When Kapuskasing, Ontario native Danelle Laidlaw came to Vancouver in 1981 and sought out a career, little did she know her experiences as a commuter cyclist would be as valuable as her dual degree in business administration and industrial relations.

Nor did she know that, together, these credentials and her willingness to step into this emerging, evolving world of transportation policy and advocacy, would influence cycling in the region for a generation.

When I came here, I sought out the Vancouver Bicycle Club, and went to one of their meetings, and they said, "Oh, hi and your name is Danelle? And what position on our Board would you like?" more or less.
So I got involved. And Bicycle Advisory Committee at City Hall was in place, and they had a representative on that, so I became that representative and did that for many years.

The late 1970s and early 1980s was a pretty lonely time to be on a bike. There  weren’t any bike-friendly mayors, no transportation advocacy groups of any true influence, and no cycling network to point to. Mostly, it was Vancouver Bicycle Club, and the Bicycling Association of BC.

It’s with these two organizations that Danelle found a foothold, and her people.

Daniel Egan is the first person who I met who was a bicycle advocate. {Ed note: Dan went on to become the bicycle coordinator for Toronto.]
I remember the first act of advocacy that stuck with me, and we might have done it through the Safety Council, but we carried onto the Seabus life-size cardboard bicycles, because bicycles weren't allowed on the Seabus at the time. And when we were challenged, we said they are objects of art. And we were allowed on with them as objects of art. 
It would have been '82 or '83. It was the first little act of defiance….that you should be able to allow cyclists on the Seabus. 
This is a real obstacle. I mean, the obstacles in Vancouver are bridges and water, the tunnel, all of that stuff. So those are the things we addressed first, to try to get more people on bikes.

Danelle also began to participate in meetings of the Bicycle Association of BC, today known as Cycling BC.

In order to get the provincial government to listen to us, we had to have a community. And at that time, the community was there, but it wasn't drawn together. You couldn't say, oh we have 250 members, or whatever, 2,500 members. There were definitely 2,500 cyclists out there, but they weren't together. And so there was no voice. 
I was on the Board initially, of the Bicycling Association. They always had a staff position, but when that became vacant, it was elevated to an Executive Director, and I applied and got that job.
For the most part, the Bicycling Association was devoted to sport. There was always a recreational component but it was always the lesser part, the poor sister. I really felt there was a need for an official body to also represent the recreational cyclists.
We were carving it out. It wasn't just me, it was a whole committee. And we were really carving it out.

Today, a lot of people talk about the importance of women in cycling advocacy. That's because, for so long, transportation cycling was dominated by the Forester approach — bicycles as vehicles, behaving with the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles themselves. And that, for so long, was associated with men, and what is assumed to be a greater, gender-based tolerance for risk.

Call it a stereotype, or chalk it up to baseless anecdotes, but we must acknowledge that men also figure prominently across the history of transportation — in policy development, in planning, and especially in engineering. 

But remarkably, women often play important roles in the earliest chapters of the history of cycling advocacy. In BC, Danelle one of the more prominent examples.

Chalk it up to her personal cycling philosophy, which we’ll get to in a second. But her educational background played, perhaps, a greater role.

Without her understanding of industrial relations, one could imagine Danelle having had much more difficulty navigating an environment that was so indifferent to cycling.

I was always for compromise. You had to be. 
I used to sit in on meetings with the sea of suits. I'd be the only woman, I'd be the only cyclist, in the sea of suits.
They would think of cycling in terms of their five-year-old. And I'd always say, we're not talking about kids on bikes here. We are talking about people who choose to use a bicycle for transportation. 
At that time, there was still this idea that I you were on a bike, it was because you couldn't afford a car, or you'd lost your license because of drinking.
The guys in suits at the time, that's what they knew about cycling, was their kids riding their bikes. Because they had never ridden bikes as adults. For transportation, or for anything. No-one ever admitted it anyway. 

Danelle was able to speak truth to power, and by speaking for that group of 2,500 cyclists, the voice for cycling found its audience. More people were attracted to the cause. She found allies, and cycling began to come out of the shadows. 

It took time, though, and some political will from across the political spectrum.

In my opinion, things started to change when the politicians got on side. And Gordon Price was one of the first.
Because before that, we were talking to the provincial government, and we were talking to the municipal governments, and they were giving us acknowledgement, but nothing was happening. Nothing was happening.
I remember being in a meeting with the provincial government, and having one of the bureaucrats say to me, "You're where the environmental movement was ten years ago, you just have to be patient." 
And saying to him, "We don't have time to be patient. This is the time. We have to change the way people transport" - the way they get to work, get to school, going to buy their groceries, going to the library, whatever.
"Just be patient." No!

Danelle was able to keep focused on the issues, and by working closely with a Cycling BC committee dedicated to transportation issues, change began to come.

They helped bring about changes to BC’s road laws as they pertain to cycling, including recognizing cyclists as lawful road users, rules regarding placement in vehicle lanes, and mandatory use of helmets.

Some efforts didn’t pan out, such as pushing the provincial government for dedicated road space on the Alex Fraser Bridge. (“Before it even opened, traffic had increased so much they had to take that away, and we were on the sidewalk.”).

But in some cases the little wins — such as getting the City of Vancouver to agree to distribute thousands of bike racks, left over from Expo, to locations across the city — had just as much impact as the big ones.

And all the while, others were attracted to the cause, whether directly or indirectly as a result of Danelle's role with Cycling BC. It was an intangible but undeniable influence on the movement that emerged over the following decades. 

This was represented, in part, by The Bicycle People — an independent group of transportation activists and advocates that emerged from Vancouver’s informal community of commuter and recreational cyclists in the late 1980s.

The Bicycle People borrowed an ethos of social activism that, in San Francisco and other cities around the world, led to the protest ride movement called Critical Mass, which itself became forever associated, by the 1990s and early 2000s, with Vancouver's burgeoning cycling movement.

Similarly impatient for faster change and greater influence, The Bicycle People formed a society in 1991, becoming Better Environmentally Sound Education (B.E.S.T.). While they had similar goals to that of Cycling BC, the two organizations clashed on the method.

When BEST first came on board, because they were outspoken and strong advocates, and they were confrontational, they were a bit of a pain, to tell you the truth.
I'd be working with the Ministry, and I'd be working with Vancouver, talking about compromise and how to do these things, and then they'd come and block the road. I'm like, oh god, not again.
But I've always felt there's a role for that kind of advocacy. Because you have to be confrontational in some respects. And you know, they brought attention, they got news coverage.
One is anarchy. One is, okay let's work within the system and see what we can do to change it. They both have a role.
I know lots of people who feel the only way to change is to sit down and be dragged away. it's a sort of Greenpeace approach — we're going to block you, we're going to do this. 

Following changes to cycling legislation in BC in 1996 — the last amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act as it stands today — Danelle left Cycling BC, taking her voice, experience and expertise to the consulting world.

As the cycling expert on a variety of development projects managed by large engineering firms, she found herself in a role very similar to where she had come from — educating the old guard, largely male planners and engineers, on how to accommodate cycling.

But she recognizes it might not have been seen that way, perhaps due to her personal cycling philosophy.

When I started consulting, I was viewed as the enemy across the table. But I was actually advocating for what I felt would work for cyclists. Well, John Forester approach, albeit. 
I concede that, from an education perspective, that visual designation of a spot on the road is a real tool. I really see where having designated bike lanes encourages people to get out on their bikes, and it's a great educational tool for both motorists and cyclists.
But personally I've never really felt like I need them. I'm definitely in the Forester camp. I really feel in an ideal world, everyone is together and there is no separation.
And I do really object to the two-way bike lanes on one side of the road. I really object to that. 
That's part of why I got out of consulting. Because I could see where the cyclists wanted that, and I just didn't agree with it. So I thought, oh maybe my time is done here.

Like many who come from the trenches of cycling advocacy from an earlier era, Danelle has no interest in working to advance the cause today.

Part of it is fatigue. Part of it is that, despite appearances, she's retirement age, and so she doesn't have to. She seems to lead the ideal life for someone who loves cycling — leading tours through countries like Turkey, Colombia, and Albania.

But also, she seems to acknowledge that, while her approach to riding a bike is certainly not uncommon and not to be reviled, it's one that is viewed today, largely, as an anachronism.

Vehicular cycling, as the Forester approach is often called, no longer sits well in a region that is actively trying to encourage 8-years-olds and eighty-year-olds, from Maple Ridge to Delta to Langley, to feel comfortable getting on a bike to get to the dentist, go shopping, or go to school. 

Once I retired, people were after me to be on HUB boards and things like that.
And I thought it's just not my principle because I'm really a Forester person through and through. 
I don't want to fight for segregated routes because it's not my thing. And I was tired of the fight.