Cars, Bikes, People and getting around

As I posted in an earlier entry, Kitchener and Waterloo tried to work together on something called "Square2Square" which is also known, somewhat confusingly, as "car free Sunday".  I call it confusing because I prefer when events have only one name and not two or three. This Sunday (Aug 14th, 2011) Waterloo is closing down their downtown to repeat their part of the event, but Kitchener has decided it costs too much and not enough people attended last time. So it's not really "square2square", it's just "square" but I guess they have to use the full name because that is their website's address.

Should Kitchener keep participating despite the costs involved? Jeff Outhit has written an excellent column on this issue that I encourage everyone to read. I agree with his opinion to "Soft-pedal the anti-car vibe. Promote the day more positively." As I rode my bike from Kitchener to Waterloo during the last event I was thinking "Car-free? There are cars everywhere, just no cars on parts of King street for a few hours". Of course this past weekend we had an excellent Blues Festival in Kitchener and we enjoyed three days of fabulous music and food with vendors all over King Street. In my opinion that was pretty much a "car free" weekend in Kitchener.

I started to write this Blog entry because of an article I read in the Record titled "Car, bike sharing programs motoring to new heights." It was reprinted from the Canadian Press and I found it online here. I was on vacation in July with my family in Toronto and we saw the Bixi bikes which looked very cool. But, as the article points out, it is easy for the Bixi rental to become very expensive if you do not read the fine print. I found it was handy if you lived in the city, but not so great for tourists wanting to ride around. My son and I wound up renting from a bike place at Harbourfront for our ride along the lake to the Humber river. The next day we were very impressed with a specific Bixi rider as we ate our (vegetarian) hot dogs on the University of Toronto campus.  A young fellow with dress pants and jacket came up riding his Bixi bike onto the sidewalk and then rode it directly into its stall (!!) where it clanged into its spot. He nimbly hopped off and skipped up the stairs off to class. I thought "wow, is there going to be a new type of stunt riding for Bixi bikes?" I wonder if we will be at a bar or concert and ask some friend how they got there and they will respond, "Oh, I just Bixied it". Perhaps they will add "it's just so fast and convenient". 

The article about the Zipcar sharing and Bixi bikes is meant for a national audience. The Record provided information in their article on our local programs which include Grand River Car Share and Community Access Bicycles, a pilot project of The Working Centre and the City of Kitchener. Our family has one car, which it used by my wife to get to herself and a couple of co-workers, to their jobs, so I am on my own for getting to work. I often work at home, or take the iExpress, or ride my bike into the office which makes me pretty lucky. I was looking at the Car Share plan and locations to see how much the program costs and how convenient it would be. In the Mt Hope -- Breithaupt Park neighbourhood there is just one Car Share location at present: the Tim Hortons at 730 King Street West. There are two more at Sun Life (King and Union), and the Tannery which are close as well. There are also two "future" locations at Kaufmann lofts and the Breithaupt Centre.

For now I don't think the Car Share is worth it because we manage well enough with one car. It helps that Central Fresh Market is so close and we can walk to it (or send our son!) if necessary. There are three simple things I want to commend Central Fresh Market for which really help our sustainable community in subtle ways: 1) They have a water fountain. It is great that after a hot walk to the store, you can just drink from a fountain that is so accessible. You can even refill your water bottle. 2) They put bike locking posts in front of the store to make it easy to lock your bike. I cannot believe how many places have either no bike posts, or those cheap stands where you risk wrecking your tire. 3) cardboard boxes to pack groceries. So many stores charge you for bags, but Central still gives them away but also gives you a huge selection of recyclable cardboard boxes for packing groceries. 

Overall, living downtown with a variety of services nearby, and so much happening in Kitchener and Waterloo (with or without Square2Square), makes it easy to get by with only one car (or no car at all as a few people manage to do). Let's appreciate our neighbourhood for its convenience and location as well as its people.

Ted Parkinson