It’s April, which brings me to 6 years in Regina, 5 years of doing #30daysofbiking. Well actually, I think I’m now up to 80 days of biking in 2018 now. But anyway, you get the general idea!
Here’s this year’s adventures in photo form:
Dramatic change from one end of the month to the other! I’ve certainly been snowed on during April’s biking adventures before, but I don’t think it’s ever been this cold before.
Today I pedalled into work on the longer route around the lake – a luxury I can now afford because I didn’t have to drop Theia off then rush through traffic just to get in on time. Because… Carl is home!!! WOOHOOOO!!!!
Despite asking repeatedly to be allowed to work from home, the response from the Prince Albert job was always “we don’t have a work-from-home-policy”. Erm, well, you could make one? It’s 2018 and even Prince Albert has the Interwebs now. There is nothing he was doing up there that couldn’t be done remotely, sitting in his underpants on the computer at home. But no… so, finally, he decided the 800km drive on remote highways at 4am, the unfurnished apartment and the whole week away from the kids wasn’t worth it and he quit. Their loss, our gain!
He’s got some GIS freelance work lined up which will keep us going, and hopefully one job will lead to the next etc. Check out eclipsegeospatial.com – now accepting new clients!
It’s sunny and he’s home, and all is cheerful. And he’s decided he wants to get his bike out again too! So, we found a good way to get us both out pedalling again.
30th April was Rohan Day – that is, the day my brother Rohan died, 20 years ago now. He had a very rare form of cancer that was only diagnosed when it was too late. He was 12.
This year Carl and I are riding the the The Great Cycle Challenge Canada in Rohan’s memory, to raise money for kids’ cancer research and support. We’re aiming for 500km in 30 days. Please sponsor us if you can! Thank you.
Last week I attended a workshop on Tactical Urbanism, held by the Warehouse District and Downtown Business Improvement Districts. I was there partly for work and partly for personal interest, and it was a fascinating session from both angles!
Very briefly, the whole ethos of Tactical Urbanism is creating vibrancy in urban areas and treating city spaces as places where you actually enjoy spending time in their own right, rather than just as areas you pass through on route to somewhere more interesting. There’s a difference between a street and a road: roads are for transport, streets are for people. It’s simple but also something that doesn’t seem to occur to many people – especially town planners!
Tactical urbanism can be installing small, cheap and temporary initiatives (constructed by anyone with an idea, all very grass-roots and ‘citizen-led’) that are publicly accessible and very visual, and if successful, creates a momentum that leads to permanent change. This can be anything from just putting up planters and getting flowers along the streets, chalk art on the sidewalks, to pop up art displays in empty buildings, painting alleys between buildings, to food trucks and pop-up outdoor shops and markets, or roping off a section and creating temporary bike lanes and holding a group ride or a walking tour of the area etc. (Guess which bit I was most keen on?). Anything that gets people out of ‘the commuter mindset’ and gets them walking/biking/hanging out on the streets.
We discussed Park(in) Days as a good example of this type of event. The Downtown BID tried this back in 2016 – they plugged the parking meters outside some businesses on 11th avenue downtown (my café being one of them) and got the business owners and interested groups to decorate their parking spot. We turned our cafe inside out: put some squashy armchairs on a rug on the road, a bookshelf, coffee table and made a comfy reading room outdoors,and then filled the front of the cafe with flowers and pot plants and a bike rack indoors. It was a pretty simple set up, and we even gave out free coffee, but even with the freebies it was by far the most lucrative day we ever had at the cafe. People attract people. Getting people to sit outside your business instead of just driving past can only ever be a good thing.
For the workshop, they’d printed a couple of huge banners with fake shop fronts. We marked out a rough intersection and then a bike lane along the store fronts and then designed our own Park(in) displays – loads of flowers in planters, someone got some Yoga mats out so you could do yoga on the street, deck chairs and some sand, and we made “pede-vision”- a sofa area with a huge frame where you could sit and watch the world go by (instead of sitting indoors, alone, watching TV). It totally transformed our imaginary street.
Inevitably, the conversations turned to cycling, and I was pleased to discover that the bike-activist contingent was not just me, Andrew (sorry, ‘Councillor Stevens’) and the guy from Bike Regina! There were a lot of people interested in making Regina more cycle-friendly, or at least, more ‘walkable’ too. Clearing the sidewalks of snow would help right now! I’ve always believed that if an area is made safer and more appealing to cycle through, then more people will cycle. This workshop actually had the stats to back that up. As Leasa from the Warehouse District BID pointed out, you can’t use today’s cyclist numbers (with no cycling infrastructure) to assume how many more people would actually use cycle paths *if they were there*.
I tried to prove a point about how unfriendly this area is to cyclists – by cycling up there. Pain points included bumping violently over the train tracks (pedestrian bridge over that would be nice!?), and drivers passing me with just inches to spare on Dewdney, despite the road being easily wide enough to accomodate a bike lane if only one could be built. To my surprise, there was actually a bike rack at the building when I arrived. But getting to it required heaving the trike up 3 steps, or trying to bend it round a too-narrow, cornered wheelchair ramp. Tactical Urbanism fail: infrastructure added thoughtlessly, with no real expectation that people will use it.
The workshop was held on the second floor of the enormous, empty old Sears warehouse. For the final part of the workshop, someone helped me get the trike into the freight elevator and bring it up to the workshop. So I spent my afternoon slowly pedalling around a home made street with a hand drawn bike lane, on the upper floor of a disused, slightly creepy building. Surreal experience!
The other main discussion was city design that incorporates the microclimate – as in, should Regina embrace itself as a Winter City? And how would any of these ideas work in winter? We sidestepped the shared frustrations about city hall not clearing snow off sidewalks (because of the unwavering belief that if you have a car, your journey must therefore be more important than the journeys of pedestrians). Sidewalk clearing is an activity we can all share in, even if most would prefer City Hall to do it. Most interestingly, we also talked about how a lot of building designers don’t take into account the fact that their buildings often create huge wind tunnels (the Victoria and Albert intersection springs to mind – Capital Pointe would make it a whole lot worse down there). Doesn’t matter if you are in a car, but it does if you are walking or waiting at bus stops. What could we do about that? (Wind turbines on the rooves, used to power heaters in the bus stops below, I thought!)
Tactical urbanism is about Doing, not just Talking though. So, we built things! There’s a marketing company called Sleek, and they’d designed some MDF furniture (patio tables and chairs, park benches, a bike rack etc) and cut it out using a CNC cutter, and we just had to slot it together. It was very easy and effective, and Judith pointed out how cheap it was: about 25 pieces of solid, useable and custom furniture made from MDF came to about $5000.
The next day got more involved: we made a bar out of old wooden pallets. Jessica (from work) and I got to play with power tools! We had a guy from a construction company supervising us, but seven people most of whom had never used an electric saw before ‘recycled’ a few old pallets into a bar in an hour and a half. It was really fun! The point of all this was just to show how easy and affordable it is to construct little, temporary things – patio seating on the plaza, large planters to go on the edge of a sidewalk, or a small bike rack etc – that make a big impact, making places more visually appealing and encouraging people to linger and actually spend time on the streets.
Anyway, in trying to relate this all to work and Science Centre projects, I guess my main take aways from this were:
There is a great community of people out there who are willing and able to embark on ‘tactical urbanist’ projects – and the residents’ associations and Business districts will support them.
Keep it simple and cheap to start with – it can always get more elaborate later.
Building things isn’t actually as difficult as it first appears.
People attract people – as soon as someone starts something, others will follow.
I have a ton of ideas for projects already, and I also met a load of like-minded, useful people from companies that would be excellent to collaborate with for our Ignite! science festival in October. On a personal note, I would love to keep in touch with this group of people and plan some projects together. The workshop was inspiring – and I know I wasn’t alone in discovering a new passion for making Regina a fun, safe, creative and more liveable city.
It is December, and right up until last week, I was still cycling to the cafe. This is unheard of!
People are betting on the likelihood of a “brown” Christmas, which amuses me greatly since I remember how hard we used to wish each year for a white one in Darlington. The last no-snow Christnas that anyone in Regina can remember was 1998. So odds are we should be good…
The bunnies are all confused though. There are giant Jackrabbits (technically, hares, I think!) that live downtown, and a couple of them have taken up residence in the car park behind the cafe. We named them Wayne and Waynetta Wabbit and I even have a seasonal Christmas coffee on the menu called “confused jackrabbit” in their honour. They are confused because they have gone white already. Each year, they grow their winter coat, changing them from grubby grey-brown bunnies that match the general downtown concrete, into pristine white bunnies camouflaged against the snow. Except this year, they are white already but there is no snow hide in, and they look very, very out of place.
I want to stick out like a snow bunny.
I mentioned I am still cycling: Theia can now sit up well enough that she can ride in the forward-facing kid seat on the front of the Taga bike, so after another conversion effort (20 seconds to convert it? My arse! More like 20 minutes. With swearing.) – we are happily pedalling about on what has to be one of the most eyecatching vehicles in Regina, avoiding the seasonal idiots who have forgotten how to drive in ice. The advantage of the Taga bike is that I can pretend it’s Mainly Stroller and ride on the sidewalks with it and thus not risk Death by Idiot-in-SUV quite so frequently. Unfortunately in Regina most sidewalks are in worse condition than the roads, and having 3 wheels means hitting every slope, hole, chip of broken glass, lump or inexplicably unpaved patch City Hall wish to challenge me with. So, sometimes the road is a better option, but there, I am small, and low and slow and vulnerable, and because I lack a petrol engine, I mysteriously become invisible. This is a car-obsessed land, and unless you have one, you are a nobody, despite freakish hybrid kid-transportation devices.
I am having similar issues with the cafe. Not that people are running us over, but just that we seem to be equally invisible because no one gets out of their cars. We thought our spot on 11th would be pretty good because there is a lot of passing traffic headed downtown. We have a bright purple 26ft sign over the equally massive window, chalkboard outside and over the summer, even a little patio table out the front. Yet people drive straight past; I’d like to say they are concentrating on the road but often or not, it’s their phones… And then, 8 months after opening, we get the surprised, “oh, are you new?” questions along with “I didn’t know you were here!”. Yes, this is partially our lack of marketing budget, but also because so few traverse downtown on foot or by bike. Peoples! This winter is incredibly mild! Get out of your cars and take advantage of it!
Three years in Regina, and I still, defiantly, don’t have a driving license. I’ve survived quite happily walking or cycling everywhere, and even managed to do epic shopping trips picking up supplies for the cafe without driving. However, a few weeks ago, my beloved two-wheeled bike, Yoshi (don’t judge, it was green and fast) was stolen from it’s spot chained up outside the cafe. Some little **** didn’t just pick it up, they actually cut through my lock, implying it was premeditated: someone had obviously clocked that I lock it up there every day and had deliberately turned up with bolt cutters or something. Grr! Even worse was how quickly it disappeared. About 40 minutes prior to discovering it had gone, I had been out to load it up with all the dirty rags from the cafe to wash at home. The thief carefully removed the milk-crate bike-basket I’d made and placed it tidily on our back step, (thus leaving me the dirty kitchen rags) and even put the neatly cut lock in the basket too. AAAARGH!!
But this is Canada! I hear you cry…Things like that don’t happen here! Whereas there is no comparison at all with the petty crime rate in Darlington, UK, there are still some arseholes in my little flatland utopia, it seems.
I reported it to the police, but they weren’t really optimistic. Next, I posted this all over the internet:
56 retweets on Twitter, and about 80 shares from the cafe’s facebook page. My online followers are wonderful!! I never got the bike back, but I’d like to think with enough people on the look out for it, the thief will have a hard time selling it on at least. Then I got a message from someone who I think I’ve only met in the flesh on one brief occasion – he’d set up a ‘Go Fund Me’ page to collect donations and buy me a new bike!!! So, so sweet of him, and that restored my faith in humanity a great deal. To be honest, it wasn’t the money that was the issue. Yoshi was cheap and second hand three years ago and worth virtually nothing anyway. It’s just the inconvenience since I don’t have any other option: my trike was in need of repairs (after doing some serious damage hitting potholes too hard) and walking any distance while this pregnant is increasingly agonising, especially when I had to carry milk deliveries to the cafe. I could have got myself another secondhand bike I suppose, but there didn’t seem much point since I can’t fit the newborn baby on it in a few weeks time.
Instead, Carl managed to bodge a repair job on the trike so I at least had those wheels back again for now. And then I thought, I could treat myself. I need a new stroller (Look! I said stroller not pushchair!! I’ve gone native!) but, I couldn’t get a normal, conventional one, could I? And I miss Yoshi and the trike’s back wheel configuration makes it difficult to attach any newborn baby seats to anyway…
Then, I found this!
It’s a e-guruma (or rather, “Taga” bike, as the original company appears to have been bought out!) and it cleverly converts from a backwards trike with two wheels at the front to a “normal” stroller. You pull the seat off and the back wheel flips up over the top and pokes out the front, so you end up with a three wheeled “jogging” stroller thing. The Parents even got me an adapter for it so we can clip in the baby’s car seat until it’s big enough to sit up in that seat by itself. (Yes, “it” – still not sure!)
Miranda can just about sit in that seat and absolutely LOVES it. But she is a colossal weight nowadays and it’s very, very hard work cycling her on it, because the wheels are so small! Steering is very odd, it feels like the love child of an exercise bike and a supermarket trolley, but even when faced with Regina potholes and terrible road surfaces (Rae St and 12th, I am looking at yooooou!) it is remarkably stable, and in comparison with the big trike, it feels far less scary when it tips, because you are only 6 inches off the ground. I feel like I can go much further with it than I could walking with a pushchair, so hopefully when Baby arrives I have plenty of freedom to get around – and I still don’t need a driving license. MWUHAHAHAHAHAAA!
Apparently, David Suzuki wants us all to pledge to accept the challenge of spending at least 30 minutes outdoors (“in nature”) every day for 30 days.
Rather embarrassingly, up until this morning I had no idea who David Suzuki is. (a.: an environmentalist). Jess kindly informed me. Equally baffling is why people see spending half an hour outdoors as “challenging”. I do get that the locals really don’t want to be outside in January when its -40ish and you get frostbite in under ten minutes and so on, but surely you must have to at some point? I was outside during the months of utterly stupid temperatures for at least 40 minutes every day, if not longer. I had no choice: I don’t drive and my work was a 20 minute walk there and another 20 minutes back. And then I had to go collect Miranda, and walking the two blocks back from her daycare at Miri-speed usually took longer than 15 minutes again! Now it’s sunny and spring-like finally, I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting to escape the house, especially after such a ridiculously long winter. It would be a struggle to restrict myself to just 30 minutes now…
Another consequence of the six month long winter was that my beloved trike, Twyla has stayed wrapped in bubblewrap and packing tape since she arrived here from the UK in November. I may have to walk in January temperatures, but I am not daft enough to try and cycle through that much snow!! April was of course, 30 Days of Biking. I eventually unwrapped Twyla on 29th April, so I missed the whole month! Waa!
So, to this end, I am going to take up Mr Suzuki’s challenge AND invent my own belated 30 days of Biking challenge, (because it’s rare that I would cycle indoors anyway!). Here’s some sunny, spring inspired photos of my progress:
Ok, so my last post was typed without use of the space bar, thanks to my dearest darling daughter. This post is written entirely on my phone, (testing the ‘post by email’ function on the blog!) also due to aforementioned daughter *breaking my entire laptop!* I am
internet-less. This also means i am TV-less as i can’t play dvds let alone stream anything, i am skype-less so i can’t talk to Carl and i’ll have to become anti-social(media, that is) too! Waa!
People tend to bemoan my lack of transport rather like i moan about their internet usage – what do you mean you’re not on twitter? What do you mean you don’t have a licence? Etc. I for one would much, much rather be without a car than without my computer. I think i would probably even choose it over Yoshi the bike. There was an article in the metro the other day singing the praises of some bloke who spent a month only shopping in ward 3 of regina – pretty much the area i live in. Oh wow. He shopped *local* and this is newsworthy?! I’ve been doing that since i got here – and he was still using a car too. I think he should try it without the car, restrict his shopping to what can be carried by hand, balanced on a pushchair or tied onto a bike and be forced to take am uncooperative toddler with him at all times. In fact, screw that, just let me write the article next time, ok? Rant over.
Anyway, shopping aside, for the sake of my new bosses’ peace of mind, I have acquired an official Saskatchewan learners’ driving licence. i had to take a written theory test. Again. This time i got 28/30 – not bad since I was having to constantly rotate all the pictures in my head so i could figure out which side of the road i was supposed to be on! It’ll be a while before I can take my road test – 4 different people told me 3 different, contrasting views on whether or not they have ‘reciprocity’ with the UK about swapping licences over, whether this applies to learners licences or whether i have to wait nine months on one sort of licence before I can upgrade to another… Gah. It is so needless complicated and it’s not like I even want to drive anyway! Still, at least now I can legitimately get some practice in, i hope.
I wouldn’t be so laid back about driving if it wasn’t for the thought of Carl arriving soon, and because I have Yoshi the bike.
Unfortunately, you really do need to drive in this city. I am lucky in that the Cathedral area is about the only bit you can walk around, and where it is pleasant to do so. Everything else, supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas etc require a car to get to. The downtown area is mainly pedestrianised, but that is confined to two streets. There is no concept of a town centre or even a high street that you can amble round aimlessly. It all requires a specific destination and intention, which is far too much like organisation to me. An alien concept of town planning.
In this sense at least, Yoshi is wonderful, especially as Miri’s trailer has a lot of space for shopping in the back of it. The other week i navigated all the way down to the blueish hell-hole that is Walmart on it, and got a whole week’s worth of food, and Miri, on to the back. Unfortunatelly all that weight made the back tyre go flat. I naively tried to fix it myself, and broke the pump, bent 2 spanners, covered myself in bruises and oil and got throughly cross with it. It was then i learned a great deal more about my neighbourhood. A few weeks ago, I optimistically attended a “bike maintenance” class at the library – which served to teach me how i *could* have fixed the bike if only i possessed a 12mm socket wrench. By fortuitous accident, I ran into the bloke who ran the class, coming out of Safeway the day after the flat tyre occurred. I explained my woes, and he offered to fix the bike – for free! But with the condition that I brought Yoshi along to an art gallery just a little bit outside comfortable walking distance. Comfortable distance or not, I didn’t have a choice: i couldn’t ride Yoshi, neither could I find anyone to look after Miri while I got on a bus with the bike, and I certainly couldn’t afford to pay the bike shop to fix it instead. So i walked 11 blocks, pushing the bike with Miri in the trailer on the back. And we got completely and utterly soaked. First proper Prairie thunderstorm I’ve
experienced! It hit us about the halfway point so there was no point in turning back, and Miri was OK in the trailer, laughing at Mummy dripping wet…. There were hailstones and everything!
We eventually arrived to find that this bloke was also an artist, and he had an exhibition of paintings and sculptures based on the theme of a workshop – a giant roll of duct tape and the WD40 label done in oil paint and so on – and he was sat in the middle of it all, fixing bikes actually as an art installation!! Bloody brilliant!!
So, Yoshi became a work of art for the evening, and I got a new inner tube, the brakes tweaked and the gears fixed, AND a free shower…. I was seriously impressed and very grateful. But the whole adventure taught me a great deal about this area. Only in Regina….?