Words by Julie - Living Life With Paralysis

A day out to share the road 5

Today, Theo and I spent the day somewhere other than at home or physio. We were with 30+ like-minded Huron County residents and employees at the Share the Road Cycling Coalition Workshop sponsored by Huron County (thanks Susanna!). What a day! Here’s why:

One – This was the first day I have spent doing something that actually required more brainpower than doing paperwork and answering e-mails. We worked in small groups brainstorming how we can improve cycling safety and the number of people on bikes around the county. We worked in small groups to look at the 5 Es – let’s see if I can remember them. Education, Engineering, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation & Planning. We were looking at what we needed, how soon did it should be done and who would potentially do it. Using examples from the US and Canada, we saw areas just like ours – the difference being that they have become bike friendly and improved the overall safety of road transportation. These “same” small towns surviving on agriculture and tourism made two-lane, bike lane, single turning lane roads out of four-lane thoroughfares. Doing so increased safety for bikes and cars and moved more vehicles during peak traffic times. Why can’t we do a super easy thing like this? It’s just paint!

Two – Justin  did a fabulous job walking us through in Huron County. He travelled Seaforth to Walton to Blyth to Goderich to Clinton the day before looking at our towns, trails and roadways. He helped us see through a tourists lense how beautiful our small towns were. I love how he subtly (and sometimes not so subtly *ahem Clinton*) called out the features of our townscapes that need improvement for safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. Who knew that trees slowed down traffic? There you go Rachel – it all connects to trees! We also saw the great examples of our bike friendly features, not so friendly sections of trails (deep puddles and exposed railway tracks) and roadways with safe cycling potential. We learned how paving shoulders can work and saw projects or endeavours that we could easily transfer to our community – how about a bike valet at the Celtic Festival, bike for breakfast and streets closed regularly to traffic?

Three – I also wrapped my head around Active Transportation, well I think so anyway. Did you know that 4 out of 5 trips in cars do not involve travelling to work and school? Who knew? I guess we think about commuting driving more often because maybe that is the driving that we resent doing most? Active transportation can happen to work and school, but it is easiest put into our recreation and leisure time. All of the biking within town can be done in 15 minutes or less in all the towns in Huron County. So everything you do in town can be done in 15 minutes bursts of getting fit. Going to hockey/lacrosse/swimming/karate/dance walk or bike and do it with your family – that way it is not just your kid that gets something out of it, you do too. Ride to the store or to market – get a basket for your bike! If you had a cup holder on your bike maybe you could go through the drive-thru? jk.

Four – Theo and I got to talk to other adults – other than each other, that is. Engaging in meaningful conversations about topics we are passionate about – what a treat! Not that we don’t speak to each other – because we do, most of the time anyway – but we get so caught up in the here and now – what appointments do I have today, where do the kids need to be tonight, what’s for dinner (all the same as everyone) that we don’t take the time to be contemplative. It was like a date-day. I love it when we get time to do this with friends so it was also fun to do it with strangers. I asked Theo what his “take home” was – he sees the groundswell of cycling activity going on in the County and hopes the committee struck by Huron County can capture the strings and allow initiatives to grow. My biggest fear is that the good ideas will get lost in red tape. That “rules” will need to be followed and something that will benefit everyone in a small community will get needlessly shelved.

Five – I also was reminded that I enjoy that kind of a day, being given a chance to be creative and challenged to think outside of the box and stay on topic (the Gold in me coming to the surface again). I realized that sometime thinking creatively does take you off the path and leads to something unexpected. I miss being at work – the impromptu science meetings that lead to productive discussion around issues (read: student) of classroom management and ideas for curriculum (read: what am I going to teach today). More brains are better than one and today we proved that.

Six – I had a chance to ask who was the County person that I should speak to about accessibility. Turns out he was right at my table! I was looking for the person to talk to about accessibility in County buildings. It was funny, and I guess the result of the how I ask my questions, I got the same answer as about the School Board – people assume I am asking about the process and the committee. When I give more details I finally get to the root – the person who makes things happen! I want to know who to talk to about getting through the bathroom door and safely using a bathroom stall. For the second time in six days I had to use washrooms that in no way could I manage on my own. Handrail placement on the wall beside the toilet is critical to my success right now. I need it for balance while pulling up my pants (I almost said I need it to pull up my pants – see the difference? 🙂 and for transfers to and from the toilet (especially from). Both the Blyth and Holmesville Community Centres have serious flaws in their (Women’s) accessible bathrooms. How many more are out there? I sense another need for a report card.

Seven – I may need to become a professional volunteer. For cycling safety and accessibility (now on top of all things environmental, fitness and local food) there is a whole lot of educating that needs to be done. Not that I need to do it all, but I do enjoy talking. Although I miss Madill, I have been realizing I needed a break. Not only from work, but from having my head always “on” work. Volunteering you kind of get to call the shots about how much time you have to commit. I like the time I am able to have with Theo and the kids. So if we were all riding our bikes on our accessible and safe paths on our way to the local farmers market burning nothing but our own body fat…well then, my work is done.

Eight – Once again this week I got to see some old friends (lots of hugs – thanks Con) and meet new ones too. I like hearing that people are reading my blog, but I am not expecting it. Well, I do expect my friends to read (selfish, I know) but I find it odd, strange, surprising (what words combines these three?) when complete strangers tell me they read. Some media folks (CKNX and CTV – thanks Scott!) were there today too, nice to see cycling safety in the news and not because of an accident.

Which brings me to number Nine – I have a new way of looking at what started this all. We spoke to Justin over lunch for a few minutes. Theo wanted to know if they heard from people like us often and he said that they heard from way more people than they would like. Too many stories of bike vs. car. But what stuck was that Share the Road calls what happened to me a collision. Well of course it was a collision, but what they mean by that is that it was not an accident. So from now on, when I speak of what happened on July 29th, I will call it my collision.  “When my collision happened”, “after my collision” and “as a result of my collision”. Let’s call a spade a spade.

So it was a great day because I learned about what potential we have as communities and that we as citizens need to encourage our politicians to support the initiatives that will make getting around safer and easier for all. Boy I am sounding like I am on a bit of a soap box. I guess that’s where I go every time I open my chromebook, gives me a reason to write. That was a lot of writing for just one day – and I didn’t even make it to the end of the workshop. I started to fade around lunch and we left with just about an hour to go. I didn’t think I could last the whole day, and I wanted to make it to bed without tears!



  • Ernest Dow says:

    Great synopsis! Thanks for sharing your heart – your passion comes through.

  • Chris Lee says:

    Julie – you really captured the workshop, I arrived sceptical and left optimistic. My only regret was that you left before we could get acquainted! A friend of mine in BC has a similar injury to you and he sent me this video link that really drives home what the bike lanes mean for him to be independent, to exercise and be able to explore and appreciate his community.

  • Hi Julie,

    I very much enjoyed meeting you at the workshop. I left there feeling more optimistic about the future of cycling in Huron. As part of the committee, I'm so afraid we'll come up with a report that will get nods of approval and then gather dust on some forgotten shelf. My challenge is to make sure that doesn't happen–I'm just not quite sure how. If you've got some ideas and need some help with them, give me a shout, I've got time.

    As for the bathroom at the community centre, I'm so sorry they didn't work well for you. Even for me, I had to wiggle myself around the toilet in order to close the door of the stall. Every time I did that, I hoped the people who designed the bathroom were a little skimpy on "regular" stall space in order to make the larger stall accessible. Guess I was wrong. 🙁

    If you want to climb up onto a soap box, I think cycling safety in Huron County is an excellent choice!

  • Linda says:

    Julie I really wish I could have been there. Given my time restraints I don't join many actives groups for change and I really wanted to be part of this one. Perhaps in the future I will be able to join you.

    On a 2nd note, yes, I guess "collision" is the better word, but by no means an accurate description of what happened. The word itself sounds lame. How about one word that describes "life altering, shatter my world turn it upside down all because you weren't paying attention and I have to pay the price???" (Sorry just a little of my inner anger venting itself)

    Love you girl!

  • tlp says:

    Very inspiring Julie!!

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