Burnaby native Dave grew up seeing his father and uncle get places on foot, and by bicycle.
As it was for many then, and as it is often today, it was an economic reality as well as a choice. And as is often the case with children, Dave didn't question it or need to adapt. It just was. Maybe not typical, but it was within the range of normal, enough that he could make sense of it.
I was always aware what car ownership was, how much money it cost. My father would ride to work and walk to work, [and] leave the car for my mother for the family-related stuff.
My uncle would tout the pleasure of his bike commutes, what people learn in Bike to Work Week — that if you have a long bike commute, you get to shed the worries of your days, like a meditation state.
After a stressful work day, you process what happened, you get your breathing up, it becomes rhythmic. It's a good way to unwind. You get home and you've worked out some of the stuff that you faced during the day.
He didn't say 'zen state', but close enough. I wouldn't have been surprised if Dave told me he was a practicing a Zen Buddhist, not because we spent a lot of time talking about spiritual matters, but because we ended talking about so many things, and with depth, equanimity, and honesty.
Dave's a retired telecom technician having worked for telecommunications behemoth Telus for 32 years. He helped connect up and maintain the phone and data networks in cities and towns all across BC ("I worked in manholes and in streets").
Since temporary work area traffic control was part of his job, he came to see how cyclists are simply part of a bigger mix of commuters, alongside pedestrians, trucks, buses, emergency vehicles, and so on.
He started to see how our society — the built environment and its expressed values — has created a society that looks very different from that which he grew into as a child in Burnaby.
And he could see it from 250-feet up a utility pole.
There were times when I'd be working near an elementary school in a quiet residential neighbourhood. Then school gets out, and every parent is coming in there in their car.
I'd be working up a pole and you just see the car come down the same block. It backs out of the driveway and drives up to the school, gets the kids and comes back. Crazy mindset.
Dave referenced the Livable Region Strategy while we chatted — whereby one lives in the same regional 'town centre' as their work — and that this is what influenced his move to North Vancouver in the early 1990s. And in due course he came to know about and engage in pedestrian and cycling advocacy by joining the newly-formed Joint Bicycle Advisory Committee of the city and district councils.
His training, combined with his polymathic grasp of a wide variety of topics, provided Dave a foothold on the committee, with facts informing his adherence to some very basic principles.
Like the idea that grade is the dominant feature of much of the north shore, and thus must be considered as a factor of not just adoption of cycling, but planning and engineering for all forms of transportation. Nothing earth-shattering, but apparently not enough of a 'first principle' consideration of the committee. Hence, the value of the erudite technician.
He notes, for example, that...
Chesterfield was the first road on the North Shore, because it had a good beach landing with little mud. There was always lots of mud on the foreshore. And it had the best grades to skid timber by oxen.
Back in those days people understood grades. People drive on arterial roads that go a certain direction, and they think, oh we need to allocate bicycle space on it. The first bike project they did in North Van they got provincial funding for, was this thing that went like this, up and down ten, twenty percent grades. If you have bad grades, you're not going to get people riding. Fortunately, it was later cancelled.
Other committee members would seek segregated bike lanes on arterial roads. I'd ask why they wanted to be there. I think at a subconscious level they want to slay the dragon — they want to slay the arterial road, slay the automobile use.
Like many new groups focused on new topics, the committee took some time to find its footing and be effective. Some of it had to do with the mix of people involved, and Dave found that committees, like life, are like a box of chocolates. Your never know what you're going to get.
Unless, of course, you really don't like something, like coconut. Then, in that case, you can almost guarantee you'll end up with coconut. At least, that sounds like it became Dave's experience.
You get the alpha dog dominant types that can really sway the meeting. But they don't have everything lined up.
I was more of a facts guy, and sometimes I'd think geez, I'm losing the argument because I just can't do the alpha-bulldozer-persuade-the-meeting thing. You can do lots of research before you go into a meeting, and have all your facts lined up, and somebody that makes a real passionate play sways the group.
The other thing I found about advocacy is you say something, you hammer away at it, and people are just dismissive, they do other stuff. But then later, you hear it come back. You see that same person a few years later and they go, you know that thing you were talking about? That makes sense to me now.
And you're going, ah shoot, I was in that meeting, and I was the only one speaking to it, and the room was against me.
In the cycling community, we don't like to show much discord, let alone disagreement on certain issues — it achieves nothing more than splitting an already marginalized, under-resourced segment of society into splinters and shards, which don't amount to much of a united front. It hardly gets more people cycling.
But the reality is that not everyone thinks the same way, and not everyone must always get along. And if anything is going to pose a risk to harmony in committee meetings and on specific issues, it's the one philosophical bedrock that you either cling to, or repudiate.
Foresterism, the idea — birthed by John Forester and bloated into many books and curricula on cycling —that education must come before (or in place of) infrastructure, was the topic which may have caused Dave to feel, on occasion, that tides turned against him in certain meeting meetings.
My evolution was sort of like Forester's. It's funny he's this kind of person who offended a lot of people.
I ended up thinking education and encouragement is best. You can argue road design, this kind of path, that kind of path — people still need to watch where they're going, know how to ride. If they're aware of the hazards, they're versatile, they can adapt to changing conditions, such as from arterial road to bike path.
We spend a lot of time in the design corner, but at the end of the day people still need to be aware of how to ride.
Dave stands behind John Forester's theory of the 'cyclist inferiority complex' ("I'm not afraid to use it — people have this inordinate fear of being hit from the rear.")
But beyond the idea that issues on the roads are caused by superstition, one which can be warded off by education, Dave is also a believer in finding the right place on our streets for cycling, and ensuring that other aspects of road use are not displaced. It's a view of cycling that is less common within the advocacy community, but one which is sometimes shared by those who lead a dual life — people who have a foot in both active transportation advocacy, and commercial movement.
I also do goods and service delivery by truck. I have a lot of experience doing that.
Sometimes that road needs to be scalable, because you need to unload something. So you need to park in that bike lane. You see people get all lathered up — "Hey there's this moving van parked in the bike lane, or a courier parked in the bike lane."
Well, that stuff's still gotta move somehow. And if you delineate it with concrete as a protected bike lane, it's even less scalable.
Some might argue that this is the change being fought for in the advocacy community — standards around commercial goods movement and access points, and the fact that these standards and policies need to change. The question is, how will they change, by whom, and what does successful change look like in this debate?
Here's where Dave throws a curveball. Where some Forester acolytes would suggest that cyclists need to be flexible and be able to get around obstacles like delivery trucks and deal with integrated traffic, Dave has seen that there's another way.
Marine Drive [in North Vancouver] we fought for years. It's where everybody biked, because it's one of the few roads that goes east-west and has bridges over the creeks. And I said, "Why do you want to be duking it out with buses?"
We have twenty-plus buses an hour going along Marine Drive. When a bus stops in front of you all the time, why do you want to be on there?
I really like Vancouver's model, like Adanac and Ontario. Get a road that doesn't have a lot of motor volume on it. You don't have to structure it too much. That was my favourite model. I think the success of those roads is very evident.
Roads like Adanac groom cyclists with in-traffic riding skills. As Forester pointed out, the best treatment for the fear of traffic is skills training, followed up with with graduated and increased exposure to moving traffic. Bike trunk roads, like Adanac, do this.
The bike volumes on Adanac compared to arterials speaks volumes to this.
While opinions on education vs infrastructure can vary, and as theories fall in and out of vogue, one aspect of cycling culture in Greater Vancouver has been almost beyond all debate — the success of Bike to Work Week in attracting people to cycling, and helping to make it stick.
The week-long event was an early staple of B.E.S.T. in the 1990s, but as the fortunes and capacity of that organization waned, Bike to Work Week itself went into hibernation. For a few years, many thought it as dead, but thanks to groups in Victoria, the event stayed alive elsewhere in the province.
At Translink's invitation in 2004, the Bike to Work Week people out of Victoria made a presentation at Coal Harbour Community Centre and invited everybody down.
I ended up there by accident, and at first I was reluctant to attend. Then during the presentation, I thought, oh this is great. It actually made sense to me. They're marketing the fun of riding a bike, they're capitalizing on all these fun runs that are hugely successful.
After they did this presentation, all the usual suspects said, "Well it's a nice idea but it won't work in Vancouver." Everyone went, "We're good."
So I contacted [former Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society executive director] Linda Saunders. She was really supportive — they really wanted to get a beachhead into Vancouver.
And I said, well there's no way I can do it across the Lower Mainland, I work full-time. But I can do the North Shore. So we just had three stations — the District of North Van, City of North Van, and West Vancouver.
With support from other North Shore advocates — including John Fair, who would play a significant role in year two and the subsequent hand-off of the event to VACC/HUB and Mia Kohout — Dave found and dropped an important piece of the public engagement puzzle back into play, helping complete what is now a pretty picture of active transportation in the Lower Mainland.
And thankfully, others saw it for what it was.
To Bonnie's credit, she came out to the Lion's Gate Bridge station, and the clouds parted. The weather was good, and there were lots of people..
Bonnie had a great time — she liked to engage with the public and talk to them. I was so happy. I remember she went back and she posted on the VACC listserve: "Bike to Work Week works."
And after that people realized it was a good model to engage the public.