How did I end up in cycling advocacy?
By accident really. Since 2009 I am a member of Ottawa’s bicycle advocacy group, Citizens for Safe Cycling, because I believe that cycling has enormous potential in Ottawa. Others believe that too, so I thought that sharing my bike experience from the Netherlands with others is a good idea. Before I knew I became the president, because the former president was hired by the city as a bicycle planner and I was the VP; I had no choice.
Soon I learned about vehicular cycling, desire lines and design standards. About manuals, about the Highway Traffic Act. About the reasons why we have cross walks but not cross rides. That off ramps can’t have cross overs. About the golden rule that car traffic always has to flow. And then all of a sudden people think you are an expert, because you come from the Netherlands. It is like people thinking you are a cowboy because you come from the US. Or that you can cook because you are from France.
So I went along with it, fell back on contacts in the Netherlands, particularly Angela, Dick and Angela of www.Mobycon.com, who provided me with many great ideas and concepts. I had to show up in panels, on TV, on radio. We received awards and nominations for our bike advocacy group. I am called in as an expert by planners sometimes.
I made new friends, too many to mention. All dedicated people, who put countless hours of spare time in advocacy. They study drawings, repair bikes, attend public meetings, advise, write to council, present at committees, are educating at events. Volunteers get up early, stay up late and sacrifice weekends to work around their jobs for the good cause. They take mornings off to make their case at council. Some councillors look at their smart phones when you talk to a committee, forgetting you actually took a day off to bother coming to committee.
That is why I love and appreciate active transportation advocates. They put effort into making the community better. If you have never heard of grass roots, come to bike advocacy and you know soon what the word means: very little money, tons of dedication.
I also got to know a lot city councillors and city staff and some MPP’s and MP’s. The best thing in Ottawa is that many in public office work towards better cycling in the city. While being fairly progressive under Mayor Watson, some councillors are pushing back, not based on facts but emotions (fear for the unknown, fear for not being re-elected, fear for spending).
Part of a change
Ottawa is changing, it is now the third biggest bike commuter city in Canada already, with a higher percentage than Vancouver and Montreal (StatsCan) with, brace yourself, 2,4% bike modal share. Some areas have an 8% and higher bike modal share, such as the core area. That doesn’t take into account the tens of thousands of recreational cyclists.
I’d like to think I am part of that change, and how often in life do you get a chance to be part of a change, without going to some unstable country? There are long term demographic and global economic shifts happening, and western cities have to anticipate these changes.
Presenting in Canada
I often combined work related trips to other Canadian cities with a speaking engagement on cycling in the Netherlands and/or Ottawa; the topic depends a bit on the public. I talked to thousands of Canadians and even some Americans about the advantages of cycling, including to CAA members in Vancouver, to the Perth Chamber of Commerce, to attendees of the Nova Scotia Planners Directors Conference, to members of the public at Dalhousie University in Halifax, members of city council and staff in Regina and members of the public in Calgary, Kingston (at Queens U.) and Mississippi Mills, Kitchener-Waterloo, Fredericton. I was also in Charleston, SC and we loved it so much that our two cats are called after the cities of Charleston and Beaufort.
See also: the Facebook page of Ottawa Bicycle Culture