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  • Writer's pictureMatthieu Gagnon

First Car-light Summer

Updated: Nov 22, 2023


Lone bike locked to a random posts overlooking a sea of parking on Youville Drive in Orléans in front of Art of the Bean.
Front of Art of the Bean coffee shop in Orléans

During the pandemic, one of our cars needed more work than it was worth and because of work from home, we felt that the right decision to go down to one car. With one car and one kid, it was relatively simple to plan errands and outings based on the availability of the car. However, in 2022, with the return to the office, lacklustre public transit, the coming of a second kid and the supply chain issues in the car industry, I decided it was time to dust off my father's old commuter bike that was in the garage and make a go of using it as a viable transportation mode in Orléans.


I started using my bike to run small errands with a backpack and doing short trips with my older daughter (with my father's old kid trailer purchased for my niece). The scope of those trips escalated as biking to go places gave me the opportunity to relax and exercise while doing things that benefited my family. It was clear to me that a bike was going to work for a lot of trips. However, the old steed was not going to be suitable for two kids and I didn't think using it to commute would be very enjoyable. I decided to make the leap and purchased a cargo ebike (Biktrix Skycap 2) and an ebike suitable for my commute (Radmission 2). This year, once the salt on the roads no longer risked destroying my new bikes, I started using my bikes as my main mode of transportation. Here is how it went:


I am lucky to have easy access to the River Pathway. This piece of infrastructure has been very important in my journey. The pathway allows me to easily get to the Convent Glen Mall which gives me easy access to groceries, a pharmacy, LCBO, Beer Store and some take-out options (shout out to Shami's Bakery for quick lunches). It also gives me access to a safeish route downtown for my commute.


The Pathway is often too narrow which creates some tension between people on bikes and people walking. We live in a city where people want to have access to nature away from cars but that space is very limited so it is contested. The 20km/h speed limit on the pathway is also not ideal. I tried using it only to get to the George Étienne Parkway and use the Parkway from there but the cars were too fast and too aggressive so after a few too many close passes, I decided to stick to the pathway to the Aviation Museum trying my best to be courteous towards people on foot while maintaining a speed that was reasonable to get to and from work. The pathway is also a lot prettier than the parkway which makes it much more enjoyable. It is unfortunate that even our best pieces of infrastructure do not accommodate the needs of people who try to use modes of transportation that have positive externalities.


My commute is enjoyable for the most part. Beyond the pathway, the Aviation Pathway provides a good connection to Hemlock and Beechwood. I have rarely encountered any traffic on Aviation Pathway or Hemlock. The Beechwood bike lane feels somewhat protected westbound until you realize that those plastic things do nothing to stop cars and just end up as debris in the lane. Eastbound the lane is often too narrow, often enough to be unusable especially with all the entrances to businesses and side streets. Traffic on Beechwood goes very fast for a dense urban street and could use some traffic calming and better protected intersections. The rest of the commute through Sandy Hill and Laurier is usually uneventful if you mind all the cars who will do their best to right hook you and all the contractors who park in the bike lanes.


Riding in Orléans outside of my beloved mall is a challenge. One major challenge is crossing the 174. Luckily, Orléans Boulevard was down to two lanes on the overpass which allowed for one crossing where I could take the lane and not have anyone whizzing past me at 80km/h. Staying on Orléans beyond that is not something that I recommend. Going anywhere on St-Joseph is possible once you make your way to Notre-Dame (not always for the faint of heart) and from there you can access some businesses fairly easily through the Des Épinettes corridor which can even take you Fallingbrook fairly easily. My conclusion has been that the distances in Orléans are not a problem and the ebike is key to tackling the hill easily but the lack of connectivity between areas where I felt safe are likely to be a deterrent for the bulk of the population.


During the PSAC strike, I had an opportunity to check out the bikeability of that area. The pathway provided an easy way to get to Champlain. Again, LRT construction came in clutch by making Champlain an easily navigable two lane road. Beyond that, Place D'Orléans Drive was very unpleasant but it was a quick ride to my destination. During the strike I also made the walk to the station to catch OC Transpo to get downtown. The walk through the parking lot of the mall to get to the station was very unpleasant (ugly, stinky and not very safe). Around that time, plans were announced to put towers in the area with the thought that it would be easy access to transit which, unless something changes, is going to be a car infested mess because walking and biking there is a poor experience.


Overall, I was very successful in replacing a lot of car trips with my ebikes. My kids really enjoy riding with me and we can get to most places where we want to go with only brief moments that require a lot of caution on my part to avoid a disaster. I am an experienced rider and a bit foolish so it worked out. The extra exercise and outdoor time have done wonders for my energy levels and my waistline. The cost of getting started even with two ebikes was trivial compared to the cost of a car.


I did not expect that biking around would allow me to experience the city in the way that it did. I recognize some people on the trail and developed relationships with businesses from more frequent trips that I really enjoy.


My hope is that more people seek to experience their community by bike. I encourage you to start with a small trip on a rough bike and a backpack. You may also be able to avoid buying a second car and enjoy your errands a lot more.


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