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

3 thoughts on “Cars, Bikes, People and getting around

  1. Here is a comment someone sent to the Blog. It gives a lot of additional background and great ideas:

    "I have been using car sharing for five or six years, and I encourage you and others in the neighbourhood to get a membership with Grand River Car Share. With their new simplified pricing plan you won't pay any money if you don't use the service. With a membership you have the option.

    Even though I now own a car, I still use the Grand River Car Share car at Tim Horton's sometimes because it is a wagon and can carry more than my sedan.

    The Canadian Press article that you linked to suggests an historical error: it refers to ZipCar as a "car sharing pioneer". Grand River Car Share is actually a few years older than ZipCar, and I imagine that is also true of a number of other local car sharing programs. ZipCar is a pioneer in the business, technology, and management of car sharing, but not in the actual idea. Because ZipCar is a for-profit company they have been able to raise money through venture capital and the stock markets, and this has allowed them to expand to a massive multi-national network of thousands of cars. I can use my ZipCar membership in Toronto, or in London UK, or in Boston (where we used to live, and where ZipCar started). Grand River Car Share, by contrast, has built itself as a non-profit co-op through member dues without going into debt, and so has expanded to about 15 cars in three cities over a similar period of time. Both are good services. I am happy that there is a car sharing service here because I'd become quite accustomed to using it in Boston.

    On a day-to-day basis I get myself to work and my son (14 months) to daycare on my bike. My son far prefers feeling the breeze on the bike to being strapped into the car."

  2. I recently discovered that The Working Centre in downtown Kitchener recently started a pilot bike share program, called "Community Access Bicycles". For now it has 36 bicycles at 7 locations in the downtown Kitchener (or nearby) areas. A one-year membership is $15.

    To see a map of locations, to get more information on the program or to register, visit their website:

    I moved to the Mount-Hope Breithaupt Neighbourhood about a year ago and love it — so thanks for this blog! I think it's a great idea to promote our neighbourhood's great features, and critically analyze and advocate/mobilize for changes that could make our neighbourhood even better.

    Are there any neighbourhood association meetings/events coming up?

  3. Ashley: Thanks for your comments. We will post all upcoming meetings and events on the "calendar" part of the Blog. There was a Neighbourhood Association meeting for September, but that was cancelled. So the next one is for November. There might also be a separate meeting regarding development in the area, and we will post that as well.

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