walk or street creates a vacuum in space, and leads to the accumulation of more bikes.

So, if you’re in the Netherlands, give it a try! leave your bike on its own, free standing , and when your return, a neat fake bike rack will have formed around it. Like a rock that collects moss in a moving river, leaving  your bike free and on its own in a square or on a street will create a bike vacuum, no doubt. 

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

Yesterday we celebrated our fifth birthday with The Pop-Up City Live, an experimental event for urban innovators at De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam. During the fantastically diverse evening, we were inspired by the Mobiators‘ sustainable nomadism, energized by the spirit of Amsterdam’s community blogs, and mesmerized by psychogeographic tours of Venice and Skopje, along with delicious urban foraged-treats from Lynn Shore and Eleftheria Rozi, and funky tunes from the Deer Friends.

We also watched Sander Vandenbroucke’s fantastic film Brussels Express, a short documentary that explores the trials and tribulations experienced by the first bike messengers in Brussels, Europe’s most car-congested city. With colourful racing caps, stylish shoulder bags and speedy road bikes, Karl-Heinz Pohl and Karel Rowies of Pedal BXL aren’t just passionate about their innovative Brussels business: they are dedicated bicycle advocates in Brussels, a city overrun by cars and frozen in gridlock.

Brussels Express

Brussels Express

Brussels Express features amazing scenes of the city, as cyclists dodge the hostile car traffic and congestion. Watching the film, we learnt just how effective cycling is in a city overrun by cars, as bikes slice right through the gridlock, leaving the standing-cars in a cloud of dust. Pedal BXL can make a delivery within 15 minutes as opposed to the 2 hour norm, and is gaining popularity as the most superior delivery method in the city.

Brussels Express

Brussels Express

Brussels Express is a fast moving and engaging documentary with ultimately hopeful undertones: 10 years ago, nobody was cycling in Brussels, but biking is slowly gaining popularity. Local heroes in helmets and fluorescent vests are beginning to reject car culture, and are starting a bicycle revolution. And with a cameo from former Mayor of Copenhagen Klaus Bondam arguing that Belgians have to take a stand for greater mobility, we can tell this short documentary is a genuine and serious about its appeal for a better Brussels by bike.

We really enjoyed watching Brussels Express last night at The Pop-Up City Live — but don’t worry if you couldn’t make it to the event! You can watch the full documentary online. Enjoy!

// Two strong aural memories

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i. Morning on a mid-spring Sunday in Toronto. The city is relatively empty and a street car makes its way north on Bathurst. The distinct hum of the street car’s motion is set against a back drop of almost silence — but of course there are other sounds. The rustling of trees’ leaves, collectively heaving in one direction & then the other, a rattling and whooshing of the city’s canopy as a single entity. The faint city sounds of car doors closing and people shuffling are sharp above the rustling trees but blurred beneath the street car’s hum.

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ii. Biking in Amsterdam, also mid-Spring, though the day of the week doesn’t matter as much. The jangling of my keys as they bang against my bike’s frame, hanging out of the back wheel’s lock. I cycle over a loose brick on the road, and hear its clack as my weight pushes it up. It clangs back down. A tram’s hesitant bell clucks soon after; it whirs by.

I’ve written a lot recently about the concept of geognitive dissonance: geography-induced cognitive dissonance. These are moments when the supposed linearity of space gets warped, and you experience a non-contiguous geography. Times when your senses mix, and vision defers to more subtle, powerful experiences of taste, touch, smell that break at the seams of our notion of objective space. Basically, geognitive dissonance is when you’re in one place, but something causes you to feel like you’re in another place, a place you’ve been before and know quite well.

I realize that I’ve inadvertently written about geognitive dissonance many times without naming it as such.

I’ve written about how the sweet-stale subway scent in Berlin transported me to Toronto’s TTC;

I wrote about closing my eyes on Toronto BIXIs, and feeling as if I were on a bike I got to know in Montreal;

I explored the proliferation of heterogenous big box architecture, and how it served to emphasize the difference of context in a pharmacy of the exact same layout in Montreal versus Halifax.

Though there isn’t a post about it, today with my dad, I biked a former rail path that has since been converted into a bike trail in Nova Scotia, and when I closed my eyes, felt I was in Toronto’s belt line – the same soft gravel crunching under moving wheels, the same sense of enclosure between the trees on each bank, the same light filtering through the leaves.

This is a powerful concept, I think.

It demonstrates that reality is not linear. That our world can never be known fully as objective, and that our senses have transformative, transport-ative properties. Vision and observation only go so far to explain the relationships in this world, as I, for one, experience geognitive dissonance quite often. Perhaps daily.

I know reality through a nuanced, deeply entrenched personal geography, and that personal geography is located squarely in the realm of my senses, altering my perceptions and the spatial locations of vantage points that I interpet the world from.