When it comes to advocating for better cycling in Vancouver, there are a few people that quickly come to mind as being prominent in the public eye, and vocal on the issue. Laura Jane, Acting Executive Director of HUB Cycling, is likely not one of those people, and that’s how she likes it. Having been employed by HUB since 2013, Jane tends to fly under the radar in the advocacy world, working for change from behind-the-scenes while leaving the spotlight to others.
It is thanks to this modest woman that HUB’s bi-annual Bike To Work Week (BTWW) events have grown exponentially in the past five years, and she can also be credited with the creation of Bike to Shop Days and Bike the Night – although she's quick to remind everyone she couldn't do any of it without the support and hard work of her HUB teammates and volunteers. Like most of us, though, Jane’s entry into bicycle advocacy was not a given from the start.
“When I started at HUB, I had been riding a bike already for about a decade,” she notes. “I would say it was my primary mode of transportation, and I was definitely interested in cycling, but I wasn’t involved in cycling advocacy.” Prior to joining HUB, Jane worked for a number of other non-profits including Big Brothers and Nature Conservancy of Canada, organizing events and community initiatives. She explains that she has always been interested in the range of issues cities can face, whether that’s sustainability, affordability, housing or mobility.
"I Don’t Think We Need to Reinvent the Wheel”
“What I really like about cycling, and what I think has really kept me there, is that it really helps to address a lot of issues,” she reveals. “For someone like me, where it’s hard to pick just one thing to focus on, cycling has been a good fit.”
Jane grew up in Victoria, but spent the better part of a decade living outside of B.C. in places like Montreal, Washington, D.C., Seoul, Korea, Toulouse, France, Norwich, England and Mexico City. Getting to experience places outside of her home is what has inspired her interest in building better cities. “Every time I went somewhere new, I would always see something interesting. Every city has something unique and awesome, and I think, ‘Hey, we should do that... we could do that!’”
Having this broad worldview has been invaluable is realizing that there are lessons to be learned from other places. “I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel,” Jane states. “Most of our challenges have been tackled in other places, and I think it’s important for us to look at others to see what has been done and what can work here.” Getting to experience events like Ciclovia in Mexico City have gone a long way to seeing what is possible here in Vancouver, which she has called home for five years now.
“It’s Really Not That Complicated"
But it was a research trip to Copenhagen in 2017 that made it real for Jane that she, HUB, and the City of Vancouver as a whole, could actually do a lot of what they’re doing in Copenhagen around cycling here. “It’s really not that complicated but will require more political will and investment.”
Jane will admit that she stumbled into cycling advocacy and urbanism, but her experiences have really inspired her to keep pushing the envelope of what she and HUB can be doing to improve cycling in Vancouver. While her focus has largely been on event organization and corporate engagement, the experience of being Acting Executive Director, a role she took in in July of 2017 while her colleague Erin O’Melinn is on maternity leave, has been rewarding.
“It’s definitely a little different,” she admits. “I get to do more on the advocacy and the political side of things in this role, which I didn’t do as often before. It may involve a little more stress, but it’s been great so far.”
"We Also Need to Do a Lot More Marketing, Promotions, and Events"
Jane also divulges that while she’s had a lot of fun building on events like BTWW, she firmly believes that for Vancouver to really become a top cycling city and have people see cycling as normal, there needs to be a paradigm shift. “Of course investment in infrastructure is key,” she acknowledges, “but we also need to do a lot more marketing, promotions, and events. We have to change people’s perceptions about cycling and what it means to be a cyclist.” For Jane, this is what is needed to make riding a bike just a normal part of our culture, and believes there is still a lot more work to be done, and that investment needs to be coming from all levels of government.
It is this belief that has influenced her work at HUB, where she has always tried to promote this sense of “normalcy” in their marketing and ad campaigns. “Marketing is not that complicated. Everyone else knows how to market things, and you have to make it look good to start changing people’s perceptions.” She’s specifically focused on reaching their target demographic - the 41% of people who aren’t yet biking but are interested in it - and thinking of how to market to them and attract them to cycling.
As if her work at HUB doesn’t keep her busy enough, Jane also returned to academics, enrolling in the SFU Urban Studies Masters program. “It’s been really interesting learning more about all the facets of urbanism, and I see so much possibility now. I mean, once you start thinking about design, it’s really hard not to notice it, and really see how we can maybe start to do things better.” She has a lot of passion for many urban issues, not just cycling, and sees her studies as a good opportunity to learn about them.
"Building Better, Happy, Healthy, Safe Cities"
“As I go through the program I’m sort just keeping an open mind to where it takes me,” Jane reveals. “It’s all really connected. There’s bike policy and housing policy, and other policies, but it’s really all part of a bigger policy about building better, happy, healthy, safe cities.” She admits that she just wants to get a better background on how to improve not just things for cycling but the larger city.
While her focus has been on Vancouver because it’s home now, Jane is also interested in other cities in the world, and the lessons we can teach each other. She recognizes a particular opportunity in Metro Vancouver and connecting opportunities around mobility. She recognizes that as more people move out of the city, and for those that are already living there, there need to be incentives to get them to see cycling and transit as viable alternatives to replacing car trips. From a marketing perspective, she sees a wonderful opportunity to create more campaigns around biking to transit.
“It’s really important to make sure that as a city and a region, we’re providing solutions in that make them liveable,” Jane emphasizes. Having grown up with a single mom who often struggled financially, Jane says she also thinks a lot about affordability. “Cycling touches on that, too, because it is so cost-effective. In terms of equity and making it so people who don’t have a lot of money can still get around safely and conveniently, access to cycling is an important part of that conversation.”