Working to Inspire Change

 

Earlier this month I made the trip east to help celebrate the wedding of my baby sister. The trip meant leaving the comforts of home, including our multi-modal lifestyle, and being thrown back into the suburban life we left behind when we decided to move to Vancouver. With our immediate families living in southern Ontario, we travel back east fairly regularly, each time almost immediately missing our humble bicycles and the variety of options we have at our disposal to get around the city.

Painted lanes and a wide walking path - but how do you get to the plaza?

This time around, I was determined to find some way to get around without having to get in a car. Thankfully my dad keeps a rugged mountain bike in his garage that he happily cleaned up for me to be able to ride. I made good use of my wheels, riding to the newly-built plaza just a five minute ride from my childhood home to run errands and get in a little active transportation in a car dependent city. While the route was far from pleasant when compared to what is available to us in Vancouver, I saw a glimmer of hope, being able to ride in painted bike lanes for part of the journey.

I was still a noticeable minority on the road, but it's nothing we're not used to. And I had a point to prove - that despite living in a city that has grown exponentially around the private automobile, there are other options. Through our work, we have strived to inspire others to explore other modes of transportation. Of course, the greatest compliment would be for our families to take up these options, and by making the trip myself, the hope was to show that they don't always have to default to car travel, and that going for a walk or ride could be an enjoyable experience.

So it was almost fortuitous that our travels coincided with the airing of the piece our family was featured in for CBC's The National. That evening, I sat with my sister and her friends in her downtown Kitchener apartment and watched as our happy little family travelled throughout Vancouver on bicycles. For our part, we helped provide the example of what a city looks like when they invest in active transportation - or more specifically - safe and accessible bike infrastructure. It was certainly a very proud moment for our family, and accolades and recognition were quick to come. 

Despite the title, this is a great piece on how Vancouver's investments have made lifestyles like ours possible.

In fact, our appearance became the talking point upon seeing my extended family at the wedding. Chris and I were certainly humbled by the compliments, and there were some key points during our many conversations that really stuck with us. On more than a few occasions, we had family members say that we had inspired them to go for a ride on their bikes, many after years of their bicycles collecting dust in their suburban garages. We had made it look so effortless that despite only having recreational trails, they had wanted to experience the joy we so regularly do travelling by two wheels.

Most notably, people told us we looked so happy. That happiness is certainly something we tend to take for granted, but it clearly becomes the inspiration needed to create change. After all, if riding around on our bicycles didn't make us feel great, then what would be the point? Writing, speaking, photography and filmmaking centred around two-wheeled travel has without a doubt made us the odd ones out in our families, but it has also make us the accidental examples of what a little change in the mode of travel can do.

For our families back east, no fault can be placed on them for depending primarily on the private automobile to get around. Living in dispersed cities provide little other options. Public transportation exists but becomes an unrealistic option with limited service, and bicycle travel is inaccessible due both to the sheer distance needed to travel, and the lack of safe infrastructure. 

The width already exists to add bike lanes to most suburban streets. This street rarely sees levels of traffic that necessitate four lanes.

If The National piece shows anything, though, it's that cities can change, and with it, the options on how people get around. In the 80's and 90's, Vancouver wasn't much different from where we grew up, with no bike lanes and a trend towards car dependence. It was with investment, both politically and financially, that the city began to change, making families like ours much more common. 

We tell our stories to help inspire people to see that there are alternatives. With hope, my stubborn insistence on being able to bike while visiting my childhood home, and our continued efforts to be the change we wish to see, will help not just our extended families but many others see how easy and joyous two-wheeled travel can be.