Born to German parents, Antje spent much of her childhood in a suburb outside Rome.
Oh yes, you heard me. She grew up in Italy. In a newly-built, planned community — row houses and roundabouts, cars but not too many, kids playing in the street. And very flat. Hence...
I grew up riding on a seat on the back of my mom's bike, which I found really boring. I always tried to put my foot through the spokes to have some entertainment.
She actually went shopping mostly by bike. Sometimes we went by car when she had a lot of stuff to buy. But mostly she tried to go by bike.
The scene Antje paints of her mother's cycling habits in suburban Italy in the late 1970s sounds like a scene from a film, something straight out of Fellini. Or perhaps Roberto Benigni:
She had me on the back of the bike, and then the groceries she just had in bags that she hung on the handlebars. So this completely unstable load, she managed to somehow get around with me.
I don't know how she did it. As a little kid you just think what your mother does all the time is normal, until you realize later that most people don't do those things.
It's a theme that followed Antje through other stages of her life.
One of the reasons why she often felt alone on the roads is because she's usually lived in some pretty discouraging cities for cycling.
There's often this idea that it's always all wonderful, in parts of Europe. There are certainly places in Germany that are very nice for biking.
Then there are other places much worse than here. Rome has as terrible transit system to start with, so everything is always congested. My brother lived for a while in Stuttgart...he said it was just horrible there, they have basically nothing and they have tons of traffic. I went to university in Hamburg, and I went into the city once by bike, and it was really really bad. I lived in London, it was terrible for biking. They had a network from the eighties, which was falling apart.
I always lived somewhere not really very good for biking. Except Vancouver. When I moved to Vancouver that was the best.
A student in the UBC Forestry program, Antje not only found that her arrival in 1998 coincided with start of Vancouver's much-lauded neighbourhood bikeway program — routes designated by signs and paint, with push-buttons at intersections — but also that, with the addition of bike lanes on key roads like University Boulevard, she finally found herself surrounded by other cyclists ("it was like almost immediate, after they put that bike lane in, there were suddenly all these bikes...this endless flow").
So what brought her into advocacy in the first place?
Certainly not Bike to Work Week, a populist expression of the normalizing of transportation cycling, and thus unremarkable to someone like Antje.
I thought in the beginning this was kind of weird. I just bike all the time, why do you have to have a week for it?
What got me involved was, in 2005, a new road that Metro Vancouver built with the District of North Vancouver, Lillooet Road.
They put a sidewalk in that wasn't there before — that was good. Then they ended up just painting sharrows going to the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, which now is a huge bike route.
Even at the time there were a lot of people biking. I couldn't quite believe it. It wouldn't have cost them anything more to put bike lanes in.
Widening roads, establishing shoulders, providing physical separation, even just visible demarcation — all these things take a combination of information, consideration, prioritization and money.
Instead, local government provided the lowest form of accommodation for cycling. And it fired Antje up.
Sharrows, or shared-use arrows, are often considered by cyclists to be more of a warning, even an insult, than any true form of accommodation. It's about the subtle message this symbol sends to people on bikes (perhaps 'share if you dare — this way'), than any practical transportation directive the geometry may suggest.
What I wanted was better bike routes. In the previous years I had, just on my own, talked to the District of North Van. It was just really frustrating and unsuccessful.
And I realized then that as a group you can actually do much more.
That's true, but even with that said, there was no apparent group for Antje, at that point a resident of District of North Vancouver, to join.
So she continued to monitor developments on North Shore roads and pathways, sitting in on North Vancouver city and district Joint Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings ("You're not supposed to speak, but sometimes I spoke anyway"), and eventually starting a petition for a bike lane on East Keith Road, after a resident was left brain damaged from being struck by a vehicle.
It ended up having over 1,000 signatures. I think it showed there's actually a lot of people who want that. There's still no bike lane. But after that, the councillors did pay a lot more attention to me.
By 2010, Antje became one of a small group of local residents to form a new HUB Cycling volunteer committee for the North Shore. She was chair for about three years in the middle, during which time the committee built up a group of steady regulars, often overfilling the boardroom at the City of North Vancouver public library, and packing the agenda of the two-hour monthly committee meeting with enough topics to for four other committees.
As it does today, the committee monitored and helped guide decisions on cycling issues in City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver and District of West Vancouver, at times also addressing shared concerns with the local Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Minutes were kept, tasks assigned, and progress was made.
Everyone plays favourites sometimes, and I have to admit this was my favourite committee to work with. And to watch.
Perhaps Antje would not appreciate being credited with influencing the quality of dialogue, the energy, the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-it group attitude, and that's fair. What she can be credited with is identifying that one unifying characteristic among this growing community. It's this tendency for North Shore active transportation advocates to take notice of where world-class cycling is happening, and to wonder, "why can't that happen here?"
And no, it's not another reference to Europe.
A lot of people commute to Vancouver, and they see what Vancouver is building.
So they see all these things and then come back to the North Shore and the same old crappy bike lanes, and they think we don't want these crappy bike lanes anymore, we want protected bike lanes. They know what's do-able.
Antje can get away with a lot, because she manages to balance this honesty with a willingness to collaborate and play well with others. She offers up critique, but with an earnest belief that people can sometimes do better simply with more information. And an independent spirit who represents greater numbers.
When she talks about her presence at city council or special staff meetings on transportation, she'll joke that those in power must hate her, as if she makes a nuisance of herself. But in fact, it's a modest expression of her understanding that she has managed to have a real impact, to help transform what could be yet another unfriendly cycling experience in her life into something better.
Something for everyone. We all just need to reflect on the wins, the impacts, and continue to build.
I'm quite sure we did have an effect on the Second Narrows Bridge. And we did have an effect on the Stanley Park Causeway.
And then that little new Keith Bridge. They wanted to put the bike lane on the road, and we convinced them to put the bike lane on the other side of the barrier.
There are all these people biking across this bridge now. It's really nice to have something that you can actually see.
I don't even know where these people come from because there's no bike route on the other end.
But it's there. People use it.