Monday, October 1, 2018

My #HUB20 Spoke Up Presentation: Biking Down Barriers

HUB Cycling is 20 years old! To celebrate, they organized a fun evening of inspirational speakers... including me! In case you missed it, here's my speaking notes & images from my presentation.

Biking on my street 7 years old. Photo by Stanley Jenkins.
I'm going to go out on a limb & assume that everyone in this room knows the value of cycling to connect people to each other, to their city, to nature, to their own bodies. The value to public health & transportation. We know the joy of feeling the wind in our hair, the exhilaration of leaning into a curve, the empowerment of pedalling ourselves & our gear & sometimes our children on a camping trip.

But when I look around at the schools where I teach, at the family biking workshops I've led, in conversation with friends, family & strangers, I realize that joy, that exhilaration, the empowerment isn't available to everyone. I'll admit, this isn't something I really thought about a lot until I started struggling with mobility myself.

I fell in love with cycling when I was little & it’s been a lifelong relationship. In my 20s, biking, along with occasional car sharing & transit, became how I get around. It has been for most of my adult life & I didn’t see any reason to change that after starting a family. In 2010, my son was born & the following spring we joined the family biking world.

Biking at 39 weeks pregnant.
In 2013 I was pregnant again, & walking started to get really uncomfortable. I felt like my pelvis was going to fall apart if I walked across the street, but sitting on a bike saddle, I was fine. My bike became a mobility device. Biking was easier than walking, so I rode right up to the day before I went into labour with my daughter.

After my daughter was born, I had increasing pain when walking & standing. My hip had been sore on & off for years, but never this bad. Finally, I got X-rays & just before I turned 40 I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. This was a bit of a blow to hear the words “progressive” & “degenerative” applied to my body, & that the “cure” is total hip replacement surgery.

At Robson Park. Photo by Melissa Bruntlett.
My doctor sent me to a physiotherapist at the Osteoarthritis Clinic at VGH where I was fitted for a cane, & learned what sort of physical accommodations I should start thinking about.

I was really struggling with the idea that this wasn’t just a temporary injury, but a long-term disability. I was also struggling to walk across busy streets with two small children while using a cane.

But I could still bike! Eventually, I stopped walking farther than a block or two--I'd just bike instead. It’s way easier to get my groceries home, carry my kids around safely, & it makes me feel a lot happier than driving in city traffic. I still feel strong, I can still be physically active, I can still get that feeling of empowerment when I arrive somewhere under my own steam. (quick aside here--not throwing shade on ebike users--I still consider pedal assist to be under your own steam!)

Biking has done a lot for me--when my doctor recommended I lose weight to help reduce pressure on my hip joint, biking was how I did that. Biking keeps those endorphins flowing & helps me manage the pain of my osteoarthritis, so I've used my cane very little except in winter the last couple of years.

Tonya & I at the first Family Bike Fest. Photo by Tom Wiebe.
As an advocate, an educator, an organizer, I believe my role is to help break down the barriers that stop people from biking. As does my friend, Tonya, who I met on a group bike ride. Over many cups of tea, we talked about how hard it can be for families to find reliable information or actually test ride the gear when they want to start biking with their babies & little kids.

These conversations turned into to Vancouver Foundation grant applications & we organized two Family Biking Festivals as well as a series of workshops on family biking. I also started promoting the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook group more & I'm proud to say it's grown from about three dozen people back in 2015, to a consistently supportive, active community of over 1300 members & a great place to crowdsource information.

Vancouver Family Biking Facebook Group.
It was Vancouver Family Biking members I turned to last year when I heard about a Syrian refugee family who needed a way to carry their youngest child while biking. They'd been given bicycles for the other members of the family, but couldn't bring their youngest child with them without a seat or trailer. Staff at the Mount Pleasant Family Centre Society asked if I had any ideas & within an HOUR, I connected them with a  Vancouver Family Biking member who donated her child trailer. With seven children, most of whom have to pay bus fare, the math just doesn’t make sense for a low-income newcomer family to get around the city. Biking means affordable mobility for them.

There's a perception out there that cycling is only for the able bodied & healthy. The vast majority of those cyclists you might see from your car as you drive along the busy arterial roads do tend to be able-bodied men. Of course, those of us riding along the seawall & the quiet bikeways see another story.

Accessible cycling: boy using adaptive bike, woman riding electric assist trike, senior passenger on the duet bike.
We see the elderly woman riding the tricycle with her crutches in the back. We ride with our friend to the BC Cancer Agency to get her test results. We see a woman with a prosthetic leg zipping over the Cambie bridge bike lane. Or there's me, biking to an appointment at the osteoarthritis clinic. People with disabilities are a small part of the cycling population, but we exist. We need all you “healthy cyclists” to help amplify our voices, particularly in the municipal election campaigns when bike lanes get thrown around like a hot potato.

Of course, disability is not only about physical mobility. As a cycling instructor, I get to go into schools all over Metro Vancouver & meet kids who are usually pretty excited about riding their bikes instead of sitting in math class. But some of them aren't. In the past couple of years, I've learned to look for those wary faces, the uncertain faces. Sometimes it's just that they haven't learned to ride a bike yet. But often the barriers are invisible disabilities.

Kids biking in schoolyard.
As the parent of an autistic child, when I get into the classroom, I look for these kids. Like Jason, during the first day of the program I was teaching at his school in Maple Ridge, I found out that he hadn't yet learned how to ride a bike. I let him know that we would bring balance bikes & give him a chance to learn during the program, but he wasn't terribly enthusiastic about it. I was worried that he wasn't going to participate at all. The next day I saw him, I spoke to him again & discovered that he was self-conscious about his classmates watching him while he was learning to ride. So I explained that he & his teacher could go anywhere on the school ground that he liked if he wanted some privacy. I was thrilled to see him move from the balance bike to a regular pedal bike & I got to watch Jason ride across the schoolyard with his classmates cheering him on.

I get great joy out of helping people break down barriers that stop them from biking. I love learning about all the resources that are out there, like Our Community Bikes & Kickstand, The Bike Host Program, The Buddy Up Tandem Cycling Club, the Vancity Mobi Community Pass & many more, so I can connect people with them.

Linny biking the seawall; Bronte biking to the library.
I’ve learned so much along the way from my own children, from Jason & all the other people & families with diverse needs that I’ve met in classrooms, board rooms, community centres, & parking lots where I teach. I try to plan & anticipate their needs as much as I can, but mostly I’ve learned to watch & listen. Ask questions so I can address their needs in a way that works for them. & keep asking. Keep inviting them to bike down those barriers.



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Thursday, September 6, 2018

#SpokesmamaProTip: 4 Family Biking Route Planning Tools

Not every arterial intersection has a beg button--knowing
where these are will take your ride from frustrating to fun
Do you remember the last time you navigated a foreign city, maybe in another country? You probably had a map, or someone gave you detailed directions to your destination. You may have looked at the transit or rail website, possibly even booked a vehicle or bought tickets ahead of time. Planning is pretty important when you're travelling, I find, especially with children. The same can be said for biking.

Particularly if you're just getting started with riding for transportation, planning your route can make the difference between a great experience & a lackluster one. If you're used to driving, or taking transit, following the same routes with your bike isn't generally a great idea if you want a relaxing ride. I know there are many cyclists out there who will brave the traffic on high speed arterials & highway shoulders, but I'm going to assume if you're visiting a family cycling site like mine you're not one of them.

Even if you have been riding this city regularly for a couple of decades, like me, you'll still benefit from a little planning when you ride with your kids. When I plan my routes, I don't just rely on my mental map of the city. Partly because of all the road work that's happening during the good weather right now, but also because the city has added so many cycling route improvements since I last rode through a given area.

Google is pretty good, but no substitute for the wealth of
mental maps you'll find among the family bikers of this city
  1. My first stop is usually Google Maps. When you open the app or website, find where you can show different layers & choose the Biking one. This will overlay a network of green & brown lines that show you where the bike routes are. The green are paved & the brown are unpaved. Be forewarned, however, that Google just lays down a green line whether it's a neighbourhood bikeway (i.e. a traffic calmed road with no protected lane like Ontario Street), painted lanes, & sometimes protected bike lanes (like Dunsmuir, Hornby, the Seawall, etc). Another caveat--Google can be behind on the new infrastructure in your city, so it will occasionally tell you that you can't ride through places like parks or vehicle diverters, which is why step four below is important. The next step is to input the start & end points of your trip for directions & click on the Bicycle icon to give you cycling route info. 
  2. Map it. Another option if you're concerned about riding with traffic is to check the PDF or printed bike map for your city. Tranlink has the entire Metro Vancouver area covered, but most municipalities also produce a city bike map (often a paper version that folds into a little pocket sized bundle) with details like where the steep hills are, insets with more information about routing around bridges, etc. These maps will generally also show the different levels of cycling infrastructure, from the all ages & abilities protected bike lanes to the painted lanes, to the sharrows on neighbourhood bikeways. This can help you choose which routes you'll be most comfortable riding.
  3. Crowdsourcing information is sometimes the best way to figure out a route. Talk to other parents at your kids' school or daycare, your coworkers or friends who bike for feedback on your route. In terms of online sources for advice on biking with children in Vancouver, your best bet is the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook Group. It's a great place to find out where people like riding on with their kids, & why they choose particular routes. A great example of this is "The Watson Wiggle" which is a route we take all the time, zigzagging from 10th Avenue to 11th, across 12th where there's a beg button, to 15th Ave, then home on the St. George bike route. It avoids crossing Kingsway, which can be a bit dodgy at the best of times, & takes you past quite a few murals to boot! It's not a route that Google would tell you about, but it's a nicer ride & avoids going down & then up some hills.
  4. Unforeseen road work can make a bike commute awkward
  5. Test ride your route! If you're planning the ride to school &/or work, try a test ride on the weekend to see how the distance & hills feel. For a better sense of what the traffic is like, try your ride around the same time of day as you'll be commuting, if you can. Riding with a friend, coworker or spouse for your dry run might make you feel more confident in future as well.
Finding resources you like & doing a little work ahead of time is worth the effort, I promise. One last thing to think about is how fast vs. how fun. If you're like me, & you typically just want to get there as efficiently as possible, you're probably thinking about the most direct route. Until we build A LOT MORE protected bike infrastructure on high streets in this city, the most direct route usualy isn't going to be the most pleasant. Look for a route that minimizes hills & avoids high traffic areas. Google will give you a hill profile for your route if you click on the details after getting bike directions--this is super handy for riding with younger children on little single speeds or when you're hauling everyone by heavy cargo bike. Avoiding those hills can mean your route is longer, but much more enjoyable.

Have a great ride & see you on the bike routes! & if you have any other route planning tips & tricks to share, whether for Vancouver, or other cities--leave them in the comments below!



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Saturday, August 25, 2018

#SpokesmamaProTip: How to Use Bus Bike Racks

Practicing #bikebusbike at Broadway Station bus loop
Having the option to carry your bike on a bus is great as a backup plan if you have mechanical issuses, terrible weather, or if you're just starting to commute to work & it's a long distance. Being able to use the bus bike rack makes touring--especially with a kid--a lot more possible, & the bus system can help you get through the various tunnels & bridges & highways around Metro Vancouver that you can't or don't feel safe riding on. Translink bus bike racks accommodate bikes from a 16" wheel up to a 700c. That covers the vast majority of two-wheel bikes out there, even folding & children's bikes.

BUT. Big but. How do those racks work? Am I going to be able to figure one out when I need to, with a bus load of people staring at me? Using the bus bike racks can be a bit intimidating at first. It just takes a little practice, however, & then loading your bike on a bus goes much more smoothly!

Here are my top tips for using bus bike racks:

  1. Consider starting your trip at the first stop or a layover point if you can, to make the process more relaxed. The first stop means you'll be the first to load, so the two spaces on the bike rack won't be full already.
  2. Pack your panniers or basket so they're easy to pull off the bike or unpack before loading it onto the rack. You're not allowed to leave them on the bike as they can impede the driver's view.
  3. Watch this video to see how the rack folds down & how the extendable arm works. Then ride your bike to a bus loop or layover point along a route & ask the driver if you can practice with the rack. There are also two practice racks permanently installed outside Main Street Skytrain Station & North Vancouver City Hall.
  4. When you lift your bike, grab it on the front fork with one hand (this prevents the front wheel from flopping around & hitting you in the head with your own handlebars) & the seat tube with the other so you can lift it as high as needed. Put your bike on the back spot so another person can use the front one.
  5. Be ready at the bus stop pole before the bus arrives & make eye contact with the driver so it's clear you're planning to use the rack. Once you get on the bus, tell driver where you're planning to get off. Stay near the front, so you can keep an eye on your bike. There's usually a luggage rack area just inside the front door where you can stash your bags. When you're going to get off again, let the driver know, & then get off via the front doors.
  6. Don't forget to put the rack back up if it's empty!
  7. Once you've taken your bike off the bus, move onto the sidewalk to reattach panniers, etc. Don't stand in travel lane or cross in front of the bus.
Visit the Translink Bikes on Buses page for more information.

I hope these tips are helpful in demystifying the bus bike rack! I put my bike on the bus occasionally as part of my commute to work when I'm travelling farther than I want to ride, or I want to avoid a particularly heavy traffic route. (Check out the hashtag #bikebusbike or #biketrainbike to see pics on Instagram.) We have also used transit to make bike touring more doable when we're hauling children & camping gear.

Have you got any other handy #bikebusbike tips or stories to share? Let me know in the comments below.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: Walking in the City with Jane: A story of Jane Jacobs

Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs is an engaging picture book aimed at kids aged 6-9. Author Susan Hughes provides a fictionalized retelling of the life of Jane Jacobs. If Jacob's isn't a familiar name to you, she's one of the world's greatest urban thinkers & activists. The book is a great introduction to the ideas of civic engagement & city planning through the lens of urban life, as well as touching on the history of New York & Toronto.

As an advocate for active transportation, I love that this book helps explain the idea that cities are living, breathing entities, & it's possible for ordinary people to influence how they work & make them better for the citizens who live there. There are so many small details that can serve as a jumping off point for further discussions about how cities work, like the mechanics of gas, water, steam, electricity, sewage.

As with most picture books, the artwork is crucial & this one does not disappoint. Stylized illustrations by Valérie Boivin perfectly evoke the eras covered by the story, with a muted watercolour palette. The last pages of the book include a brief biography of Jane Jacobs.

Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs is published by Kids Can Press, available in hardcover for $20 CAD at bookstores & online.




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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vancouver Spray Park Challenge

Our cargo bikes parked at Connaught Spray Park in Kits
Earlier this summer I was poking around the Vancouver Parks Board website & came up with the idea to make a list of all the spray parks in the city & try to visit every single one this summer. I made a checklist (of course--I love checklists!) which you can grab from the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook group in the Files section, if you want it.

We haven't made a huge amount of progress, despite the summer being half over. Here are the spray parks we've been to so far.

Connaught Park

Geese having a drink & pooping at the edge of the Connaught Spray Park
This one is a bit off the beaten path for us, but we trekked over to Kits to see it after going to the Let's Go Biking Book Launch event along the Arbutus Greenway. It is right along the 10th Avenue Bikeway, so it's quite nice to ride to.

It is a cute little spray park with painted concrete surface, several different sprayer things, no water guns & SO MANY GEESE. The geese mostly stayed away from the kids, moving back & forth from the field to the edge of the spray park while we were there. Until the water sprayers turned off after the kids took a break for a while. While the kids were playing in the adjacent playground, the geese invade the middle of the splash pad & POOPED all over it. Bleagh.

Linny runs through the water spouts in Harbour Green Spray Park

Harbour Green Park


This is a park we often bike through on our way to & from Stanley Park, but we rarely stop at. The spray park is very minimalist, no rainbow coloured pipes or giant ladybug things to climb on, but more like a fountain. Nonetheless, the kids looooved running around between the spouts of water. There are plenty of shaded benches on either side & the mist from the water blows over toward them intermittently, which is fantastic on a hot day. The park also has public washrooms on the south side of the spray park & it's easily accessible by bike as it's right along the seawall.

Relaxing in the shade as the kids play in the "stream" at Prince Edward Park
Prince Edward Park

This is our default spray park, only a few blocks from home. It features a small splash pad with a variety of sprayers & water guns, a bioswale artificial "stream", public washrooms, plus a large shady area right next to the spray park that has a couple of picnic tables. There is a good playground with lots of swings, as well as a small community garden & a playing field--definitely a place you could spend the day with kids.

I'll post again once we've visited a few more spray parks in the next couple of weeks. Have you been to any of Vancouver's spray parks? Which one is your favourite?

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