Every Sunday from Victoria Day to Labour Day, the National Capital Commission closes 65km of parkways in both Ottawa and Gatineau to traffic. This practice, called Bikeday Sundays, has been around since 1970. Every Sunday about ten thousand people get out between 6am and 1pm, exploring the region by biking, walking, skating, running, and longboarding.
I rode my first Bikeday Sunday last June, and I rode every Sunday that I was in Ottawa last year. I have the ambition to do the same in 2012. I think that it's important to support a movement like this because it breathes so many valuable positives into a community.
There are very crucial physical benefits to Bikeday Sundays. They promote being physically active - an important lifestlye requirement for everyone. Given that less and less Canadians are getting enough exercise, the importance of a free and local activity is significant. Also, the event makes cycling accessible and safe. I've always maintained that "if cycling infrastructure is built, people will use it". However, another critical piece in the puzzle is getting people to feel safe and comfortable when on a bike. When people feel security on their bikes, they are likely to have a great time. In fact, they may start to bike more and make cycling a more central part of their lives.
There are also important social benefits to Bikeday Sundays. The part that strikes me most is the shared use of space, something which is dwindling in our society. Bikedays is, effectively, people taking back the roads and using them in a democratic and co-operative way. Moreover, the fact that so many people are participating on a weekly basis means that cycling has become, for many people in the National Capital Region, part of the culture. This is something I remark on frequently - whenever I am riding in Ottawa-Gatineau I am surprised at the number of cyclists I encounter. Cycling is a growing trend in Ottawa, and despite the rather lethargic action of the local government, Ottawa tends to appear in lists of best places to cycle. This is more and more becoming part of what it means to live in Ottawa. The fact that Bikeday Sundays is so well supported by the police and by local volunteers also speaks to the fact that the state, business, and community all value a programme like this for its social capital.
With all the political talk around cycling today, such as the removal of bike lanes in Toronto, Ontario potentially introducing legislation to make wearing a helmet mandatory, and municipalities like Kingston creating a more comprehensive cycling infrastructure network, it is heartening to see a non-issue in cycling - something that everyone can get behind with the acknowledgement that a programme is good for individuals, the community, the environment, and the economy.