Keep On Keeping On

It has been months since I have had time to write a blog for my own site because I have been travelling.  Most notably to the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference which took me away from May 31-June 16, 2012.  During that time I was busy working on our Study Team Blog – Quebec1.  For information on this amazing conference and my tour check out:


Upon my return, my travels were not done and other than one or two trips into the office by bike this week marked the first time that I could really get back on my Trek saddle.  It has been 3-Months since I started by urban commuting travels and based on my tracking I have logged over 375 km on my bike associated with work.  I have logged much more when I add in personal travel on weekends and evenings.


What have I learned in the past months:


  1. About Myself:  I have learned that I am stronger, healthier and “in-control”.  The strength in my legs is noticeable and I am thinking a 3 gear bike might not be enough going forward.  In terms of healthier, I am noticeably tanned and have muscle tone.  Prior to my cycling journey I lost close to 30 pounds so cycling is helping me to maintain my weight.  I feel “in-control” because I don’t rush as much.  I know the bike travel may take me a few minutes more so I account for the time and tend to arrive on time with a clear mind.


  1. About Sustainability: I have learned that as a City we need to continue to educate, demonstrate and invest in sustainable commuting options for all citizens.  In terms of education, it would be easy to put out the standard wording on cycling safety and such, but I want to talk about educating business owners related to infrastructure.  Over the past few months I have locked my bike to a wide variety of objects including a tree, a removable handicap sign; a chain link fence and a lamp post.  Somehow we the cyclists or we the city or we the citizens need to encourage land owners to want to invest in simple; sturdy and safe cycle parking options.  There are so many sites that are amazing such as Conestoga Mall.  But others that are terrible such as the plaza onNorthfieldhousing the Keg; Williams and Sushi 99. 


In terms of demonstration, I think all cyclists in Waterloo Region need to work harder to encourage other cyclists to ride correctly and safely; to emphasize how it is we are sharing the road and to be patient with our four wheel companions.  As well, we need to demonstrate to our children, our children’s children and our neighbour’s children safe cycling habits including: riding on the correct side of the road; riding on the road or multi-use trail as opposed to the side walk; following road signage; signaling turning intentions and wearing helmets.


With regard to investment, there is no question that the City is on the right track with regard to building complete streets that support all commuting options including cars, transit; cyclists and pedestrians.  It is cost effective. However the courage to make this investment against the opposition of individuals who do not want to share the road corridors is really hard to both find and maintain.  I worry about this aspect of investment and encourage all of you reading this to think about the ways in which you demonstrate support for those in decision making roles within your community.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, if you have please let me know.


Councillor Diane Freeman

Twitter: @dianelfreeman



  1. Chris Klein · July 18, 2012

    Your last paragraph really hits home. Council’s recent deferral of Lexington seems to reflect some of that unwillingness to share road corridors. When the plan returns to council, I intend to sign up as a delegation because I believe there’s a substantial gap between the perception and reality of this particular corridor.

    To look at it positively, I think Waterloo’s doing a pretty good job on cycling infrastructure. But it feels a little disjoint… like efforts are isolated or inconsistent, or that not everyone is on message with what the city’s own stated goals are.

    After a decade or so of opportunistic spot improvements in this city, I think we’ve reached a stage where a more systematic approach to remove obstacles and bridge gaps is needed. It does seem to be where the city government loses its stomach for progress, but this is a hump we have to figure out a way over.

    Thank you for your efforts so far!

    • dianelfreeman · July 19, 2012

      Thanks for you comments Chris. The Lexington project should return to Council in the fall.


  2. Mike Boos · July 20, 2012

    Hi Diane

    Thanks for pushing for better infrastructure.

    I have to wonder though, if a focus on cycling behaviour is putting the cart before the horse. I believe sidewalk cycling and a failure to conform to predictable road norms can be symptoms of a lack of safe infrastructure and education. I don’t think these excuse poor behaviour, but I’m very doubtful trying to change this behaviour without addressing the underlying causes will have a positive effect. If a group is marginalized by infrastructure, rules, and even enforcement, you’re not going to generate enthusiasm for cooperating with the system. It also means that cycling will remain closed to most of those who might otherwise be inclined to be exemplary cycling citizens. I get that poor cycling behaviour does tend to get used as an argument against investing in better infrastructure, but we need to somehow change the conversation to get people thinking about what would actually make a difference here.

    As for helmet use, I was a fairly regular helmet wearer, up until the Coroner’s review came out. Then I started doing some research, and found that most of the research that hasn’t been influenced by funding from helmet manufacturers is quite fuzzy on what the actual effectiveness of helmets can be. (A good literature review is found here: In some studies, it is even suggested that wearing a helmet can induce cars to give a cyclist less space on the road. The testing standards for bicycle helmets are quite limited and are not comparable to most car-bicycle collisions. Experience in other jurisdictions shows that mandating helmet use has a strongly negative impact on cycling rates and overall safety. There is some indication that mere helmet promotion actually discourages cycling. (For a good look at the culture of fear around cycling and helmets, watch I’m now more selective in when I feel wearing a helmet is appropriate, and I certainly believe that governments are doing far more harm than good when they push helmet use as a means of promoting safety.


    • dianelfreeman · July 25, 2012

      Thanks for the comment Mike. I am thrilled with the on-going conversations around active transportation. I actually completed a response last week, but it was lost to cyber space.

      With regard to cycling behaviour and whether it is the cart before the horse I want to share again the words of Andreas Rohl, Manager City of Copenhagen Bicycle Program. Andreas said “do not think of cycling safety” because it drives the suspicion that cycling is not safe. His analogy is this: if I say don’t think of an elephant you will think of an elephant right? Constant discussion around safety is the elephant in the room related to cycling. Cycling infrastructure should be about providing clarity on how to share the road but it can not be assumed to create safety. I really worry that people believe the only way they will be safe is if they have 3 feet or 4 feet of the road to lay a claim to and once they are in that space they are safe. It is not the case and we have seen that in recent accidents. Here in Waterloo a cyclist was killed on University while riding in a bike lane. Only diligence on behalf of the cyclist and car driver will assure safety.

      With regard to helmet and the coroners report I really can not comment other than to say I was chatting with my friends at the Share-the-Road Coalition this past weekend and they continue to be very strong advocates for helmet use.

      I also would like to answer a twitter question regarding painting of the bike box on Davenport Road. There is not a transportation standard regarding the colour of a bike box in Ontario and while some municipalities have chosen to paint the background another colour, the City of Waterloo is not planning to do that. The City of Waterloo chose to use more durable white paint markings over the use of two colours.


      • Michael Druker · July 29, 2012

        ”Only diligence on behalf of the cyclist and car driver will assure safety.”

        I just wanted to respond to that, as I don’t agree. If the infrastructure is good enough, this is not the case. On University Avenue, cars go 70+ km/h, and a little strip of paint does nothing to give cyclists any dedicated space. Put the cyclists on the other side of the curb and grass, and a cyclist’s life no longer depends on the diligence of unlicensed, distracted drivers.

        There’s two main issues we have, and I don’t think either of them is the behaviour or culture, as such. The first is infrastructure – on streets where cars go 40+ km/h, cyclists need to be protected by more than paint. For this to work, the protection must extend to intersections (and signals!) that are designed for cycling.

        The second issue is laws — right now, replicating some of the safe Dutch-style intersection design is not allowed. And while there’s self-evident reasons for cyclists to be diligent on roads like ours, there are few for drivers. The penalty for hitting a cyclist (or a pedestrian) is very small. Often it’s literally nothing, other times it’s a slap on the wrist. It’s treated as an unfortunate side effect of driving, rather than something preventable. The worst penalties are when the driver was doing something like DUI, which they get charged for. But the hitting-a-cyclist aspect of a driver’s behaviour has no consequence in Ontario.

        As long as a cyclist’s safety has to rely on driver diligence (and what reason have they to be diligent?), cycling will not be safe and no modal shift will occur. Conversely, if we change the infrastructure so that cyclists feel comfortable using it (emphatically not the case on University) and so that they are actually protected from drivers, then we will see a substantial modal shift towards cycling. And more so if we change the laws and enforcement to affect driver behaviour in the streets currently without adequate infrastructure.

      • dianelfreeman · July 30, 2012

        Thank you for your comments Michael and for participating in my blog through comments. As a follow up to your thoughts, I offer the following for your consideration:

        – In locations where protected infrastructure has been installed due to the high potential for conflict between cycling and automobiles it has resulted in demands for this type of infrastructure to be in place on all corridors even when the conflict is minimal. In essence it created an expectation on behalf of the public that cycling on a road is not safe unless there is a protected lane
        – conflict with cars and buses still occur at intersections. Even in places where the engineering design for intersections uses separate signals for bikes/vehicles. Only diligence on behalf of the cyclist and driver will assure safety
        – cycling accidents within protected bikeways still occur

        As cyclists I think we need to be careful what we ask for and how we ask it. If we tell politicians that we will only be willing to use cycle paths that are proctected then we might find ourselves completely out of luck because the cost of land; concrete and asphalt far and away exceed the cost of paint markings. It will be very easy to chose a do nothing option if we tell politicians that protected lanes is the only acceptable option.

        I truly believe that dedicated on-road cycling lanes need to happen and that once there is a critical mass of cyclists then protected lane ways can be advocated for on some of our most busy roads such as University Avenue.

        Thank you again Michael….Diane

      • Michael Druker · August 2, 2012

        Thanks for responding!

        It’s a good point about expectations, and it’s definitely an issue in the short term. Though I think people already don’t feel safe riding on many of our streets that don’t have any real protected space. I think the solution is having a consistent policy, and working towards it. E.g. if cars are travelling faster than a certain amount, then there does need to be protection. And this cannot be simply an engineering decision, about speed and collision survivability and such — it needs to consider the way people feel when cars go by them.

        At intersections with better infrastructure (and cyclists-go-first signals), you need more than diligence, though — you need laws that are designed for both cyclists and drivers, and for the combination of the two. There needs to be enforcement to back up the safe use of the street. Right now you’re on your own and have to hope for the best. P.S. Don’t underestimate the impact of better infrastructure — see this video for what I mean:

        There is no “we” when I talk about protected cycling infrastructure. I’m already cycling – this isn’t about me. It’s about the 99% of trips that are not made by bike (and the 50% of them under 5km), and that will not be made by bike until it feels pleasant and safe to ride. Empirically, there is no community where any serious portion of trips are made by bike that relies on regular bike lanes. People want to bike more, but they are not willing to do it on those of our streets that go anywhere.

        If we’re talking about the interests of “cyclists”, then it makes sense that there is a cost barrier. But if we’re talking about infrastructure so that everyone can ride more easily, then I don’t really buy the cost argument — cycling infrastructure costs less to construct than maintaining our existing roads does, and it improves health and safety, while decreasing transportation costs (for individuals and the city). Portland built its hundreds of miles of cycling paths for the cost of one mile of highway.

      • Michael Druker · August 2, 2012

        One more thing: I agree that the best can be the enemy of the good. In many cases, bike lanes make people feel safer and they provide a way to by-pass stopped traffic — which means they get more people riding, and you get safety in numbers, etc.

        However, sometimes bike lanes are very narrow (like on Park Street between Allen and John), and in those cases the bike lane does not make anyone feel safer, and it encourages cars to pass more closely than they otherwise would. Those bike lanes are worse than nothing.

        If a bike lane is actually going to get substantially more people riding, then it is worth doing. (If it won’t get more people riding and won’t improve safety, then what’s the point?) If you already have a bike lane, but a separated bike lane would get substantially more people riding, then that is worth doing.

      • Mike Boos · August 12, 2012

        Thanks. Didn’t notice the response was made here a few weeks ago.

        While I agree that paint in and of itself offers no physical protection, as a graduate of Systems Design Engineering (twice over now), I am well aware of the impact affordances can have on human behaviour. Think of the different shapes of push versus pull door handles that give you a hint on how they’re supposed to be used. Our infrastructure can work the same way to guide people into better behaviours, which can definitely influence safety.

        When there’s a lack of infrastructure dedicated to cycling on a busy road, people on bikes may receive an implicit cue that their needs were not taken into consideration when designing this space and that consequently, they are exempt from the rules or norms. It’s no excuse, but it’s a very predictable outcome given human behaviour.

        From another perspective, a narrow bike lane beside a road may suggest to motorists a wider roadway, inducing faster speeds and driving closer to the right. However, studies show that bike lanes coloured differently than the road, even if they might not be physically separated, create the impression of a narrower corridor to motorists, who adjust their speeds accordingly. (This also is quite relevant to the bike box issue – you’re going to continue to witness a lack of motorist compliance at Davenport until it’s painted, because most are used to pulling up to the crosswalk.)

        How things are built has a much more profound impact on how we interact with them than our efforts at encouraging diligence. While we can hope for the best from human behaviour, good engineering designs for it.

  3. Chris Klein · August 21, 2012

    This article is really pertinent to the whole question of what constitutes appropriate cycling infrastructure that we’ve been discussing here: “The Case for Separated Bike Lanes” –

    I don’t think we should allow concerns about creating expectations for separated cycling infrastructure prevent us from creating separated cycling infrastructure where we can. This infrastructure could go a lot further in enhancing cycling rates in Waterloo, and is in fact the bare minimum for a substantial segment of the population to be willing to bike at all.

    And this pool of potential cyclists are the prize: tap that source, and further investment in cycling infrastructure becomes even easier: a virtuous cycle that we need to kickstart in Waterloo.

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