My name is Narayan (pronounced na ra’ yan) Donaldson and I am in my third year at the University of Waterloo. I am studying Urban Planning, and my particular interest is transportation infrastructure. I hope to bring a new perspective to this blog, both in terms of the student experience cycling in Waterloo, and the planning and design of our bicycle infrastructure.
I am originally from the suburbs of Toronto (on the border between Thornhill, Vaughan and North York, Toronto. I learned how to cycle when I was four, and would occasionally go on recreational rides with my parents.
I really started cycling when I was in high school. For my first two years, I took the bus, which took 30 minutes door to door. But in my third year, I discovered that on a bicycle the same trip took only 15 minutes. Given how lazy I am, I eagerly took the opportunity to sleep in longer and cycle to school. I also started cycling for other purposes, such as going to music lessons or shopping. Thanks to pedestrian/bicycle short-cuts through my neighbourhood and Toronto’s legendary traffic congestion, it was consistently faster for me to ride my bicycle than it was to drive or take transit.
My next major cycling transformation occurred when I moved to Waterloo two years ago, for my first year of University. I bought myself a cheap new bicycle and fitted it with racks, fenders and lights (more on my bike in a later post). After all, it would be my primary vehicle. I had initially only planned to ride in the fall until I felt too cold, and walk through the winter. But that never happened, and I now ride year-round.
I have noticed a number of differences between Waterloo and suburban Toronto, most of them positive:
Bike Lanes are much more common in Waterloo, and there are a couple useful paths as well. However, the standard of construction seems much lower than what I’m used to in Toronto. Many bike lanes and paths here are disturbingly narrow, to the point where they would be in violation of the City of Toronto’s standards. This has a very serious impact on the attractiveness of cycling, by making it less safe and less pleasant.
Distances are much shorter in Kitchener-Waterloo. Nearly all trips must be a comfortable cycling distance, given the size of the city. From Uptown, it only takes fifteen minutes to get to the countryside! This was mind-boggling for me, since you could ride for hours in Toronto and still be in the city.
Winter Path Maintenance is something that happens in Waterloo! I can go shopping in Uptown at any time of the year, because the Laurel Trail is cleared of snow. In Toronto, I had grown accustomed to cycling being nearly impossible in winter, because bike paths would get covered in snow, and the only alternative would be to cycle on the icy sidewalks or on the roads. I certainly wasn’t going to ride on the road and risk slipping on ice with fast-moving cars behind me, and riding on the sidewalk likely wouldn’t have been much safer. Unfortunately, bike lanes in Waterloo seem to be just as snowy as the ones in Toronto, which is a serious impediment to winter cycling.