Thursday, 27 June 2013

Four Films, Four Unique People, One Common Thread...The Perfectly Simple Bicycle

On June 1st, Vancouver Cycle Chic premiered their four debut Cycle Chic Films at Whoa! Nellie Bikes. Throughout the month of June, they have since released one film a week to the public, receiving much acclaim for displaying such individualistic perspectives of people that choose to ride a bike to get around Vancouver. I am so proud of my husband and the rest of the Vancouver Cycle Chic crew for working together to volunteer their time in making these fantastic films, and I am inspired by each of their four bike riding stars. 

As I have said previously, these films and the people they feature help to show the human aspect of cycling. They show everyday people riding uncomplicated bikes to do what they do every day, living carefree on two (and sometimes 3) wheels. Featured below are each of these four films. If you haven't yet watched them, take 8 minutes from your day and sit back and relax while you view people just like you making the simple bicycle an extension of their extraordinary lives.

Film 1 - Simon "Inspiration"

Film 2 - Cecily "Heart and Soul"

Film 3 - BIKES "Musical Spectrum"

Film 4 - Camille "The Whole Story"

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Reflections on One Year as "Velo Family Diaries"

As our youngest starts to find his riding legs, we
look forward to another year and all new
This Friday marks the official one year mark since I first sat down and started writing my tales as the Velo Family Diaries. Thinking back, I could never have imagined that so much could have happened to our little family, or even people's opinions I may have helped change. What started out as a place to transcribe the adventures I have with my two children and my husband on bikes has quickly grown into to a place to discuss the positives and negatives of being a bicycle family, and challenge the thinking of those who would deem our lifestyle unrealistic or our demands for change as aggressive and unrealistic. I have also learned a lot about myself, about what is important to me when it comes to bicycles, and I have discovered that there are a lot of people out there who really do want to hear what I have to say.

I'm sure that when most people start blogging, they likely think that it is a stepping stone to something greater. In truth, I felt that way, too, but also had that nagging sense of doubt. Will anyone actually read this thing? Do people really care about the bicycle adventures of a young family in Vancouver, BC? Obviously, I didn't let the doubt sway me, keeping in mind that writing a blog would cost me nothing but time, so if it turned out to be a bad idea, I could stop at anytime. As it turns out, people did care, and in my first week, my posts had been seen over 350 times. Not too shabby considering my topics basically ranged from how we spent our Canada Day to travels with my kids throughout the city to local parks. As of this moment, while I reflect on my year, I have now had nearly 23,500 page views, with some posts clocking in at 1000+ views, and readers from all over North and South America, Europe and Asia. It's truly humbling to know there are so many people who make a point to read my tales of my bicycle family!

Through this blog, I have made many connections within the cycling community, and have had a chance to guest post on various online news outlets, as well as the privilege for being a continuing contributor for Momentum Magazine. I love speaking with other bike enthusiasts, swapping stories, lamenting the challenges we seem to still face day after day, and commiserating with other parents as we struggle through the challenges with our children and celebrate our successes.

I think, though, what I have come to appreciate the most through sharing my stories are the compliments I receive from complete strangers. People I have not and may never meet, sending me messages, tweets and comments telling me that what I am doing is great and to never stop trying and sharing! It is truly amazing, with this online community spanning the globe, to hear that the rantings of a bicycle mom have touched so many. Some tell me I have inspired them to start relying less on a car and try riding a bike. Others tell me they've read my tales of travelling with our bikes and are eager to have their own two-wheeled adventures. And while I'm grateful to be inspiring all these people, each and every read, comment, kudos has been my inspiration to continue on this road slightly less travelled, and it is actually challenging me, whether to try something new or express my sometimes strong opinions more often. Without the encouragement I could never have grown the way I have over these past twelve months.

On Friday, June 28, I will spend the day as I did 365 earlier; travelling throughout the city with my children who will have just started their summer vacation. If the weather cooperates, we'll definitely be out on our bikes, eager for the adventures this summer will bring. I see the day as a milestone for the Velo Family and all of our crazy adventures. I am proud of what I have accomplished this year with the help of my wonderful family and friends (physical or virtual), and feel like I may have only just scratched the surface of what the future will hold for me. Writing the Velo Family Diaries has become such a passion, and I plan on spending the next year growing, adapting and pushing for the changes I, and those like me, wish to see in the city I live in and beyond. Thank you to everyone who has read my stories along the way, and I hope you continue to follow us on this incredible ride!

Monday, 24 June 2013

The real reason I ride

I always feel happiest when I'm by
the ocean on two-wheels
It's another dreary June day in Vancouver, and I'm having a particularly trying day balancing all the tasks that are waiting to be completed. As I work away the afternoon, my mind wanders, trying to think of something I can do to lift my spirits and keep me going until the weekend and the beginning of summer holidays. I think of relaxing spa days I wish to one day enjoy, of our family vacation mid-July spent with family, but most of all, I think of my bike and the rides I will enjoy on the warm summer days. 

We all have reasons to ride a bike. Some do it as a means of transportation, others to save the environment by reducing their carbon footprint, many do it for exercise. These are excellent reasons to get on a bike, and have helped inspire many bike-curious people to give it a try. I think, though, that all of us who ride bikes are unwittingly keeping secret the real reason we ride because it seems so obvious, at least to me. Aside from the health benefits, the reduction of co2 emissions, and getting around slightly faster than walking, I ride my bike because it's fun!

Riding a bike for me is one of the purest forms of enjoyment. Being exposed to the elements, feeling the sun on my face, and experiencing everything first hand has brought me so much joy throughout my years, from when I started to ride as a small child until today. I have my most inspiring moments on two wheels, and sometimes the best conversations with my husband when we are slowly pedalling along the seawall together.

Perhaps it's time we start letting the average person in on our secret. Instead of putting the focus on the divisive reasons that turn people away for fear that they may be lumped into a political agenda, next time somebody asks you why it is you like to ride a bike, be honest! Tell them how much fun it is! How no matter what age you are, riding a bike is like being a kid all over again, and feeling the freedom of being able to go pretty much anywhere you would like, in almost any direction you choose. Stripping away the political, environmental or health reasons for riding is the best way to get more people to try getting on a bike. When the only reason left is the sheer exhilaration of the wind in your hair and the smile on your face, there's no better sales pitch for bicycles, and you'll be sure to inspire many!

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
-H.G. Wells-

"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite so worthwhile as simply messing about on a bicycle"
-Tom Kunich-

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

VancityBuzz Guest Post: The Human Side of Vancouver Bike Lanes

Last week I was pointed in the direction of an online post on featuring an image of my daughter and I on the Hornby protected bike lane. Intrigued, I read through the piece and found it to be a very critical summary of the proposed installation and upgrades to the current protected lanes. Overall, the piece had an air about it that made protected bike lanes out to be an unnecessary expense. Not only was I disappointed with the tone of the piece, but I was also unimpressed that an image of my family happily using the protected lanes was attached to it (the image has since been removed). After some exchanges between myself and my husband on twitter, the editor of VancityBuzz asked me to write a rebuttal. The following is that rebuttal, which I hope brings to light how important protected lanes are to all road users, motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike, and especially to families like mine!

Vancouver Canada News Opinion: The human side of Vancouver bike lanes
JUNE 18, 2013
Posted by  | Speak Up
Frequently, when you read about the introduction or improvement of bike lanes in Vancouver, you get the impression that the city is out of step with the rest of the world, given the resistance they receive from business owners, motorists, and news organizations. The simple fact remains, that despite being a city that prides itself as being “bike-friendly”, it is lagging behind so many other North American cities. The City of Chicago, for example, committed to increasing the number of bicycles on their streets, has already laid 17 kilometres of protected lanes of  160 kilometres planned to be installed by 2015. Vancouver currently sits at six kilometres of protected lanes, and faces stubborn opposition every single time they suggest adding more.

I’m quite happy with the existing, functional cycling network found in Vancouver, and I’m reminded of that whenever I visit the many other places that still refuse to acknowledge the existence of the bicycle. However, I am continually perplexed at how angry people get about proposals to either introduce new facilities, or upgrade existing ones. From the perceived increase in congestion, to the loss of parking spaces, and the money being spent to install them, it’s quite amazing how such a small step forward for our city can get many people into such a rage.

What I think the general public doesn’t realize is that throughout North America, many cities are seeing the collective benefits of installing physically separated bicycle lanes. The biggest benefit, especially to a mother like me, who travels by bike every day with two small children, is that protected bike lanes increase the safety of myself and my family. Since the introduction of the two-way cycle tracks on Hornby and Dunsmuir Streets, there has been a 20 per cent reduction in collision between vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. In a city with a population of just over 600,000 people, not including tourists and those travelling into the city daily from the suburbs, that’s a pretty important decrease, and in just one tiny stretch of the downtown peninsula.

For the average person who doesn’t ride a bike daily, the idea of pulling that rusty frame out of storage and pedalling through the city can appear difficult, dangerous and uncomfortable. Rubbing shoulders with cars, and feeling the need to keep up with their two-tonne metal counterparts to avoid agitating impatient motorists, would only sound exciting to someone who likes to live dangerously. The fact is that if given the right infrastructure, riding a bike is easy, safe, and incredibly enjoyable. Providing better infrastructure will get “bike-curious” citizens all of sizes, incomes, and ages to give riding a bike a shot, whether they’re kids, millenials, or boomers.

As any motorists can attest, driving behind or next to a cyclist is just as nerve-wracking for the person in the car. One wrong move and anything could happen. While turning right from Hornby to Georgia Street may be painfully slow during peak hours, as priority is given to the bicycles and pedestrians, drivers can now rest a bit easier knowing that they no longer have to worry about someone suddenly appearing out of their blind spot, ending in a collision. Protected bike lanes make car/bicycle/pedestrian travel much more predictable, reducing collisions, and keeping more people out of emergency rooms. That can’t possibly be a bad thing.

The simple fact is that bicycle travel is increasing in the City of Vancouver. It is not a “war on cars” as has been lazily and sensationally proposed by the media, but rather a council and their citizens moving forward and embracing changing times. Physically separated lanes have played a part in that, with cycling being the fastest growing transportation mode, experiencing a 40 per cent increase in the number of trips between 2008 and 2011. More and more people are opting to get on a bike because it is getting safer and easier. Increased options means less people in cars, which in turn means reduced congestion on our streets.

Another significant sign that protected bike lanes are a good thing is the simple fact that among the increased number of cyclists on the road, the number of girls and women choosing to ride has had the biggest growth. In 2011, 41 per cent of all trips made by bicycle were done by girls or women, 11 per cent higher than the 2006 Canada Census average. It has been well documented that women are the indicator species, meaning that until women adopt an idea, in this case using a bicycle as a safe and reliable means of transport, it will not have resounding success. So, in Vancouver, where nearly half of those choosing to ride a bike are women, it is pretty clear that through introducing protected bikes lanes the city has made cycling safer for all riders, regardless of age, gender and ability.

The three proposed bike lane improvements will cost Vancouver taxpayers approximately $3 million, equating to about $5 per resident. Meanwhile, the recent provincial transportation budget plans for $179 million in road rehabilitation expenses alone in 2013/14 , while cycling projects account for just $3 million in the same period of time. So it’s important to have a bit of perspective when it comes to the cost of embracing these vital safety upgrades to existing infrastructure. The bottom line is this: protected bike lanes are the future of transportation, and if we keep having these ridiculous bike vs. car debates, Vancouver is going to be left in the past.

Written by Melissa Bruntlett.
Melissa Bruntlett lives in Vancouver with her husband and two young children. When not riding around with her family and enjoying life by the ocean, she writes for her blog Velo Family Diaries, where she talks about the triumphs and challenges of a car free existence. Find Melissa on Twitter at @VeloFamilyYVR.
Image: Chris Bruntlett @cbruntlett

Monday, 17 June 2013

Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear

Spending our weekend on foot allowed
us the chance to experience the city on
a more personal level

Last weekend, my husband and I spent a glorious couple of kid-free days traipsing around Seattle. From our accommodations in Pioneer Square, to Pike Market and everything in between, by the end we felt like we had been walking non-stop for weeks! But that's nothing out of the ordinary for us, and I personally am happy walking and discovering new places. At one point in our travels, we passed a family on their way to Safeco Field to watch the Mariners. One of the boys, likely around ten or eleven, asked how much further, and let out an exhausted sigh when he heard the response. I remember thinking, "Wow, it's only five blocks...that's nothing!" On any given day it is not out of the ordinary for me to walk upwards of 20 blocks to get to activities for the kids, or to do some local shopping. Never mind riding a bike, where we have been known to travel thirty-plus kilometres some days. 

What I've come to realize, speaking with friends and family and hearing by-passers on the street, is that the perceived distance about how far things are from each other is significantly skewed when most trips are taken in a motor vehicle. With the speed being travelled, it's no wonder that a ten minute trip can seem like such a great distance when you spend it sitting down watching the world whizz by. When travelling by foot or on a bike you get a true sense of the distances covered, because you are using your own energy to get you from point A to B.

Speaking from personal experience, when we first went car-free in 2010, I remember feeling so daunted by the idea of travelling six kilometres to go downtown. Surely, a trip that takes ten to fifteen minutes on the Skytrain will take over an hour on a bike. But then I did it, while towing children, and found that after only thirty minutes of pleasant riding, six kilometres was easy. It is amazing how by walking or getting on a bike instead of driving or taking transit, you are suddenly aware of how close things really are. Nowadays, I think nothing of travelling as I did today, riding thirty kilometres to meet my daughter and her class at the beach, and then back to help organize an appreciation party for the teachers that make her school the amazing place it is for each and every student.

I guess the point is, it wasn't until I got out of a car and started using my own two feet to get me around that I discovered the places I want or need to get to are actually closer than I first thought. Sure, sometimes it may not be the easiest way to get there, or may take a little more effort physically. But given the expense of driving, perhaps spending a few more minutes to get there, and learning that the distance travelled may not be as daunting as you initially perceived, the rewards of going by foot or bike may be a surprisingly rewarding experience.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Girls, Bikes, Fear and How We Need to Change

We're alike in so many ways, I just hope I pass on my
passion for riding to her in the years to come
We all love our daughters. We want them to grow up to be strong, independent women, capable of meeting every challenge head on. Not to be scared, not to doubt themselves and never to think there's something they just can't do. Mother's are particularly aware of this, knowing first hand what challenges await their girls as they go from being adorable little princesses and rough and tumble tomboys to awkward teenagers, to young women trying to figure out what it is they want from their lives, and possibly even becoming mothers themselves. So why is it, when we want all these positive things for our girls, that we keep going on about all the things they need to be afraid of?

There are certainly veritable dangers out there that all kids need to be mindful of, like talking to strangers, walking through dark alleys and so on. But as I watch my daughter and her friends grow, I have become aware that there is a lot of other so-called dangers that perhaps we need to take a step back from and realize that if we give them credit, our girls will prove that they are capable of taking responsibility for their own safety.

Let's take cycling for example, just because that's what my family is, a bicycle family. My daughter has now been riding solo for almost two years, and doing so on the road for well over a year. Each time we ride, I take the opportunity to teach her how to ride defensively, to be aware of the cars and pedestrians around her, and to always follow the rules of the road. While I have had my moments of panic, I have tried my hardest to not make riding a bike a terrifying experience for her. Because it isn't. Yes, cars are dangerous two-tonne weapons, but if I tell her that every time she sees a car it could mean she's going to get hit, she would never get on a bike. I want her to enjoy riding, not be afraid that every time she gets on her bike there is a high probability of injury or death.

Just last weekend, while out for a ride, my husband and I passed a family that was so stressed about their kids being on the road that they kept manically telling their kids to stay to the side, watch what they doing, keep control, hurry up to get through an intersection when they had plenty of time and so on. Don't get me wrong, these are all valid concerns when you're riding with children, especially young ones still finding their legs. However, if, as an adult, you had someone constantly spouting dangers at you while you tried to do something confidently, would you not be prone to think, "Why the heck and I attempting to do something so dangerous?! Clearly, I should stop trying."

Let's face facts. It has been discussed time and again that women are generally more averse to taking risks. As a result, the ridership numbers for women are drastically lower than men. I also recently read a report from discussing how by the age of thirteen to fourteen, many young girls are likely to stop riding their bikes. One of the reasons they stop is because they are afraid of getting hurt while doing something physical. The thing they seem to forget is that riding a bike is so easy, and the chances that you will get hurt just riding to and from school or to meet a friend are very slim. But then, maybe they've spent their childhood being told it is dangerous, and when you're a thirteen year old girl, the most important things to you are that you fit it, you feel good about your body, and that nothing will stop you from getting together with your friends. Thinking that sitting down on a bike may result in a broken limb or worse, making it harder to achieve this, gives them all the reason in the world not to ride.

It's about time we start talking less about the dangers of riding a bike with our girls, and more about how great it is! Learning to ride a bike is the first step to gaining independence, and the act of riding a bike is the ultimate in freedom, creating so much joy for nearly every rider I know, young and old alike. For a child, they no longer have to hold their parent's hand while they're riding a bike, and only they can steer, slow down or stop their bike. If you think about it, that is a huge sense of responsibility for a child, and I'm sure it makes them feel so proud that they are able to accomplish all this on their own. 

Not from yesterday, but my daughter having
FUN on her bike
In fact, I know it does. Just yesterday, I let go and gave my daughter one of the ultimate milestones in independence for a child. I let her bike home from school...on her own. I know, GASP! After having to run an emergency errand by car right after school, we had to figure out how to get her bike home that she had ridden that morning. Being that I also had my son with me, and dinner to make, going home, dropping off the Zipcar, getting my bike and trailer and going back to the school seemed so time consuming and unnecessary. So, after speaking to her about being responsible, walking across our dreaded crosswalk, and obeying all the rules of the road we had talked about before, I dropped her off at her school and watched as she got on her bike and headed home...solo. When I saw her again, safe and sound at home, the grin on her face after succeeding to take such a big step into independence made me so happy for her. She felt STRONG, INDEPENDENT and most of all, NOT AFRAID to do it again.

Ladies out there, we all know we're strong enough to do just about anything. It's about time we start passing on that confidence to our little girls. We need to stop teaching our girls that danger is waiting for them around every corner. All we're doing is raising our daughters to doubt themselves and their abilities. We need to teach them to be safe, but in a way that is preparing them to be independent. For those with daughter's that ride, we need to maintain that joy they feel as children all through their growing up, so that when they reach their teens, they keep riding because they know it's no more dangerous than walking to meet their friends, and in fact, a lot quicker and good for their health. The best way to start fostering that, keep riding with them, give them moments of independence, and share your joy on two wheels with them every chance you get!

A little video of my daughter mastering yet another bike related skill...the graceful Dutch dismount. (Video c/o @cbruntlett)