Dave Garand: A Strong Voice for Cycling in Ottawa’s East End..and beyond!

How long have you been riding a bike?

I was 10 when I received my first decent bike, a 5 speed Peugeot with a carrier rack. My Father was in the military and we were living in the Black Forest in Germany at the time. Biking around the base and around town with my friends was a wonderful adventure for me! We have a lot to learn in Canada from German urban planning and transportation infrastructure.

What do you enjoy most about cycling?

I really appreciate that cycling is such an economical way to get around and have fun while keeping the body and brain healthy. It also allows one to experience one’s community in a different light, and notice things one would miss while in a car. It’s also a great way to support local businesses, as proven by several different models including in Montréal and Toronto. Bikes are often cheap to purchase, maintain and upgrade. There are a lot of affordable bikes on the market, and plenty of good quality second-hand ones as well, so it is possible to have different bikes for different uses. I have a hybrid commuter bike, a full suspension mountain bike for off-road fun, and a road bike for longer, faster outings.  

When I was about 17, I started learning to fix my own bikes, which I enjoy, and it really helps to keep costs down. I bought my own tools and even took a correspondence bike repair course.  In 1990 in Germany, I worked in a bike shop, learning my way around all the nice European models and expanding my knowledge. Returning to Ottawa, I worked for a bike rental company, keeping their stock tuned up and accompanying group rides which were mainly school kids.

For a while, I had my own mobile bike repair company here in Ottawa.  Over the years, I’ve picked great bikes off the side of the road that people had put out for garbage, fixed them up and either used them myself, or passed them on to charities or local kids.

What have you learned about cycling that you wish you knew when you started?

My main discovery is that it doesn’t take much to be well equipped for year-round cycling. In the early 1990s, I biked from Beacon Hill to Carleton University twice a day all winter, on my regular bike, wearing my normal winter outerwear. I was warm enough, but I could barely move in all that gear! Today, winter clothing for biking is much lighter, more technically advanced and more comfortable. Also, bike internal brakes and gearing have evolved to the point where your bike will not require much maintenance and will last through a lot of winters.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in the last 10 years when it comes to cycling in Ottawa?

There have been considerable improvements in bike infrastructure in the downtown core such as the Laurier and O’Connor bike lanes, the revamp of Main St., and several streets having lanes with flexi-posts. Similar investments in substantial safe cycling linkages have not yet been made in the east end where I have lived since 1983, but I have been working hard to encourage the City of Ottawa to improve the east-west bike links such as including segregated lanes or flexi-posts on Innes Road and St. Joseph Boulevard for cyclists in Orléans and Blackburn Hamlet.

What is your favorite cycling memory?

Two of my high school teachers organized a 3-day cycling trip for a dozen students, from Orleans to Johnstown, Rockport and Smiths Falls and back. It was a relatively easy trip as we slept in motels, but it was my first experience of cycle touring, and of course, we had a blast!

What was/is your biggest challenge? And how did you overcome it?

I have been trying very hard for many months using all the means possible (Facebook cycling page, local community pages, meetings with Councillors and Bike Ottawa) to encourage the City of Ottawa to invest in safe infrastructure in the east end. There have been tragedies and a lot of collisions in the area that could have been prevented. Suburbs generally do not give much attention to cycling infrastructure, since most people who choose to live in them are car-reliant and generally don’t use a bicycle as their primary mode of transport. Consequently, getting the public to buy-in to investments for biking is slow.

I created the Eastern Ottawa Cycling Community Facebook page 4 years ago to provide an avenue to share anything cycling related to east end residents. With nearly 1000 members, including Ottawa councillors, I began to leverage the tool to highlight local issues and to gather user experience issues while cycling (or wishing to cycle) around all areas from Cumberland to Beacon Hill and Blackburn Hamlet. The page has been used to engage the public in discussions but also to bring them together to formal meetings and has been very successful in increasing engagement.  

Do you have a favorite path or route to bike in Ottawa?

Forest Valley Trails are my mountain bike go-to as they are so close to my home. The Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway: (SGEC, formerly the Rockcliffe and Eastern Parkways) is my favourite road route, combined with the Ottawa River path that leads to Trim road. It was great last summer when the NCC closed them to traffic.  It would be great to see the city do the same thing on a variety of other routes such as those with double lanes, like Orléans Boulevard, Jeanne D’Arc Boulevard and Innes road between Blackburn and Blair road, this summer.

What inspires you?

Truly, my deepest inspiration comes from seeing kids bike. The mother of a family in my area decided to encourage her kids to bike to school..,and now they do it year-round!  My kid’s high school has a full bike rack every year. I find that great!  I hope to see cycling infrastructure continue to improve so that more families can feel comfortable having their children bike to school.

Success with small projects that have big impacts in the community inspires me to continue to try to make a difference with larger initiatives. Some examples of my small projects are:

  • In 2006 I noticed that St Peter’s High School on Charlemagne Boulevard in Orléans had wheel bender racks: the kind where the parked bike is only supported via part of the wheel. Bikes parked in those racks fall over easily, often damaging the wheel rim,spokes, or the brake disc. One letter to the school Principal and the racks were replaced with standard ring racks that support the bikes at two points!
  • EnviroCentre passed their bike rack on to me recently, so I donated it to Norman Johnston School near my home as they had no bike racks at all. They were quite ecstatic since, prior to this, the students had to lock their bikes to the fence.
  • The 3 bike rodeos I have organized and participated in were so successful and so much fun, that I plan to do many more in future, when possible. Seeing the faces of the children after a Bike Rodeo and hearing them say things like ‘Now I want to start biking to school.’ is truly inspiring. I was happy when my own daughters decided to bike to school, a total distance of 3 km.
  • Working with the Blackburn Community Association and Safer Roads Ottawa, I have secured the installation of a bicycle repair stand that is slated to go in at the main intersection in Blackburn this spring.
  • I also put a bit of time into informing the general public and mountain biking community about the efforts being made to have a formal stance on the use of mountain bikes in the Forest Valley between Blackburn Hamlet and Chapel Hill.

My main project is to advocate for better active transportation infrastructure in the east end and build a change management strategy to have positive public engagement. I would particularly like to see:

  • A segregated bike lane along Innes Road from Trim Road that includes the bridge over 417 to join up with the existing Multi-Use Path (MUP) on the west side, as the overpass has been identified by both the cycling community and the city as the most dangerous overpass in town. There are few pedestrians in this area so a shared pedestrian/bike path would be practical.
  • The reconnecting of Navan Road to Cléroux Road that was cut off when the Blackburn Bypass was installed. Several residents of Chapel Hill South and Bradley Estates have voiced their concern about the lack of a safe route from their communities into town.
  • I am currently working on a proposal to see a bike path extended from the SGEC parkway along regional road 174 into Convent Glen and connecting to the Jeanne D’Arc overpass.

I hope my neighbours in Orléans and elsewhere in Ottawa will recognize that our Councillors usually determine their priorities based on what their constituents tell them, and join me in encouraging them to invest in active transport infrastructure, particularly in our back yard!