Over the past few years, Saturday mornings have been all about swimming for the Bruntlett family. We are lucky enough to have a community pool within a few blocks of our East Vancouver apartment, but in the Autumn months, scheduled annual maintenance forces us to change our routine up a little bit. So from September until December, we opt to relocate the kids' swimming classes to the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, a much larger facility on the west end of the downtown peninsula, which is just over seven kilometres from our front door. While we could certainly find a pool closer to home, the trip affords us a lovely, scenic bike ride as a family, along the fully-separated Central Valley Greenway, and then onto the seawall on the north side of False Creek. It's a yearly tradition we've very much grown to cherish, transforming a simple trip most parents dread into the furthest thing from a chore.
Fast forward to this past Saturday morning, when I decided to document our journey on film, and share it on social media for the world to experience. Our good friend (and Director of Photography on the Cycle Chic Films) Christoph Prevost was kind enough to lend me his GoPro camera for a couple of weeks, so we strapped it to the front of our new TrioBike Cargo, and made our regular, 45-minute journey from East Vancouver to the West End. The trip itself was typically uneventful, as Melissa and I pedalled along, chatting about our plans for the weekend, some upcoming Christmas-related activities, and the kids hovering around doing their best to keep up. When I got home, I quickly cut the timelapse footage to music, and then posted it on YouTube, anxious to share what has become a thoroughly enjoyable part of our weekly routine.
The following (Sunday) morning, we rolled out of bed, and - since the sun was gracing us with its presence - collectively decided to take a similar ride, this time along the seawall on the south side of False Creek, all the way to Granville Island. During the month of December, the Kids Market there features the most amazing Santa Claus, and we've made a habit of stopping in during the run-up to the holidays to sing some carols, take a photograph, and (of course) let the kids tell him what they would like for Christmas! It was during that ride that I quickly snapped and shared a photo of Etienne on Instagram, remarking that his (rather stylish) wardrobe selection made his Cycle Chic father proud. Shortly thereafter, we received a comment from Marni Duffy, one of our loyal social media followers, a cargo bike riding mother of three from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:
"Loved watching him free and independent in the new Modacity video! Your infrastructure is jealousy-inducing!"
Marni's comment caused me to pause, reflect, and my mind was immediately drawn to a Bikeyface illustration I saw circulating last Christmas. For those of you who aren't familiar with Bikeyface, it is a concise, poignant, and (often tragically) hilarious look at the state of cycling in North America, written and illustrated by Bekka Wright in Somerville, MA. Bekka regularly manages to capture the sad reality of riding a bike for transportation in a car-dominated society, and this particular drawing was no different. "A Place to Ride" explores the fact many children receive shiny new bikes as a Christmas gift, but depressingly, precious few live in cities with streets that are safe enough on which to use them.
It is apt moments like this that remind us pedalling 14 kilometres around the city with our kids is something we very much take for granted, but a luxury that many of our counterparts do not enjoy. Vancouver city officials deserve full credit for building a network of bike infrastructure that caters to riders of all ages and abilities, and families like ours make use of it every day of the week. It's one of the reasons the words and imagery we present about our multi-modal lifestyle has garnered interest from around the world, as cities in the Americas, Australasia, and even some European countries watch on in envy.
So this holiday season, let's focus less on gifts of bicycles (they are the easiest, and - ironically - least relevant part of this equation), and shift our focus towards giving our children the gift of a healthy and safe place to ride them. Our society has spent the past generation building bicycle infrastructure that doesn't work for the most vulnerable of its users, and we will likely spend the next generation (if not longer) correcting that critical mistake. It's a fact often ignored in the (heated) bike lane debate, but perhaps the most compelling for building a minimum grid of safe, sensible, separated bike lanes. Giving our kids the freedom to roam their city without limits is - without a doubt - the greatest gift we can give them. But, even our beloved Vancouver is a long way from making that a reality, as most arterial roads remain unsafe for even adults to ride on. That is what motivates us to keep doing what we're doing. Not for our own benefit, but for that of our children.