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Smart Commuting (by Bike, Of Course!)

June 16, 2011

Today, my older daughter and I worked the crowd at Hamilton’s Transportation and Healthy Living Fair, which was held downtown at Gore Park. The two of us sat at a table with posters we designed on how the family commutes to work and school by bike as much as possible. I also put together a couple of posters on the Build—to suggest that building a good, functional bike needn’t be expensive—and another on Bikes to Rwanda (I managed to get three more pledges, which takes me over 20; it means I raise a dollar for every five kilometers I ride).

Most of the other tables were run by city or corporate ventures, but there were also quite a few grassroots groups of various kinds, including the New Hope Bike Co-op, showing off their new mobile bike repair shop (a backwards tricycle with a hefty carrying case on the front. Very cool. I think my daughter and I looked out of place. She, the only kid behind a booth, and us, as “examples” of what the larger fair was trying to push for. We are very much champions for greener forms of transportation—especially bikes—but it was a bit strange as people wandered the booths, collecting pamphlets and swag: we had nothing to offer but smiles. I’ve learned in the past, too, that people don’t like smiles; they like incentives. We had none to offer. It seemed disingenuous to talk about how healthy and fit my kids are and how cycling plays a role in that. Or to push some moral high road about greenhouse gases and/or raising kids who were aware of the environmental hazards they faced. So we sat and smiled. And chatted with some nice folks. I had quietly hoped that we might get some questions from people who had thought about getting their kids to ride to school or themselves to work, but that didn’t really happen.

And, of course, what I really wanted to talk about was how we commute. I sent this as a short blurb in advance of our participation at the fair:

We typically think of commuting as an exercise of moving from point A to point B and back again, but commuting really starts with determining where points A and B are. With rising gas prices, concerns about the state of the environment, and new forms of urban planning, I believe we are seeing the start of a paradigm shift that will see North Americans transforming living and working spaces so that “commuting” becomes a remnant of the 20th century. The closer we live to our places of work (or the closer our places of work are to where we live), the less commuting we need to do and the more, greener options we have to get us there. Over the next decade, I think we’ll witness a major shift in that direction.

The event was hosted by Green Venture, an exciting group based in town. If you live in the area, you definitely need to check them out, especially their eco-house, which is very cool. I was flattered to be invited to participate; there are plenty of families in Hamilton that do a good deal more in terms of minimizing their carbon footprint than we do—and I still can’t shake the relative fortune and privilege we enjoy to make this a choice and not a necessity—but it was a nice opportunity to meet a number of the key activists who shape much of the green debate about transportation in and around Hamilton. I couldn’t help but appreciate and buy into their enthusiasm and herculean efforts. Hamilton has a real opportunity to put itself squarely at the vanguard of urban cycling infrastructure among Canadian cities. It would require more attention and investment from city council, but the rewards would be substantial. More on that soon.

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