Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The perception of speed

Photo taken @ Clark and East Broadway while
waiting at a bus stop as cars race by
As someone how commutes by foot and bike a lot, I have become quite aware of my surroundings while getting around town. I've written about it before, how travelling in these ways gives you a more intimate experience of the world going by around you. I get to experience nature up close and personal, interact with other people walking or riding bikes, and enjoy being out in the open air getting fresh air and exercise. But there's something else I get to experience, and that's the motor vehicles racing along the roadways at high speeds. Walking or riding in my community has made me much more aware of fast moving cars, and as such, I have grown to be hesitant around the busier streets in my neighbourhood, especially when I'm with my children.

While being aware and hesitant at major roadways is a good thing to teach children, my experiences have led me to believe that the people in these fast moving vehicles don't actually realize how terrifying it is for the pedestrians and cyclists around them. The sound of a speeding car, revving its engine to make the next traffic light has actually startled my children on several occasions, causing them to jump and hold my hand a little tighter. I am glad to know my children can recognize vehicular danger through the sense of sound, but that doesn't change the danger of being near these speeding vehicles.

As I said, in my opinion, most motorists don't perceive their excesses in speed when behind the wheel. After reading through some studies done throughout the USA, I found some startling findings. One study found that for younger drivers, mainly men, were less likely to perceive that safety is threatened by driving 10m/h (16km/h) above the posted speed limit. The perceived threat was noted to increase as the demographic increased in age, going down to about 5m/h (8km/h) above the posted speed limit.

Those numbers may seem small, but let's think about that for a moment. Most residential areas in Canada have an un-posted speed limit of 50km/h. If the average driver feel it's okay to drive 8-16km/h over the speed limit, that would mean that on a quiet residential road, likely full of young children, many drivers are actually moving at speeds between 55-65km/h. I now know from past research, as posted in One small idea, very big reward, that reducing the speed limit to 30 km/h from 50km/h could reduce a pedestrian's chances of dying if hit by a car from 85% to 5%.

While I don't like perpetuating fear of everything around us, preferring that my children learn street smarts so they are better prepared for the days when I am not with them for every walk to and from school, knowing that many drivers don't perceive that their speeds are unsafe is more than a little unnerving. But there is hope. Many cities worldwide are looking at reducing speed down to 30km/h in more densely populated areas. Here in BC, the City of Victoria is currently pushing through an initiative in their city and provincially to reduce speeds in residential areas from the default 50km/h to 40km/h. While there will be push back, a simple reduction of speed should inherently cause drivers to slow down, increasing safety for pedestrians, including children and seniors.

For now, I'll continue to avoid major roads where revving engines and speeding drivers are prevalent. I will also try to impress upon the drivers I know that while getting through the next light, or getting to their destinations 5 minutes sooner may seem like a good idea, it's also important to keep in mind that while their perception of the speed being travelled doesn't seem like a big deal to them sitting within their vehicle, the people walking or riding bikes around them feel very differently. No one wants to purposely cause harm or fear to their fellow citizens, and the best way to do that is consider how our actions are perceived, even if it means driving at the speed limit.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Studying point of view

This week the Velo Family has the special treat of being part of a student documentary focused on displaying the point of view of its subjects. Specifically, how a family living car-free gets from point A to B with ease. Filming us as I pick up my daughter from school and head to a doctor's appointment, my husband commuting to and from work on his trusted bicycle, and the whole family heading out for our weekly trip to the swimming pool, the director and her team hope to capture the spirit of this blog - that life can go on as usual without depending on a car.

We are quite honoured to be the inspiration for this project. I have to admit that having someone follow you along as you do a daily trip made me realize how I take what we do for granted about our lifestyle. I never think of us as being a unique family, knowing there are other families out there who don't have cars. However, every day, Monday to Friday, I walk the same route with my kids, dropping my daughter off for another day at school. Some days we bike, but it's always the same, never involving getting behind the wheel of a car, and that's pretty special. 

Aside from the obvious health benefits of walking or biking every day and getting in our daily physical activity, there are a couple added bonuses of travelling this way. One very big benefit is that my children know their neighbourhood as well, if not better, than many adults living in the area. They know which way to go to get to their school, the local community centre, library and, of course, the local grocers. My four year old son even goes so far as to ask to take different routes once and a while, knowing the alternate paths to certain locations, and can tell when I'm deviating from our route. It's a pretty special thing to know you're kids can get themselves around their neighbourhood without having their parents guide them the whole way. They still have a ways to go before we'll let them do those trips without us, but its comforting to know they're already getting set for their future independence.

A surprising benefit of these trips are the stories we get to share. On our walks home from school, my kids can tell me about their days, and I can see their excitement, frustration and fascination with the activities of the day. We talk face to face, instead of half listening from the front seat while concentrating on the traffic ahead. It is something I take for granted once and a while, because it is such common occurrence for us, but I do miss it on days when my husband takes them to school on those rare days I have to work. On our family bike rides, my husband and I get to experience the world through their point of view. They marvel at the animals, the boats in the harbour, and, most recently, the beautiful snow capped mountains.

So, an examination of the point of view of our family helped me to remember why it is that we are very lucky. I get to experience so much of my children's lives in a very personal way. I share in their wonder on a nearly daily basis, and they have their parents close at hand to reassure them and guide them when they need it. I am a lucky parent to be able to live my life in such a way, and am thankful for the opportunity to raise my kids in a way that afford them the chance to know their neighbourhood while sharing their excitement with me.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Lessons taught through our kids

A couple weeks back my son decided he wanted to borrow The Lorax from the library. While I have seen the newer movie a few times, I'll admit I had yet to read the actual book! So when we sat down to read it, while I knew the plot, I was amazed at the emotional reaction I had. Something about reading the story of how greed and the desire for wealth can have such a damaging effect on the environment reminded me of what I take for granted as common practice because of how the Velo Family lives.

I'm a child of the 80's, when things like recycling were still a fairly new concept, at least where I grew up. But I remember when I was in grade five, one of my teachers taught my class about eco-systems, the importance of recycling and how plants are so important to the health of our bodies and our surroundings. Since then, I have continued learning what it is I can do to help reduce climate change, whether it be through protecting and planting trees and other plants, composting, recycling or other "green" initiatives. Fast forward to nearly three years ago when we made the biggest jump and sold our car, reducing our carbon footprint to as small as we possibly could.

What I forget, though, is that not everyone lives this way, and I forget that it's still important to teach my children why we live as we do and make the choices we do. Recycling is common practice in our house, but until we were purging at Christmas time, my son had no idea that the things we recycle are broken down and turned into new bottles, papers, or, in this case, turned into new toys (we donated many of their younger toys this year).

My children, and I'm sure many others, are also constantly teaching and reminding us of our responsibilities. As an adult, life gets really complicated, what with starting and maintaining (or even changing) your career path, forging important and lasting relationships, starting a family and all the responsibilities that that entails. With all this going on, it's easy to forget that protecting our environment is important. So when my six year old daughter gives me a dirty look and a talking to when I forget to compost, or my three year old son discusses the meaning of The Lorax, and that when you cut down all the trees the air fills with smog and all the animals leave, which is sad, it's a reminder that as hard as I try, there are still things to be done.

After all, while I still have a long time left to live responsibly, my actions, and the actions of my peers and the generations before me will have a lasting effect on my children's futures. I am confident that I am instilling a sense of responsibility in my children, and my hope is that they continue to protect the world around them. They care about the animals, plants, trees, and even bugs, therefore so should I, for my present and their future.

"UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
 nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Friday, 11 January 2013

Riding a bike is sexy!

Photo Credit: Victoria Furuya
Last night, my husband was able to attend a lecture by Jeffrey Tumlin titled "Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism". It sounds like it was a stimulating lecture focusing on the benefits of creating a more walkable community, and I'm sorry to have missed it. My husband got a lot out of the lecture, but one thing he passed on to me was regarding the emotional factors of driving versus walking/biking. In his review of the evening, Andreas Lindinger summarizes that:

"short periods of outdoor exercise also result in more self esteem, better mood and a particular self esteem improvement in young and mentally ill people. According to recent research, the peptide Oxytocin – which is released with outdoor exercise (as well as breast feeding and orgasms) – lowers blood pressure and other stress-related responses, increases positive social behaviour (such as friendliness) and creates trust, generosity and empathy." (Source here)

Much of the focus on creating walkable communities is on the environmental factors; reduced car trips which equates to less co2 emissions and better air quality. So to look at reducing car trips and increasing the ability to walk or bike safely and pleasurably as a means to better our mental health and social interactions is very intriguing. After all, isn't that what we're all after as human beings? To be able to feel good about ourselves and have meaningful interactions with the people around us?

Jeff also spoke about road rage, and how it is a medically recognized condition. We, as human beings, have been trained through evolution to look for visual cues, through eye contact and facial/body language while interacting with other people. Driving in a large metal box at fast speeds eliminates the ability to do read these cues, thus road rage is the human reaction to expressing our frustrations with not being able to anticipate the reactions of fellow motorists.

"While driving makes us fat, sick, die early, poor, dumb, angry and mistrustful, walking makes us fitter, smarter, able to handle complex reasoning, sexier, more loving and more trustful."

Think about it. How do you feel after a day at the beach, playing outside with friends, or even just taking a walk to the store? Speaking from my own experiences, I tend to feel energized when I've spent time outdoors, whether walking or on my bike. I feel optimistic, creative, and have been known to come up with some of my best ideas or plans while walking in my neighbourhood. In the summer, don't we all feel a little sexier after spending time in the sunshine. Sure, the fact that summer usually means less clothing helps, but I can recall my days of commuting by car in the summer and feeling lethargic, uninspired and less willing to get out.

So while I did not attend the lecture, I have my own bit of take away insight. I know that by walking and biking as my means of transportation, I am not only benefiting my physical health but also my mental well-being. It may be winter, and cold and wet, but getting out every day using my own two feet is the best way to get past the winter blahs and feel happy, smarter, and maybe just a little bit sexy!

Other interesting reading:

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Finding calm within the storm

The holidays are officially over, school has begun, and even I have returned to work for a couple days. After a solid two weeks home, I think we were all ready to return to our regularly scheduled programming, though, and it has been nice to get back into the habit of regular meals and bedtimes. I have had a renewed feeling of optimism for the year, and am excited for whatever life will bring.

As we settle back into routine, so resumes the extra-curricular programs for the children. We are not unlike most families, trying to get our kids out of the house, away from the television and other electronics, and instill creativity, knowledge and an active mind and body. I have always felt it is important for the kids to be active, but I don't like the idea of making life so busy that we don't get a chance to have fun as a family. It's a difficult thing to balance, especially with two children. Our daughter spends her evenings in two different dance classes and art class, while out son enjoys skating lessons and a multicultural reading series. Both children are also enrolled in swimming lessons, which is one thing we will always make time for as both my husband I think it's extremely important. Of course, none of these activities land on the same day, so we spend 5 days out of our 7 day week taking the kids to programming.

So what's a family to do to participate in all these great activities while also finding time to decompress or spend time together? Well, here's a few of the things we do to keep ourselves grounded and somewhat stress-free:

Coffee Breaks - we are quite lucky that our daughter's dance studio is conveniently located across the street from our favourite coffee shop. So while she dances her little heart out, my husband, son and I head over to the cafe and enjoy a small drink and a treat while catching up on our days. When the weather is nicer, we take a walk so we're getting a bit of exercise, too!

Mommy workout - As you can imagine, now that the holidays are done, I'm ready to get out of my food coma and into a healthy body and mindset. Taking and hour or so for a workout is a great way to not only get back into shape, but I also get some time on my own. So while I'm stretching, sweating or riding my bike I get to reflect on my week, plan for new adventures and activities, or even think of new meals to make for my ever growing kids.

Longer Travel Times - Okay, so this seems a bit strange, taking more time to get to a location. We live very close to two pools, Templeton and Britannia, but we have found that by choosing to take the kids to lessons at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, we have a chance to enjoy an hour long bike ride to and from along the seawall. While that alone is fantastic, it also takes us out of our neighbourhood, and forcing ourselves to do that once a week has been a great way to break out of our comfortable neighbourhood bubble.

These have all been easy things to do, and while many outdoor activities are hard with the winter weather, it's been a great way to keep our sanity. That being said, I do look forward to warm days on the beach...only 6 months to go!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A quiet send off and looking ahead

For New Year's Eve we decided to do something a little bit different, at least for us. Instead of heading off to a party to ring in the New Year with a large group of people, we bundled the kids into the trailer and headed off for a ride around the city. It was a nice change, and just what we needed after a busy year full of change and excitement. While the children stayed toasty, nodding in and out of sleep, my husband and I rode at a leisurely place, chatting about the year gone by and the year to come. We passed many familiar places, heading into downtown through Strathcona, then coasted down to the seawall at Hornby and enjoyed the quiet and beauty of a clear night. We made it back home just in time to wish our kids a Happy New Year with our Eastern Time Zone counterparts, and then sat and chatted over some wine until midnight, listening to the revelry outside and grateful for some quiet time together. All in all it was a nice way to welcome 2013.
Riding into downtown on the quiet bike lane

Bright light on a quiet night

When reflecting on the year to come, it's easy to understand why many people come up with resolutions. It's something that I've never really done, though, knowing that it was likely I wouldn't stick to them. This year is not too different, but I have made a few promises to myself that I hope to fulfill over the next 12 months, and would like to share some with you.

"I promise that I will not shy from change": I have never really been one to fear change, but this past year brought a new challenge professionally for me. I am still learning and adapting to my new role, and have entered the new year excited and still a bit nervous to throw myself into my role. I will be travelling regularly, and meeting many different people, which will take me out of my comfort zone as a stay at home parent, but I know that it will also help me grow personally and professionally, and that can never be a bad thing!

"I promise to respect myself and my body": Many resolutions centre around weight loss and achieving the "perfect" body. I could likely stand to lose a few inches or pounds, but this promise is meant to focus on understanding that I'm not perfect, and so long as I stay healthy through eating habits and physical activity, I am doing the best I can for my health and well-being. I will also respect myself enough to know that it is not a failure to indulge once and a while. After all, food is meant to be enjoyed, otherwise chocolate wouldn't taste so good!

"I promise to make time for the important people in my life": As life gets busy, it seems the first thing to go is time with friends and family. So I make a promise to myself and those important people to make time, even an hour, to catch up, share a coffee, and share a laugh.

"I promise to be civic-minded": In 2012 I posted about several issues regarding infrastructure and the way my city could use improvements or is succeeding. This year, I will try to do more than just write. Whether through volunteering or activism, I promise to put my words into action and try to effect change in the things I am unhappy with.

There you have it. A few simple promises, all meant to help make the year ahead successful. I wish all my followers a wonderful 2013. May the year bring you excitement, adventure, and love!
Cheers to you and yours!