Sunday, June 30, 2019

Decisions, decisions: Carsharing, Biking, or Transit?

Our Honda Fit got us to Richmond in about 25 minutes

When you're going out for the day, how do you decide how to get there? We have quite a few options for getting around, including biking with our own bikes, bike share, walking, transit, carshare, & car rental. The vast majority of the time we just hop on the cargo bike--that's how we take the kids to school, to appointments, to playdates. It's how we get groceries & run errands. But when we're going places outside our neighbourhood, I usually think about how to get there a bit more.

Almost showtime!
I thought I'd share with you how I decide which mode to use when I'm planning a day out like we did today.

My decision-making process for a recent outing went something like this:

Getting a kitty painted on her arm
  1. Google Map the location: Silver City in Richmond, then the Pacific Autism Family Network.
  2. Compare the directions for cycling, driving , & transit: cycling would take about two & a half hours round trip, driving would be about an hour, transit would be almost three hours.
  3. Estimate the costs of each method of travel: free, $45, $18.90. 
  4. Cycling comes out as the winner for cost, though it takes twice as long as driving. So next I'd look at the route, hilliness, what cycling infrastructure there would be, if any. Richmond is pretty flat, but getting home again up & over Vancouver is a bit of a slog with a cargo bike full of kids. As for bike infra, there wasn't really a great route all the way there. I've biked to the Pacific Autism Family Network before & it's really not great getting on & off Sea Island.
  5. What is parking like? Are there bike racks near the building we're going to? In this case, yes for PAFN & not sure for Silver City. Is it a high bike theft area? I wasn't too concerned with this for our outing to Richmond, but a number of places in Vancouver are fairly risky, so I'd be more likely to use bike share or another mode, rather than our own bikes. 
  6. Next question is will we need to bring much stuff with us? We didn't need a lot of gear for a movie & lunch, but we did come home with a few prizes from the event. Not something that would preclude cycling or transit though.
  7. Last question would be how much do we want to walk? My hip is currently sore & the weather forecast was for fairly warm, so I wasn't keen on walking far. Transit would involve the most walking, Modo would mean walking a couple blocks to & from the car to pick up & drop off. Biking would be the least walking.
Heading home with way too much candy & a short-lived balloon animal
So for this trip, as you've already seen from the photos, I decided to book a Modo for our trip. Since I wasn't sure when exactly we'd be heading home, I just made it an Open Return booking so we didn't have to worry about getting back by a specific time. The kids really enjoyed the movie, the treats & the games at PAFN & we were able to get home quickly in the comfort of an air-conditioned car on a warm, sunny day. 

Disclaimer: As a Modo Blogger Ambassador, I receive driving credits in return for posting about carsharing with Modo Car Cooperative. 

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Barriers to Disabled & Family Cycling

Recently, at the at the Active Transportation Summit on June 17, I had the pleasure of speaking as a part of a panel called Breaking Down Barriers to Active Transportation: Lived Experience and Action Items for Policy Change. I thought I'd share my presentation here as well.
I live in East Vancouver with my family & have been using walking, cycling, & transit as my main modes of travel all of my adult life. I started cycling even more since I developed osteoarthritis in my hip. Cycling is much more comfortable than walking for me & actually reduces my pain levels overall. So I use my bikes as mobility devices.

I work as a instructor for HUB Cycling & teach kids & adults how to ride bikes, & how to ride safely on the road. I also organize family rides, festivals, & workshops & talk with a lot of parents who ride or want to start cycling with their children. & I sit on the City of Vancouver's Transportation Advisory Committee

Before we go any further, some definitions of two types of cycle I'm going to be talking about: an adaptive cycle is a two or three wheeled cycle or an attachment that goes on a wheelchair that can allow people with disabilities to ride. Some may have electric assist & some may be operated by pedaling with the hands rather than the feet. These bikes are often wider, longer, & heavier than a typical bike.

Photo: Gabrielle Peters

By cargo bike, I mean a two or three wheeled cycle that is designed to carry large items & passengers. They may have a large box or rack in front or back, & are longer, sometimes slightly wider, & always heavier than a typical bike. Many are also electric assist.

You might be wondering why I'm talking about two seemingly disparate categories of cycling, but there are barriers they have in common as well as some overlap between the disabled cycling community & the cargo biking community.

My kids are neurodiverse, & this means that while they are physically capable of cycling, they are not always able to do it. It isn't always possible to predict when they will be unable to ride safely, so having a cargo bike means I can carry them & their bikes as needed. If I didn't have a cargo bike, I'd need to spend a lot more time on transit, or spend thousands of dollars a year that we don't have to own a vehicle.

My family is not alone in this; I know many other people--mainly women, as we still do the majority of the caregiving work in families--who are able to ride with their older children because cargo bikes can carry teen & adult sized passengers. Like My friend Kath here in these two photos, who rides with her children, one of whom is not able to ride on his own due to his disability.

Photo: Bill Schultheiss

Photo: Madi Carlson

Being able to use an adaptive bike for transportation rather than transit or paratransit (like Handidart here in Vancouver), taxis can mean a huge time savings, not to mention the ability to get exercise, fresh air, connect with other people & all the other benefits that cycling brings. Everyone should be able to cycle if they want to.

So here is my list of four barriers to disabled & family cycling, in no particular order.

I suspect I'm preaching to the choir, but biking in amongst multi-tonne vehicles doesn't feel comfortable to most, & it can be downright terrifying for many people. Just as we have sidewalks to separate pedestrians from motor vehicle traffic, we need physical separation for cyclists so that children, seniors, disabled people, & less confident riders will feel & be safer. We need more all ages & abilities infra like this everywhere, including the main roads where people need to go for medical appointments, shopping, socializing.
These cycle routes need to be wide enough to accommodate cargo & adaptive cycles. Narrow paths with bollards or railing style diverters like in this image make it dangerous or impossible to get through with non-standard cycles. Poor pavement surface, or even curbs or stairs that are part of a cycle route can be completely inaccessible for people using adaptive or cargo cycles.

When there is road work or a special event happening that impacts bike facilities, municipalities or construction companies often put up signs requiring cyclists to dismount & walk. This is difficult to impossible for disabled cyclists & can also be difficult for riders carrying children on seats on their cycles.

I wanted to highlight some statistics from the UK as I couldn’t find similar from Canada
Wheels for Wellbeing National Survey of Disabled Cylists in the UK 2017

  • 1 in 3 disabled cyclists had been asked to dismount and walk their cycle even though they were using it as a mobility aid
  • A majority of disabled cyclists (69%) said they find cycling easier than walking, which we know is often the case because cycling reduces strain on the joints, aids balance and alleviates breathing difficulties
  • Inaccessible cycling infrastructure is the biggest difficulty encountered by disabled cyclists.

I love how cycle racks are usually very close to the door of the business or office I'm going to, so I don't have to walk as far. Unfortunately, most of these racks don't accommodate cargo cycles or adaptive cycles well: larger & wider cycles can only easily be locked at the end of most racks because they're designed for typical bikes that are only wide at the handlebars. Individual inverted U style racks are much more accommodating to all types of cycles & if properly spaced, they allow much easier access for riders with mobility issues.

With bike theft rampant in the city, Locking a bike outside to a rack tends to work fine for a quick stop at a store or cafe or appointment, but leaving a bike regularly for a full day or night outside at a publicly accessible rack is a huge theft risk. Secure storage like bike rooms or lockers are crucial, yet many multi unit buildings & workplaces do not have adequate bike rooms & many buildings have strict rules against bringing bikes inside, or installing racks in car parking spaces or leaving essential equipment like pumps & tools in the garage.

Getting in & out of buildings, through turns in halls, & in elevators can also be difficult or impossible with adaptive or cargo bikes.

For electric assist bikes, like mobility scooters, finding a place to park them & charge them can be a challenge.

Unsurprisingly, larger, stronger cargo bikes & specialized adaptive cycles are expensive, costing more than ordinary bikes, sometimes over $10,000. The government has not incentivized the purchase of cycles in any way with rebates or even just eliminating sales taxes, despite giving thousands of dollars at people who can afford expensive electric CARS.

Grants for adaptive cycles are a patchwork of few & far between with a lot of hoops to jump through to get them & may not cover the full cost.

A partial solution to storage & cost is not to own a cycle, but to use cycleshare. I'd like to applaud Mobi for introducing their Community Pass to make a $20/year membership available to lower income residents. But the service area is still limited. Cycleshare here in Vancouver does not have any adaptive cycles or any that can carry children.

Even if cycleshare included some adaptive cycles, like in this example of a free cycleshare in a National Park in the Netherlands. All the bikes had one or two child seats, there were smaller bikes for kids to ride & some adaptive cycles as well.

However, the reason this is a "partial solution" is because a "one size does not fit all"; an adaptive hand trike, for example, may work for some people, but many disabled people will require a customized fit. For people who use larger assistive devices like wheelchairs or walkers, transferring to a cycle at a cycleshare station may not be possible & where are they going to leave their chair or walker?

There are some great Organizations like Cycling Without Age, or seasonal programs like Blind Beginnings Buddy Up Tandem Cycling Club can help people with disabilities do a limited amount of recreational riding, but not the kind of day-to-day transportation cycling that owning a cycle or having 24-7 access via cycleshare can accomplish.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Bike to Work & School Week & Bike to Shop Days Results

Bike to School Week ridealong with Deputy Mayor of Vancouver Lisa Dominato & School Board Trustee Janet Fraser

Bike to Work Week 2019 celebration
Did you bike to school &/or work last week? This year's Bike to Work & School Week (BTWW) was one of the most successful yet, with record breaking numbers of new riders. 3,292 new riders signed up to participate, which was an 87% increase over last year! 11,400 people registered for BTWW this year, logging 61,059 trips & riding 578,188 km across Metro Vancouver in a single week. More details here on the Bike to Work Week page.

"The continued growth in participation shows that the ongoing investment in cycling infrastructure & education across the region is having a direct impact on the number of people commuting by bike. It’s really great to see such a measurable increase (+87%) in the number of participants who are brand new to biking to work this year" explains Rowena Farr,  Bike to Work Week Manager. “Many Celebration Stations were located near recently improved cycling facilities,” she adds.

The bike racks were stuffed full for Bike to School Week
124 Metro Vancouver area elementary & middle schools registered in Bike to School Week this year. Schools organized morning celebrations, breakfasts (we continued the tradition of the waffle breakfast this year), cycling skills events, bike parades, family biking workshops & more to celebrate cycling & active travel.

“We really see school communities come together this week & it's because they recognize the benefits of active travel, like school zones being less congested & students arriving energized & ready to learn” says Jel Kocmaruk, HUB Cycling’s Bike to School Week Coordinator. "& the beauty of Bike to School Week is that every school celebrates in a way that keeps with their school culture & needs”. Our school typically has a dozen or so bikes in the racks, with another dozen or so parents dropping kids off by cargo bike, trailabike, etc. In May & June these numbers swell to fill up the large bike corrall & racks at the other side of the school.

Tracking bike trips to school for BTSW
As part of wanting to connect directly with students riding to school to hear about their experiences, HUB Cycling hosted the inaugural Bike Reels: Student Video Contest as part of Bike to School Week this year. Prizes for top student videos in all age categories to be announced next week on the Bike to School Week page.

School results are still coming in, but HUB Cycling anticipates that students took over 33,000 trips last week, with winning schools likely reporting participation rates of up to 71% of their school population & up to 55% cycling mode share throughout the week! Our school had the Bicycle Valet for the day on the Biker's Breakfast day & checked 72 bikes, with more kids & parents locking up in the racks.

Bike to Shop Days participation increased 34% since last year. For the first time, Bike to Shop Days was made a part of Bike to Work Week, encouraging people to continue making trips by bike throughout the weekend. The event hosted four guided rides, discounts at local shops & farmers markets. Celebration stations were set up across Metro Vancouver where participants could get their bike tuned up & get tips on carrying items by bike. “The event shows people that cycling to their local market, to get groceries or do their daily errands can be easy, fun, & comes with free parking!” said organizer Tracy Wilkins. Get further details about Bike To Shop Days here.

Bike to Shop Days station
Bike to Work & School Week & Bike to Shop Days successfully encourage people to try active modes of transportation & the hope is that participants continue to use their bikes to get around beyond these events. “Our surveys show that more than 70% of people who hadn’t biked to work before Bike to Work Week are still biking to work two months later,” adds Farr. “We encourage people to continue using their bike for all sorts of trips - not just the commute to work, but trips to the store, to visit friends. Getting around by bike saves money, supports an active lifestyle, & helps us connect with our communities.”

A little more info about HUB Cycling:
HUB Cycling is a charitable non-profit that has spent two decades removing barriers to cycling in Metro Vancouver, while cultivating the health, environmental, & economic benefits that active transportation can bring. HUB Cycling has educated thousands of people, motivated thousands more, & championed improvements that benefit current & future cyclists. HUB Cycling’s mission is to get more people cycling more often. For more information, visit

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

8-year-old Niobe writes to the Mayor & Council about Bike Safety

Niobe in City Hall after delivering her letter to Council.
A friend's daughter decided to spend her free time during Bike to School Week carefully composing a letter to the Vancouver City Council detailing her concerns about biking to school in Vancouver. She eloquently describes her own experiences & makes a very good suggestion for a policy change to make cycling on the city's neighbourhood bikeways safer.

Here's the text of her letter:

Dear Vancouver Mayor and Councillors, 
My name is Niobe and I am eight years old. I am a very good bike rider but riding in Vancouver is really scary. 
I only ride to school on marked bike roads (10th and Heather) but there are so many cars and delivery trucks and construction trucks and taxis on these roads. 
When I ride in front of my mom, cars can't see me, so when they choose to pass, they don't leave enough time or space and end up coming way too close and go way too fast.
When I ride behind my mom, cars still try to pass us but often end up not having enough time and pull over between me and my mom! That's super scary.  
Once, after going up a hill, a car came by and made a really loud noise that surprised me and my bike slipped and I fell on the road. No car stopped to see if I was okay, they kept driving past us while my mom got me and my bike off the street.  
The best part of my ride is past the hospital where I get to ride on a raised bike road with no cars. My mom says you can't put these bike roads everywhere because it would be too expensive.  
So I thought it would be cheaper to make a rule that cars can't pass bike riders on bike roads. That would make my ride to school a lot safer and safer for my friends too. Can you please make this a rule?  

I think a no passing law on bikeways would be a great addition to Vancouver's bylaws. Well put, Niobe.

If you'd like to see this change come into effect, or have any other ideas of your own to make biking safer in Vancouver, please contact the City of Vancouver via #311, writing a letter to the Mayor & Council as Niobe did, or using the VanConnect App.

*her name is pronounced [Nigh-oh-bee] in case you were wondering.

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