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Trip Report Best Urban N American Cycling: Ottawa?

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*Ottawa? Montreal? Adding Ottawa to My Nomination for Best Cycling City in North America*

So, as a professor I had submitted all my course marks and was looking for the first nice weather opportunity to get away. Living in Montreal, last Wednesday, no rain was finally predicted and I was off on my mission to check out nearby Ottawa's cycling opportunities, something I'd never been able to do for a variety of reasons when I'd visited the city on 3 prior occasions. One of my dearest friend's brother had raved about the bike paths there but I'd never had the opportunity to see them for myself.

Nowhere I've seen in North America beats the Netherlands in terms of cycling infrastructure in populated areas. From Haarlem to den Haag to Delft, each community I saw seemed to have been designed giving the bicycle equal accommodation. I loved it. But in North America, up until last week, I truly thought my home town of Montreal was about the best I'd seen, with separated lanes or paths criss-crossing the city in many ways, making the bike a realistic and reasonably safe option to get from many points A to many points B. We're nowhere near in the same league as the Netherlands, but I can get to so many interesting places in the city all by bike path. I can't think of a friend I can't get to primarily by bike paths and work is similarly accessible.

While the mere idea of cycling in to get from A to B in some beloved cities gives me the goosebumps (Boston! New York! Toronto! Philadelphia! Baltimore! Monterrey! Mexico City! London! (aside from certain designated paths)), I've had some amazing cycling experiences elsewhere in urban North America. From Gas Works Park to Lake Washington with snow-capped peaks in the distance along the famous Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, to adjacent the beautiful turquoise blue waters of Lake Michigan in Chicago and the Florida Strait in Key West, from "biking the bridge" with the spectacular views crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and down to Sausalito as the fog rolled in along the San Francisco Bay to pedaling along the circuit beside the inky blue English Bay and Stanley Park with the looming mountainous backdrop in downtown Vancouver around to Kitsilano--all these views seen from over the handlebars have been treasured life moments. With views that took my breath away in ways that the local bike paths here in Montreal do not. However, I felt that the overall urban design in these cities did not treat the bicycle quite as much as an equal of the car in terms of a being a valid mode of transport between A and B as Montreal does. Even Portland, sometimes referred to as the best cycling city in the USA, left me puzzled as to how one might safely cycle in a direct manner from say downtown to the International Rose Test Garden or some of the brewpubs in Alphabet City--mind you, it rained every day I was there, so I was unable to cycle and may not have researched this as well as I could have.

Ottawa impressed me with its cycling infrastructure and in my opinion, definitely seems to be giving Montreal a run for its money as "best North American cycling city". Staying at a cute auberge near the central and energetic Byward Market which I enjoyed for its pubs and the similar-but-different-from-Montreal French-English dual language dynamic, I used Ottawa's bike share system Velogo, for which one needs an app downloaded on one's smart phone. Velogo has an advantage over Montreal's bike share system Bixi (similar to Chicago's Divvy) in that you can lock your bike at even a regular rack, which allows one to make a spontaneous stop at a restaurant or ice cream parlour not near a Velogo station if so inclined--in contrast, Bixi requires one to park at another Bixi docking station if one wishes to similarly stop to eat (luckily Bixi stations are quite prevalent in Montreal and Bixi has the advantage that one does not need a smart phone to use it).

The Velogo station I used, right next to the National Gallery of Art, was right next to a bike-only lane separate from the road as in the Netherlands. This lane was equipped with bicycle traffic lights, guiding cyclists as to when it was their turn to go; from this path, one could easily access the Rideau Canal path. The Rideau Canal path was delightfully verdant, with kayakers, pedalboaters and others enjoying a variety of recreational sports all along. Unlike the Lachine Canal bike path in Montreal which is very industrial and adjacent a roaring highway in parts, there are handsome homes or bushy arboretum-like greenery along the Rideau Canal and it's especially beautiful when it widens into Dow Lake. (Mind you, the Lachine Canal path coming from Old Montreal has a simply gorgeous endpoint, the spit of land in Rene Levesque Park surrounded by the wide Saint Lawrence River to north, south and west--across from the beautiful old greystone buildings in Vieux Lachine and adjacent a marina.)

Ottawa really impressed me with the number of bicycle traffic lights; even in Montreal, these are only relatively recent and only at a limited number of particularly hairy intersections (thank goodness, at least that, but there need to be more for cycling safety). I look forward to exploring more of Ottawa's cycling network especially parts of the temporarily closed supposedly gorgeous Ottawa River path when the waters recede after some flooding.

There's been a push for health and environmental reasons toward better cycling infrastructure in a number of North American cities. Perhaps some of my impressions of city X's cycling options are dated/incomplete and you think a town/city I dismissed deserves to be considered among North America's best. Or maybe some city or town X I've never been to in your mind is really number one? Let me know because what I'm most interested in is great, safer North American cycling options for when I don't have time to make it to Europe. (I've never been but have heard Minneapolis mentioned lately as a great cycling city.)

Happy travels, Daniel

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