The Power of Volunteering Commitment

On Thursday night (March 28th) we had the second strategy meeting at bikeSauce. I had a feeling that the turnout was going to be something of a challenge; the novelty of a first meeting had brought together ten of us, but with a second meeting novelty begins to turn into commitment and commitment isn’t perceived to be easy – either too hard or too scary.

As it turned out, there were three of who turned up – Ned, Geoff and I – and that was pretty good as far as I was concerned. It made the meeting go faster – we even finished early – and we touched the core of what the meeting was about; improving communications within and outside bikeSauce, and winning new volunteers for the cause who stay the distance.

Most people think of bikeSauce as being a bike shop, and it often flies under the radar that it is as much of a volunteer shop as it is a bike shop. Everyone at bikeSauce is a volunteer and is there because they want to be – it’s a 100 volunteer run organisation. There are some really dedicated people who keep the enterprise running – but the fact is, every organisation needs new people, new ideas, new challenges. It’s a two way street.

Artists, graphic designers, screen printers, writers, computer systems developers, advocates, strategists, people creating the magical experience of communal eating would all be welcomed with open arms. I see so many tremendous opportunities but it amazes me at times how the people who could make a meaningful difference have not connected yet.

But as the saying goes, if it was so easy, everyone would be doing it. Maybe because it’s hard to spot the opportunity is what makes the people who do stand out – after all, it says a lot about a person’s character that they’re going to do something even though they’re not being told and/or paid to do it. Solidarity still exists as does sacrifice. Both of those have mattered tremendously in our leaps in humanity and they matter tremendously now. As much as we may need it, radical change is rarely ever wanted or funded. Stand out now.

Raleigh Bicycles and the Missing Middle: A Strange Social Analogy?

Being Bike Friendly at VIA Rail?

With spring only a week away, I thought it was time to start making plans for a bikepacking trip in May. My trips to and in Québec the last couple of years have been absolute highlights of the year. One of the great benefits I’ve been able to enjoy in 2017 and 2018 was VIA Rail’s checked baggage service for at least one train each day for all stations between Toronto and Montréal. Basically, you could turn up with your bike, pay the luggage agent $25 and they would take your bike and load it onto the luggage car with bike racks and return it to you at your destination. A bike valet like no other.

(Tips courtesy of Bicycling magazine issue 1, 2019)

Well it turns out, no longer. I came across the change while looking into dates online and so, to get an insight on what was going on, I cycled down to Union Station and spoke to a lady at the VIA rail service desks. Apparently there have been cutbacks – not enough people were using the checked baggage service – and an absolute gem of a service has been reduced.

After listening to my query and feeling my disappointment, the lady playing the role of a ticket agent suggested I write to the company president to express my views and any request. So that’s something I feel I have to do, lest they cut the service altogether, as apparently happened to the Toronto to Ottawa service. With 6000 km of what’s considered the world’s greatest cycling network at stake, there’s no way that communication is not going to be soon rolling its way to Vélo Québec of which I am a member, and to Yves the Via Rail president If you’re in Toronto, I say use it man, use it, don’t lose it!

Update: 15/03/2019 – What they didn’t mention at Union Station was that VIA have ordered new bicycle friendly trains for the Windsor to Québec City corridor – though these aren’t scheduled to start arriving til 2022!)

Raleigh and the Missing Middle?

In other bike related stuff, I made a pit stop visit to a local bike shop in order to pick up a waterproof saddle cover on clearout, as well as the chance to maybe shoot the breeze and the conversation swung round towards Raleigh Bicycles, which this particular shop had been carrying for a number of years. I had actually come oh so close to buying the Raleigh Furley in 2015 and the Raleigh Roper in 2016, two bikes which Raleigh don’t make any more, much to the shop’s chagrin.

(The now discontinued Raleigh Furley & Raleigh Roper of 2016/2017 above).

Those were two unique bikes that offered something really different from the market norm – good chromoly steel frames and forks, the flexibility to set up as Single Speed, 1X or 2X, wide 35mm+ tyres and coming in around the $1000 CAD mark. In an age when practically every decent bike on offer sub $1000 is aluminium (often with carbon fork) – these Raleighs were something different alright and the Roper just the bike I’d take home today.

Well, the view from the LBS is that apparently Raleigh North America were not making satisfactory numbers for their parent company Accell plc in Europe – which meant new management being parachuted into North American operations, some kind of business unit separation/restructuring and them squeezing out the middle class of the bicycle range for the high end Tamlands and Willards and the low end department store type bikes. It’s something of a bizarre analogy/reflection of society’s hollowing out of the middle. So yeah man, they axed the middle, and this shop is all about the middle. They made the choice for us and we could be seeing Raleigh as a brand disappearing from North America, a hundred year brand. It’s no fun watching them twiddling their thumbs while Rome burns.

I paid a visit to the Raleigh USA and Raleigh Canada website with the question – where’s the innovation? And it’s looking pretty austere – so there’s another letter to be written and sent.

Does anyone know how to realise that they have something precious and it needs to be tended because those are the things that are worth fighting for regardless of the result? What’s the Strategy?

Mandeep.

Over 23% Cycling Mode Share in Toronto (aka Great Aspirations)

Hello Polar Vortex!

Minus 17 degrees Celsius (add 10C on top of that for windchill) and snowy, salty, messy roads. A deep blue sky! Isn’t January a beautiful month to be alive and ride?!?

Great Aspirations.

Talking about beauty, what are our highest aspirations for the city we live in? For it to be a more equal city, a more affordable city, a more connected city, a cleaner city, a friendlier city? A city that helps us to realise our true (mostly hidden) potential? A city that is a very different arrangement from the one which plays its part in contributing to 26 people owning more wealth than the poorest 4,000,000,000?

Not everyone is going to share their highest aspirations. They’ll sound crazy! Not to mention the wounds and disappointment from them being shot down somewhere. But what the heck – when you’re with friends, isn’t sharing aspirations something worth doing – something to live for?

So the current mode share of cycling in Toronto is between 1 and 2%? Current. Today. January 2019. But time does not stand still. Change is inevitable. Toronto is not going to stay between 1 and 2%. The mode share in Vancouver is 6%, Copenhagen is like what, 23%? So those are a couple of targets to get us started on this aspiration trip. (Click on the link for a description of mode share in this snapshot from cycling in Germany).

So what would have to be true to get us to beat this 23% target for cycling mode share in Toronto? That’s what we need to start asking. What do we need to change in the way we’re doing things today? Ready or not, 23% is coming. So let’s go meet it.

Now we’re in the future, at 23% cycling mode share. Let’s start looking back, going in reverse. What did we do to get to 23%? What conversations did we have? What thinking did we change in ourselves and others? What truths did we let go of, so that they were replaced by new truths? Wasn’t it interesting what happened when we somehow got together and became committed to forming a strategy?

Don’t forget to tune in next week!

Reasons to Avoid Good Strategy

With the past weekend’s winter storm, the snowy slushy streets (picture by Kensington Market)…

and the minus -24C nights with frostbite in minutes warnings, it’s a good time to practice my study (dare I say, hobby?) of looking into strategies. Good and bad strategy.

I recently borrowed a book called The elite bicycle : portraits of great marques, makers and designers at the Toronto Public Library. Despite the title (Elite??) there were some good examples of companies that have designed good strategies – like Brooks Saddles, Selle Italia, and Reynolds Tubing. There were some companies that would fit right in with that company – Brompton Bicycles for example? But I also thought of others that really could have been there once but have lost there way – been hampered by lacking good strategy. Raleigh Bicycles?

If the starting point, the foundation of good strategy involves identifying and naming underlying malady or critical obstacle, a lot of people are going to get squeamish. It’s tempting to avoid that kind of painful truth, and maybe even invent a less offensive one. Which obviously does not set the grounding for good strategy!

I’m going to be going into a monthly meeting at BikeSauce in a couple of weeks time to talk about strategy. Of course, I want to explore all the compelling reasons for developing good strategy.

But advocating radical change? I have a feeling that there are going to be uncomfortable moments, that there’s going to be fear and resistance and some not so nice things are going to show up, things we thought would not be in a good place like BikeSauce. In fact, even in an organisation and group of people who are trying to make a positive difference, there are going to be some people wishing that the subject of strategy didn’t come up at all.

Rather than let them lurk in the shadows and sabotage progress, I‘m planning to acknowledge the opposition straight out. I‘m calling it the Reasons to avoid good Strategy, and it goes like this:

Reasons to Avoid Good Strategy

Strategy sounds like something organised, what corporations do, and generals, war. It sounds evil man! And square!

Discipline, cohesion and uncomfortable truth? I dunno man. I kind of got used to the the comfort and convenience of taking the easy way out, where we can all nod our heads paying lip service, ya know?

Hey, aren’t we North Americans? Aren’t we entitled to skip pesky nuisances like strategy and let the rest of the world pick up the tab for our screw ups?

Sure, some people say that not wanting to speak differently unless you know it will go well, and not moving unless you’re guaranteed success is a pathetic and incredibly cowardly approach to life – but there’s a kind of fatalistic beauty in not standing up, in not even bothering at all. Right?

What will happen to the beautiful poses I’ve been perfecting so long? I’d be naked – naked without them!

It’s terrifying. I’m too scared to.

But then where’s our deference/contribution to the Status Quo If we took such a proactive approach?

How can I get over all I know? All the facts and the figures I learned years ago?

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. I may well find out what’s missing at the meeting! But I hope that whoever is there is going to look back on it one day and say – it was *^*#^*! great to have been in that meeting where we could really open up and say how it is and still be accepted. It was such a relief!

Next Week: Reasons to Embrace Good Strategy!

Being the Change in the World

Being the Change in the World.

As the world population rises and is increasingly drawn to cities, the issues of sprawl, congestion, pollution and obesity that have plagued developed cities are going to become more widespread. Some observers suggest that all cities must go through these growing pains – that all developments are long term projects and must pass through their dirty, brutal and painful phases before they can be graceful, complete, realised ones.

And perhaps that is true? But reading this article on London, when “You don’t feel like a citizen of your own city: it’s all so prohibitively expensive,” can’t help but think the three generations goal hasn’t come to pass. Whether its London or Paris or Toronto, it seems like we’re still going through these issues: we still haven’t realised the city’s true potential.

That some people are happy to exploit the situation in the vain hope that to profit out of it will bring happiness and meaning into their lives is a story as old as time. Conventionally we might refer to that group as being the elite, the moneyed class, the billionaires or even the aspiring, the remainder of the 1%.

For a lot of other people, the middle classes and probably a lot of the working classes – the city means keeping hearts hidden and disconnected. Buried under career, distractions and little luxuries; avoiding all entanglements. Unbreakable, impenetrable, safe. They see the homeless person in the street – know that society can permit such a fate to fall on another that could easily be themself – and, to varying degrees of hardness, bolt up the hatches. Varying degrees is an important point. Some hearts in this group – a considerable percentage even – may still be pliable. Hearts and minds still loveable, softenable, to be won!

Some people are already motivated to change things. Perhaps they’ve come to understand that the suffering, the exploitation and alienation, are the results of human action, derived from the fear that comes from an incomplete understanding of our true human situation. That what brings meaning into our lives is to understand our true situation and act rightly in response to that. I’m not saying that’s going to be easy. Just critical.

We’re all on this spectrum somewhere. It’s okay to argue that Loving could be the greatest aspiration and is achievable.

20 km/h speed limits for all vehicles in Toronto?

For the new megacities its not been lost in translation. Bad air quality, insufferable traffic jams in city streets, lack of proper infrastructure investments, – these are all examples set by the developed of the modern world. Yes, the current narrative has domineered for too long, but every one of us has it in us to bring something else to the table and change the ineffective script.

Being able to get more people on bikes would be a dramatic change in the plot. Just like The Netherlands and Denmark, Britain, Canada and the United States all have great internal resources to draw upon. This mission is feasible. The capacity exists. Now it is about coordinating will.

The steps? There is no chicken or egg. There is only infrastructure, Mikael Colville-Andersen says in Copenhagenize : the definitive guide to global bicycle urbanism (above photo credit).

Well let me throw another hat into the ring. That there is not only infrastructure, but reducing speed limits in cities to 20km/h. Why not? I think most reasonable people will accept that discrimination has no place in a modern, civilised society. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are all unacceptable. Yet discrimination continues every minute every day on our streets when fast moving tonnes of steel speed by vulnerable human bodies with little thought or consequence.

A common speed limit for all traffic will begin to address this blatant discrimination on our streets. Won’t there be more traffic jams? Well perhaps there will be. But is the avoidance of traffic jams – which is hardly the case now anyway – a sound justification for tolerating discrimination in what is supposed to be an equal society, where every life is valued and respected equally?

In fact, not only will it bring long overdue fairness, it will make many journey more quickly achievable by bicycle. Space will be more equally distributed. Those afraid to do the healthier more responsible things – walk and cycle – will find the streets have suddenly become so much safer and pleasant. A certain proportion of them will shed their previous inhibitions. Highly visible, others can be inspired to ask themselves – why not me? The gap between the present and the future will close. Children, the elderly, dogs, squirrels and bird life will rejoice. Face to face contact, spontaneous meetings, actually noticing our streetscapes rather than rattling through them in alienated boxes will reconnect us with our humanity and overcome the common hostility and alienation of the rat race workerbot life, which almost every teenager knows and dreads. With the coming robot workforce – it needs to change anyway.

These objectives are feasible because we all know what a 20km/h means. We all know how to respect a speed limit. There probably will be infrastructure changes – but now it may be to accommodate cars as guests on city streets, rather than owners of it.

What has been absent is the political courage to make it happen. As the great majority of politicians are professional and career politicians, they are beholden to voters, to public opinion, to you and I, else they run the risk of not being re-elected. That’s puts them in a difficult position, a dependency – enough votes. So it’s important that we – everyday citizens – have the courage to understand the situation and make the changes – in attitudes, in actions. One of the signs of this will be the arrival of political courage.

Local Food.

A subject of sustainablity that really interests me is local food. With Saturday’s forecast a high of minus -9C with 60% chance of snow, its a good time to think about the coming farmers market season in Toronto, which starts in the middle of May. Yes, there are Saturday markets at St Lawrence, Wychwood Barns and at Evergreen Brickworks, where I will be. But for most people, farmers markets really come alive in May, as the first strawberries and rhubarb hit the stands. So this weekend, I’m planning to look into Ontario’s Local Food Strategy.

There may be more musings on local food and the subject of strategy in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that!

Thanks for coming back to this still brand new blog.if you haven’t already, I hope you will consider bookmarking it and checking in again next week – there will be a new post every Thursday. Thanks again, and feel free to share your feedback.

Bright Hopes

Welcome!

First of all, welcome to my new blog! I hope to write honestly and intimately and not to be afraid of sharing the truth as I see it, even if it is hard and contrary to general opinions. Let me aim and hit the target of giving my best.

New Megacities, Same Old Problems?

By 2035 another 15 cities will have populations above 10 million. The Guardian is currently publishing a series on these starting with Baghdad, Dar es Salaam and Tehran.

Check it out here, but be warned. Reading about people grappling with the same old fallout of pollution, congestion, and dehumanising urban building is painful, especially when you know we have the capacity to be doing things so differently and without this unnecessary suffering. Our own cities could have been setting that different example.

Bright hopes in London, Manchester & Paris!

The ambitious (for now) and of course achievable Transport for London Cycle Plan came out in mid December. Even though there’s been some criticism that the plan doesn’t give more specifics I think we should also appreciate how much work has been put into this. Of course, I don’t want to just stop at bold statements and vision – I want to see the action follow through and the sooner the better. There may be flaws but let’s remember we’re in this together so what can we individually to help? Spreading the word and normalising what some people consider radical is a first step.

Chris Boardman really hits the nail on the head in Greater Manchester’s Beelines Cycling & Walking Proposal by highlighting that the proposed network is not for people who already cycle or walk for the majority of their journeys but to focus on enabling the two thirds of people who currently use their car as their main mode of transport.

Ideally, Beelines would do more than just tremendously inspire everyone in Toronto to join the new enlightenment, but I think at least 20 percent of drivers could be persuaded in the next three years.

If you haven’t heard this before, I’m happy to share this quote again;

“Cars no longer have a space in the big cities of our time.”

That’s from the former Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë. Current mayor Anne Hidalgo apparently has. initiatives to follow on from just right words; reducing parking spaces by 55,000 per year, city wide maximum speed limits of 30km/h, and investing €150m in cycling infrastructure.

30 km/h still sounds too fast though. I think we could show Paris their miscalculation by setting the example of reducing the speed limit to 20km an hour on the streets of Toronto.

Bike Sauce AGM feedback.

Yesterday, January 9th was the BikeSauce AGM. Seeing a such a healthy turnout and on a freezing dark January night with the wind howling and the snow blowing outside reminded me how much passion and initiative there is in this city – and why a sense of community matters so much.

Ideas were exchanged, plans were made. I’m particularly excited by the deeper advocacy and outreach ideas and the after meeting conversation I had with Anibal and John. A made in Toronto BikeSauce bike that also helps more people overcome the barriers of getting onto bikes and making Toronto the true, caring, inclusive city it’s going to be? Stay tuned!

In the meantime, Bike Build on Wednesday nights is a dedicated volunteer night and everyone is welcome, regardless of what you think your mechanical aptitude is. If you care about community, sustainability and resourcefulness, well doors open at 5.30pm – 341 Broadview Avenue is the address – and you are welcome.

Check out the About Page of the blog!

On Tuesday I wrote out the About page for this brand new blog which you are now reading. It took me more hours than I care to admit and I still doubt it’s finished. But I’m closer to explaining my intentions than when it was just a blank page. I really recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.

There is no reason for the old mentality of divide, exploit and profit over others to linger on with its putrid taste. Not unless you’ve lost all faith in the possibility of true happiness, lost faith in yourself. Humanity has never had the collective opportunity that we have now for actually being happy. We have the capacity, that is available, it’s now only a question of will.

Thanks for reading. I hope you join me again for future posts on mandeepscreative.com – and in the meantime, feel free to share your feedback.