A festival needs temporary infrastructure – stages, sound tents, food and beverage vendors, washrooms. Equally important is supporting the journey to and from the festival grounds, especially if you bike or take public transit.

By: Nina Jane Drystek

If you are a cyclist, you probably know that hunting for the right place to lock your bike can be tricky at best and an utter failure at worst. This is particularly true when there are thousands of people attending a concert in an open area where there isn’t much infrastructure or many objects to which you can safely secure you bike.

RBC Ottawa Bluesfest is the Ottawa’s largest festival, taking place at Lebreton Flats near the Canadian War Museum. Its location and proximity to the bike paths created an interesting challenge for festival organizers. How do we accommodate the cyclists?

Bluesfest Bike Park

A few white tents, some metal fencing and rows and rows of barricades pop up near the festival grounds in early July. If you pass by at the right time you might see friendly people moving bikes around between them.

While it’s moved locations and changed configurations several times over the years, cyclists and music fans in Ottawa have come to know this set-up as the Bike Park for Ottawa Bluesfest.

Supported by both Bluesfest and Bike Ottawa, Bike Park is a free service that encourages patrons, staff and volunteers to ride their bikes to the festival by safely looking after it while they see a show or work a shift.

As the dedicated volunteers of Bike Park like to say: it’s a coat check for your bike.

Fully supervised by volunteers, BikePark means people don’t have to worry about searching for a place to lock their bike, or that someone might cut their lock. It encourages folks to wear helmets because they can leave it with their bike and not worry about carrying it around. You can even leave your skateboard! We’ll look after it and keep it safe.

By making it easier to cycle to the festival, Bike Park helps cut down on traffic and is a great way for people to avoid crowded buses. Our team also has the tools to help people who need a quick repair before hitting the road. Did you have one too many beers? The Bike Park has a system for keeping bikes overnight so that cyclists can pick them up the next day.

With one tent along the Ottawa River Pathway, it is well located for cyclists coming to the festival, but they also get many curious people who stop to find out what they are doing, get directions, pick up cycling literature about Ottawa and sometimes just to chat.

By the numbers: Cycling is growing

This year, we had our busiest festival since 2013, parking a total of 7,520 bikes over the 10 days of the festival! The Bike Park also had its busiest day ever, parking almost 1,200 bikes during the Foo Fighters, Greta van Fleet, and Machine Gun Kelly. We had our fourth biggest night during Dave Matthews and Courtney Barnett with over 1,000 bikes. Over thirteen years, they have parked a total of 80,850 bikes.

Even though parking and returning over 1,000 bicycles in one night can be crazy, we have an organized system to get them out quickly and great volunteers who know what to do. Want to see us in action? Take a look at the time-lapse video above.

This year marked my seventh year volunteering at Bike Park and it has been fun to watch cycling grow into a more popular mode of transportation in Ottawa. More and more people are cycling when they need to get somewhere, and that includes events related to arts and culture.

With bike parking available at many of Ottawa’s big festivals, it is clear that organizers recognize cycling a key mode of transportation. As our city continues to grow as a cultural centre, it’s something planners and developers need to continue considering.

Bike Park group photo on the final night, just before midnight. The work is done, now it’s party time! Photo by Charles Akben-Marchand