Kris and Mark, walking advocates


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Why is walking important to you?

Walking is a healthy activity.  It’s also autonomous. You get to determine the route that you want to go.  It also gives you opportunities to observe your environment.  It lets you happen upon things that are unexpected.

We love being out in the weather.   Rain and snow aren’t discouragements.

How has it changed your relationship with your community?
I think we are more aware of what’s in our immediate community. By walking, we enjoy a park across the way, natural areas like trails along the river. We enjoy walking in and around various neighbourhoods and in the downtown, observing the  architecture, people going about their business.  

You understand how an inner city works.  You get a sense of the history of the neighbourhood. You hear all the urban sounds.  I heard the bells ring at St George’s church and you hear the Go Trains coming and going and freight trains coming in the distance.

We like being in public spaces like Carden Street and City Hall. Plazas and public places are areas for people to walk, to interact and to engage in cultural activities.  

When walking downtown, you see people from  various walks of of life and backgrounds. We have become aware that we live in a diverse community.

When you’re walking around in the city, you notice that not everything is clean and organized.  There is more texture and grit to the city.

When you walk, you are aware of transitions, you see old industrial buildings in the Ward. There is also Willow Street area,  which is a starting point for new immigrants. Here, you see greater ethnic diversity.

Where do you go when you walk?

Where don’t we go?  We go to the market, shops downtown, cafes and restaurants, the pubs, the museum, the concert hall, the hockey rink, the library, the doctor and dentist, the bus depot, the railway station, friends and local dances at a neighbourhood church hall. We like to check out back alleys and laneways, discover new and old signage, and observe how nature can take hold in unexpected spaces.

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When do you use the car?

We use the car to go to the YMCA and to shop at a west-end grocery store.  When we use the car, we usually combine our errands in order to make fewer car trips. Sometimes our car remains unused for few days at time in our parking spot.

What is the hardest thing about walking for transportation?

The sidewalks and their uneven surfaces. The city has painted many of the sidewalk hazards orange, which is helpful.  Private owners who have allowed vegetation to grow out onto the sidewalk.  In the winter, the sidewalk snow clearance by the city can be slow and haphazard. In Guelph, there is no culture for residents for taking on responsibility to clear snow and ice on sidewalks in front of their houses. I fell twice this past winter.  People, especially seniors, are hesitant to walk outside in the winter.  

Timing of traffic light signals for pedestrians.  At the intersection of Woolwich, Norfolk and Norwich, there is often traffic making a left hand turn on Woolwich even though the pedestrian signal is indicating it’s OK to cross. You have to be mindful of this. A three to five second delay in the pedestrian signal would be helpful.
Drivers sometimes don’t stop when making a right hand turn on a red light when pedestrian is crossing because drivers think that they have the right of way.  You have to very alert as a pedestrian and err on the side of caution.

Has your enjoyment of walking influenced where you chose to live?

When one lives in the urban core, walking is a preferable option to driving. We chose to live in downtown where there are interesting and practical things close by.  

Where do you most like to walk?

We like to go to where there is life out on the street.  We like to get ice cream from the Sweet Shoppe downtown.  It is also pretty around Exhibition Park. We like walking through ol neighbourhoods and exploring trails along the rivers.

Where do you least like to walk?

I took the car to the Mazda dealership on Woodlawn Road and had to walk a distance down the goat path.  I went to the Royal City Nursery on Woodlawn and witnessed a woman pushing a stroller on the goat path. It is so unsafe and unpleasant.  I don’t like to walk next to high traffic roadways, where there are no sidewalks.

Any other comments?

In Raleigh North Carolina, there are wayfaring signs, such as “3 minutes to the art gallery” and “10 minutes to the train station.” I think it is a great idea.  Most signs in Guelph are signs for cars. There are very few for walkers.

More people walk than ride a bike.  Because the urban core is compact, it makes it appealing to walk. There are more people out on the street.  People on the street makes a safe, healthy, and vibrant community.  If you’re removed from interacting with your physical environment, you become estranged from it.  You have greater ownership and investment in your community if you walk.

When you drive a car, you take your livingroom with you and you don’t interact with other citizens except when you honk or you are on your cell phone.  That is another reason why we prefer the walking option.  For us, walking is frequently the journey, and not necessarily arriving at a destination.

Profile of Maggie Laidlaw, City Councillor for Ward 3 and everyday cyclist in Guelph

Why is riding a bike important to you?

It is important to me because it benefits the environment and my health.


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How has it improved your life?

  • Financially it is much, much cheaper to own a bike rather than a car. You use your own energy rather than fossil fuel energy.
  • It keeps weight and blood pressure within normal range, which can prevent diabetes.
  • It’s also aesthetically pleasing.  Since they temporarily blocked off the McCrae bridge bicycle route, I now cycle through Royal City Park, which is beautiful.  
  • I get to say good morning to people on my bike.  I feel more a part of my community.  
  • Emotionally, it lifts my spirits.  It keeps me fully awake and ready to go when I start work.


What is the hardest thing about using the bike for transportation?


Canadian winters and bike lanes covered with snow! I still commute in the winter but I do it with difficulty when I have only a narrow strip of road on which to ride.


Were there fears you had in the beginning that have been disproved? Any that have proven valid?

I started biking as an adult.  My first trip was biking across Canada, which is how I met my cycling husband!
I have learned to always be wary of traffic.  I actually check for texters in my rear-view mirror.  I can tell they are texting when they stall at a traffic light even though it turns green.  If I am sure they are texting, I report them to the police.


What is your current bike set-up?

I have a commuter bike which is a regular hybrid bike.  I have a foldable travelling bike that fits into a suitcase and my off-road bike and my recumbent.  We have two tandems and a foldable tandem.


How would you respond to people who feel a car is just safer?

More people are killed in cars than on bikes, even when considering deaths and injuries by percentage. Look at all the car recalls and the damage they do.  Bikes are safer.


What needs to happen in Canada to make the culture, and eventually the roads, more bike friendly?
  • We need bike lanes within and between cities.
  • We need an update of the Highway Traffic Act.  We should be allowed “Idaho stops”- the Idaho stop is the common name for a law that allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign.
  • We need contra-lanes on one-way streets.
  • We need a one-metre safe passing law.
  • We need to educate drivers about the rules of the road.
  • We need bike infrastructure, such as proper bike lanes that don’t stop 100 metres back from an intersection.
Give cyclists some of these perks for reducing congestion and keeping the environment clean, and we might get more people biking.


What is the best part of your commute?


I like going through the neighbourhoods with beautiful gardens. Because I am cycling, I am able to  stop on the McCrae bridge and enjoy the beautiful sunrise. I once took a photograph at this time.  The water was crystal clear, reflecting the trees.


It’s hard to spontaneously take a picture like this when driving a car!


What is the worst part of your commute?

Winter time, when going up the Gordon Street hill and the snow is scraped off of the road on to the bike lanes.


What infrastructure change would make your commute better?

  • Clearing the bike lanes so that they can be used in the winter time.
  • More workplaces with good showers, and good bike shelters and lockups like at the university.


What bit of advice would you like to share with new bike commuters?
  1. Get a mirror. It will save your life.  Keep an eye on traffic coming from behind and in front.          
  2. Don’t go on main arterials in the beginning.  Start off by using quiet neighbourhood streets.
  3. Dress properly.
  4. No ear buds!
  5. Wear a helmet.
  6. Take the Can-Bike Course.

The Bicycle Opera Project a two wheeled success


Last Thursday, July 31, I went to my first ever bicycle opera.  In fact, I went to my first opera ever.  I have never considered myself an opera fan, and have always felt that I would have difficulty sitting through an opera, since I basically have the attention span of a gnat. 

However, I thought I would try this one out, because of the “hook”  that they use to “catch” new opera goers…they travel by bike!  Really.  So, 8 or so opera singers and musicians, go from performance to performance throughout Ontario by bike.   


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This map shows the places that they have performed in Ontario.


Since I really, really, like anything related to bikes, and want to support bicycle culture in Guelph, I attended the performance.  The opera was held in a perfect intimate setting with great acoustics, Harcourt United Church on Dean Avenue.  It was tremendous fun.


I had the opportunity to speak with Larissa Koniuk, the soprano of the group.  I sure wish I had the confidence and grace that this woman has when I was that age.  


I asked her where they performed their last tour.  They rode in from Brantford, Ontario.  Before that, Stratford.  After Guelph, they were headed for Waterloo, then finishing off their 5 week tour by bicycling to and performing in Toronto.


I wondered what was Larissa’s favourite part about bicycle touring.  She said that nothing specific came to mind; she enjoyed the whole journey rather than just the destination.  When riding, she notices details in her environment that become evident when traveling at a much slower pace.  A chance to “smell the flowers”, so to speak.  She also mentioned that she didn’t mind being able to enjoy fresh baked pies and other indulgences along the way.  Since they burned all those calories, eating was a delight!


Her most memorable experiences have simply been from meeting all kinds of amazing people along the way.  As well, by performing in intimate venues, she brings opera singing literally closer to the audience, and makes her feel like she can really communicate the power of the human voice.


The audience and interest in the troupe is growing. Their tour was 10 days long two years ago. Last year, they went on a three week Ontario tour. This year, the tour lasted 5 weeks.  Next year, they are hoping to do a cross Canada tour.  


As far as the actual opera that was performed at Harcourt Church in Guelph,  the young artists gave us  a fantastic introduction to opera. Almost all of the opera was done in English to make it more accessible.  As well, they performed 7 short operettas, from silly to sensual to sad to snappy.  The pace and change in the opera performances made the opera accessible to neophytes like me.  The whole crew is so fit and sensual, as you can imagine (long distance biking does that to a person), that I spent some of my time simply in awe of their form, not unlike I do when watching the Olympics.


My favourite opera was an excerpt from “The Brothers Grimm”, which was a story of how the Brothers Grimm came up with the fairy tale “Rapunzel.”  It was whimsical, authentic, and even sustainable….Rapunzel’s hair was made from old bicycle tires.IMG_20140731_201909.jpg
Larissa as Rapunzel


Next year, should they travel through Guelph again, take your bike and cycle on over to Harcourt Church.  You will love both your bike ride and your operatic experience!

For more information on the Bicycle Opera Project, visit http://bicycleopera.com/