Community Newspaper Columns

Helping seniors feel the wind in their hair

November 2016

For the many seniors who live in some form of retirement home or assisted living residence, getting outside is a special and yet rare and limited event: A stroll in the garden, a walk or wheel around the block, sitting on a bench in the sun, perhaps a drive. All are welcome distractions, I'm sure, but they can't compare to the mobility and social engagement that many seniors once enjoyed.

In Denmark, where almost every senior remembers what it feels like to ride a bike, the loss of that ability is more than a loss of exercise; it also removes one's ability to experience and enjoy the world beyond a very limited local environment.

This explains the extraordinary success of Cycling Without Age (cyclingwithoutage.org), a social movement that enlists volunteer "pilots" to take older adults for a free ride in a three-wheeled bicycle-rickshaw hybrid, or "trishaw".
Cycling Without Age was founded in Copenhagen in 2012 to help residents of a local nursing home get back a bicycle and feel the wind rush through their hair.

The electric-assist trishaw seats one or two passengers up front, affording them a full view, while the pilot wheels them along whatever route they've agreed to. A canopy shelters the passengers from sun or rain, and everyone aboard is close enough to chat if they wish.

That's it. Simple and yet life-changing.

Based on feedback, Cycling Without Age is not "just a bike ride", but a way for seniors to rediscover or be re-immersed in the place where they live, both the social community and the physical environment. The pilot, who can be of any age provided he or she can ride a bike, enjoys the benefit of exercise, along with the feeling of contributing to the health and wellbeing of the passengers. For everyone, it's a way to make new friends across generations.

This social experiment demonstrates that a simple act can translate into uplifted spirits and improved medical health for individuals. More than that, when implemented on a larger scale, it improves the morale and spirits of entire communities, with profound changes noted by staff and volunteers at participating seniors' residences.

Can it work in Ottawa? It already is. Earlier this year, Gary Bradshaw brought Cycling Without Age to the St. Louis Residence in Orleans, in partnership with Bruyère Continuing Care.

I'm so enthused about Cycling Without Age that I'll be working with several partners over the coming months to explore how we might roll out more bikes at more facilities, including seniors' residences in Capital Ward. At around $9,000, the specialized bikes are not cheap, and we need volunteer coordinators and pilots to make a large-scale program work. But I'm confident it will.

After all, the program is popular in more than 200 locations around the world that have joined the Cycling Without Age network. Sponsors, residence operators, pilots and donors are coming together because of the obvious genius of the idea. If that is you, please let me know.

Together, we can give everyone the opportunity to feel the wind in their hair.

Until then, I would like wish you every happiness during the holiday season and throughout the coming year.

Urban Forest Management Plan

The City of Ottawa began developing its Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) last year in order to provide a comprehensive, long-term vision and strategic direction for protecting and enhancing the urban forest.

The draft UFMP is now available for review, and Phase 2 public consultations have been scheduled for Nov. 21 and 22. You can find more information on the UFMP, download the draft plan, and complete the consultation survey by visiting capitalward.ca/urban-forest.

The final UFMP will be developed over the winter for presentation to the Environment Committee and City Council next spring.