City criticized for ‘not doing enough for cycling’

By Drew Davidson

This year’s winner of the Bruce Timmermans Award for promoting cycling says the City of Ottawa is heading in the wrong direction with the sport.

“I don’t understand where the city thinks it’s going,” says the 64-year-old award winner and cycling enthusiast, Manny Agulnik. “They’re really missing the mark when it comes to cyclists.”

Agulnik says one of the best examples of missing the mark is the Timmermans Award. For the past three years, it has not recognized a corporation alongside an individual, he says.

The Bruce Timmermans Award was established in 1999 and is given out through the city’s TravelWise program.

It is supposed to be awarded annually to an individual or company that promotes safe cycling and cycling as an alternative means of transportation.

Agulnik won this year’s award for his work arranging bicycling tours to Maine and in Holland, and for his contributions to Citizens for Safe Cycling, a non-profit organization promoting safe cycling in Ottawa.

In 1997, Agulnik, now a former member of the group’s executive, used his experience as a commercial real estate broker with the Regional Group to help the organization find more affordable office space.

But, unlike the first recipients of the award, Agulnik was alone in receiving it this year. Since 2003, no one has received the corporate award.

The reason the award has not been given out is simple, says Wilf Knoppert, program manager of transportation demand management, cycling and pedestrian facilities with the City of Ottawa. The department didn’t receive any qualifying nominations, he says.

“We advertise the award through our TravelWise program and brochures,” says Knoppert. “When nominations closed in September, we just didn’t have anyone for the corporate award.”

Agulnik says this sends the wrong message.

“What’s that saying?” he says. “It’s saying that companies aren’t on board, the city is not on board by cutting education programs, by doing a sloppy job encouraging cyclists.”

The City of Ottawa promotes cycling through its TravelWise program which aims to reduce traffic congestion in city streets.

According to its website, building roads to reduce congestion is expensive at a cost of $900,000 to $2 million per kilometre. Cycling is one way the program says the city can achieve its goals and save money.

The only problem is that there is no money to advertise and promote the program, says Knoppert.

“We could do more to advertise but city dollars have been shrinking, especially in the areas of advertising, marketing, promotions and even programming,” he says.

City funding has also been tight at Citizens for Safe Cycling, says the organization’s president, Charles Akben-Marchand.

His group relies on funding through membership fees, grants and a contract with the city that pays for its office, staff and programs.

Each year when the budget comes out, this funding is often excluded, he says.

“It’s the upper-level city staff that writes the draft budget, then we have to go to city council and remind them that cycling is a priority,” he says. “We have to fight that every year.”

While Akben-Marchand says he understands money is tight, Agulnik says they shouldn’t be fighting for funds. Instead, the city should make more of an effort to promote cycling through tax incentives to businesses, he says.

With no showers at his work, Agulnik says, like many in the city, he is unable commute by bike when meeting with clients.

By changing property taxes to give breaks to buildings that provide these facilities, the city could get more people on bikes, he says.

“The city is not taking advantage of this,” says Agulnik. “They’re turning a blind eye.”

Agulnik says he doesn’t expect the municipal government to change, but will continue to promote cycling on his own.

Agulnik is organizing two bicycling tours of Holland for Ottawa residents this year.

The tours cover only 50 kilometres each day making them easy to train for and offer people a different way to experience the country, he says.

Agulnik says he encourages people to pressure their councillors if they believe in the issue.

“Don’t back away,” he says. “There’s no politician whose mind can’t be changed.”