It's always nice to show up someplace where there's another Colin, and I can go back to being 'the other Colin'.
In all fairness, he was on the scene before me, so he gets to be the first Colin. He earned it.
A Montreal native, he first visited Vancouver in 1983 as part of cross-Canada cycling trip from Mile Zero at Beacon Hill to Mile Zero in St. John's, eventually returning as part of a long, slow, westward working migration that included five years in Lake Louise.
It was a job offer from the federal government in 1992 that brought him to the west coast for good.
When I first came to Vancouver, you went into a store and if they saw you had bike gear, other than looking at you like a potential thief, they wouldn't give you the time of day.
Passive aggressive much? Maybe a bit off-putting for someone from Montreal ("every time you go out for a bike ride you end up getting honked at by somebody"), but it didn't put Colin off for long.
In fact, maybe that's what made Vancouver stick for him. Commuter cycling was still new, conditions were different, and the 'market' for cycling advocacy, so to speak, untapped.
So he tapped in.
I wrote a letter to the editor during the '94 civic elections about one of the candidates, I had commented on something they didn't quite get.
Next thing I know, I got a phone call from Helen Warn, asking me if I wanted to get involved with Cycling BC, (which) was the advocacy group at the time.
Of course there was no Twitter, no online comments section on the Sun — a letter to the editor was still an effective way to put your name and opinion out there.
(Try telling kids today about this exclusive form of public commentary — someone controlled your voice, which would have had to be proofread in the first place, in order to have an audience. In some ways a great thing; in other ways, admittedly, a bit sad. Communications platforms were few, narrow in scope and reach, and yes, limited to where newspapers could be physically distributed. Still — almost a bygone era, no?)
And so with the power of a pen, Colin was brought into the fold.
But advocacy was not to be Cycling BC's domain forever; when it moved on in 1996 (briefly passing through the Vancouver Bicycle Club), Colin and a small group of advocates were left wondering when and how to take destiny into their own hands.
B.E.S.T. had been operating for a few years, but had begin to struggle with vision and direction, seemingly its entire ideological foundation. Push from the outside, using militant tactics to get public attention and support for cycling? Or work on relationships, strategies and messaging to make more incremental, predictable progress from within the system?
Rather than try to help B.E.S.T. resolve the debate, Colin and a core group of people (some of whom are profiled on this website), looked outside for support in forming something new. Some things new.
People from Victoria came over to Vancouver to help us get started in cycling advocacy. At the same workshop meeting, we formed two cycling organizations — VACC and the BC Cycling Coalition.
We tried to work within the system. We wanted to get friends within the municipalities and the province, and work with staff and the politicians as much as possible. Not to try to rankle them.
A lot of people equated VACC at the time with Critical Mass rides, but The Bicycle People were the ones doing the Critical Mass rides.
We had to say we don't do those rides, that's not us, we're more of a mainstream organization.
And thus, they placed a stake in the ground — negotiation instead of protest. Collaboration instead of table-pounding.
To that point, a very visible and vocal corner of the advocacy movement leaned more towards activism. The two new organizations formed in 1997 had a new kind of job to do. Show up and talk to people, decision-makers and the public, and shed light on the inherent contradictions in the system.
I remember Cypress was so controversial. I went to the city consultation, and people in that area [had] these doomsday scenarios of these mad cyclists, cycling down the streets, killing their kids.
Meanwhile they had no concerns about motor vehicles driving down their streets at 60 kilometres per hour.
It was a transitional time for cycling. Changes to the Motor Vehicle Act just a year or two prior had included a new mandatory adult helmet law, but failed to address a more comprehensive set of changes that would properly address the rights and responsibilities of bicycle operators in any meaningful way.
It was one of the first 'portfolios' Colin began to work on. He didn't necessarily foresee it would consumer a good portion of his time as an advocate.
I have a passion for the Motor Vehicle Act — we've had some changes made as a result of our advocacy. We were probably the first ones in BC that were asking for full cell phone ban, to voice concerns about cell phone impaired drivers.
We were moving forward. We'd met with higher level staff within the provincial government. ICBC was full-on moving forward, having some discussions. And then we had a change in government. And then it no longer became a priority.
Do you mean NDP to Liberal [in 2001]?
Yes. They weren't interested in the Motor Vehicle Act because it was going to cost them money. And they were all worried about cost savings.
That's sixteen years ago. It really hasn't progressed.
Therein lies one of the pitfalls of plowing yourself into the kind of advocacy that the VACC (now HUB Cycling) and the BCCC brought to the table in those early years. Even to this day, it's the inherent flaw of 'collaborative advocacy' — spending valuable resources to develop policy advice that, given freely to government, can simply be discarded.
It's kind of a mixed blessing. We provide a lot of valuable input to them that theoretically saves them money, but they still look at cycling kind of as an afterthought.
I think the Pitt River Bridge is a good example of that, where they came up with a horrible plan. We met with them and said, "this is awful." They revised the plan dramatically, made it a lot better.
Then it goes to the P3 contractor and it's back to worse than the original plan. The way they did the terms of reference, cycling was at the bottom of the list. It didn't say how cyclists had to be accommodated.
To me the most galling thing was that a lot of cyclists were writing letters saying, "This is awful" — even before the construction people could see this was going to happen — and the response from the Ministry was, "We consulted with the cycling community." In other words implied-
"This is what you asked for"
Yeah. Which was totally not true.
Colin contrasts that process and outcome with that of the Golden Ears Bridge, a Translink project that seemed to fare much better. ("With Translink there's a fair number of cyclists within their engineering department, and so they were making sure that things were done properly. There was much more direct consultation with the cycling community.")
It would be easy to slam the lack of progress, or sometimes the reverse progress, as political calculations. Tell the cyclists what they want to hear to placate them, but keep doing what we're doing on the other side, and either way, get all the votes we can. Keep building for cars, and throw cycling a bone every now and then.
But it's not necessarily that simple. In fact, simplification of the root cause of any stagnation in active transportation policy can handcuff efforts to address the true root cause. And Colin has a valid theory on that.
I think a lot of it is education. Municipalities don't spend a lot on education on the rules of the road, because they believe it's a provincial responsibility, which technically it is. But the province doesn't spend anything on it. ICBC used to spend a little bit on it until their mandate was changed.
People don't understand what sharing the road is. Some people still see sharing the road as "cyclists get out of my way." They look at that sign showing the car and the cyclists side by side, and they say yeah, the cyclists should allow me to squeeze by.
Signage? Sure thing, a huge part of the education that's needed, on both sides. And I don't mean both types of people on the road.
It's the institutions — advocates must learn how to establish relationships, create positive public awareness, and negotiate to get what they want. Likewise, they expect government to educate themselves, to understand the place of cycling on our roads, and to act on that knowledge.
I equate it to driving down the Trans Canada Highway and the sign saying "Car Route". And then it's got exits that say, "another car route over here". Well, tell me some useful information. What's there?
You tell car drivers what's there for them — the restaurants, the gas stations. There's all sorts of information you're told.
As a cyclist you're told it's a bike route. Well, I know it's a bike route. Tell me something I need to know.
Colin's been at it for two decades, and he seems indefatigable. He shows up at all the meetings, all the consultations, all the events. He's referenced as one of the most knowledgeable people in the community, especially on topics related to our road laws, policies, and standards.
Of all the things he's worked on, the Motor Vehicle Act continues to be his passion. And it may now finally be ready for actual change.
I think we're making some progress now, with the Trial Lawyers Association. Things hopefully are moving forward.
I've been in favour of minimum passing distances, which I think about half of the US states have. Three Canadian provinces have it, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec.
And I look back and I think, we could have been a leader in BC if we had done it when we first started talking about it.
Hard to say. It's a different time now, and maybe it wouldn't have worked back then.
But one thing is for sure — the city, and the region, have changed. Today, a person like Colin is not the same alien species he felt like when he first arrived in Vancouver. And he has himself, in part, to thank.
Now you walk into a store with bike gear and they realize you're a paying customer. You've got money to spend.
I think, because of our actions, a lot of politicians realize that cycling gets votes. I think there's more public buy-in now.
I think the world is changing.