Lesley Evans Ogden spent many years scaling the ivory tower, earning a PhD and doing postdoctoral research in ecology, before parachuting into the wild and wonderful world of science journalism. A regular contributor to Natural History, New Scientist and BioScience, Lesley has also written for Nature and CBC. She is an alumna of the Science Communications Program at the Banff Centre and the Santa Fe Science Writers Workshop. When not writing she can be found running, hiking, watching comedy or mystery, taxi-ing children to soccer, or contemplating how odd socks lose their mates and other contemporary enigmas.
What is your feature about?
It’s about rethinking the way that we get around urban habitats, and how cycling as a transport choice might have an impact on our health. Too often, media coverage of cycling in cities focuses on the so-called “war” between motorists and cyclists. It's unfortunate to get caught up in such superficial, provocative “he said, she said” arguments, because they don’t do justice to the depth of this issue. Transport has an impact on our lives in so many more ways than just how we get from A to B. Transport choices have a big influence on how much time we spend inactive versus active. How we commute affects our health, happiness, the air we breathe, the stability of our climate, and how we spend those most precious of resources – our space and our time.
What did you learn that you didn't expect?
One thing was just how similar being in heavy bike traffic was to being in heavy motor vehicle traffic. In rush hour in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, on some of the busiest cycle routes, I experienced that same sense of stress, congestion and defensiveness that I’ve so often experienced in bumper-to-bumper car traffic. I saw some of the same bad behaviours one often sees from humans behind the wheel of a car: people trying to cut in and out, jackrabbits trying to race ahead of the crowd, and people impatient with the slower moving cyclists. The difference: in heavy, segregated bike traffic, you’re not breathing your neighbour’s fumes (unless of course they had extra beans for dinner). And there’s a sense of collective consciousness, connection and mutual understanding when you’re perched on a bike seat less than an arm’s length from your fellow travellers, without a large metal casing delineating your space.
Which city did you enjoy the most?
Choosing is difficult. There are lovely aspects of each city I visited. I loved walking my bike over London’s wonderful Millennium Bridge, taking in the sweeping views of the city along both sides of the river. I was only sorry I couldn’t cycle over as it’s a pedestrian-only bridge. I loved the incredibly organized, wide, well-used cycle paths in Copenhagen and cycling alongside its verdant, stately parks, inhaling the city’s clean air. I loved Amsterdam’s narrow, cobbled, centuries-old canal streets, where bikes often move faster than cars, and where many bicycles are festooned with artificial flowers or wild fluorescent spray paint. Paris too, was charming. As evening rush hour approached in the busy city centre, I was surprised to see three police show up on bicycles to assist with traffic management. In Paris though, like London, travelogues always seem to overlook the grungy street scenes of litter and soot, and the smell of cigarette smoke and urine on walkways and under bridges. Getting a sense of the sights, smells, sounds and feel of each city – the good and the bad – from a bicycle was an incredible experience. It opened my eyes to how much we take the status quo for granted when it comes to how we move around.
Read Lesley's feature on Mosaic, publishing on 4 March 2014.