The variety of stories from my interviewees should resolve once and for all any misconception about the true sociocultural diversity of 'cyclists'. They are all of us.
But every now and then I talk to someone who had a similar experience to my own — the middle class white guy, growing up on a bike, and not really thinking twice about one's place in the world. Like Ken.
By the time I was 12 I was going from the west side of Vancouver to Port Moody. Never thought anything of it.
By myself. Down the Barnet Highway.
What were the steps to doing that?
'What can I do? How far can I go?'
I would do something similar — half the distance, mind you, and in Toronto — in the 1980s, finding my way from suburbia to some exotic destination, using arterial roads.
What else could we do?
There was nothing there. Richmond had put bike lanes at Garden City and Granville. That was it. Didn't phase me.
I pretty well figured out a lot of roads that became the bike route in Vancouver and Burnaby on my own.
While I recall some close calls as a youth, I was never struck by a motor vehicle. But Ken was, and at the age of 14, cycling went on hold.
I stopped riding because I didn't have any bicycle around to ride on — it got totalled. Part of my front teeth are fake from that accident. I got a screwed up knee.
I was told by my doctor that I wouldn't be walking by age 35. I'm 52, I'm still walking.
After a few years, he got back on the bike, and eventually went looking for others.
I wanted to meet like-minded people. In my personal life there weren't many people cycling. And I started going, well here I am going on these bike rides by myself, are there other people? So I joined the Vancouver Bike Club.
It was at the VBC that Ken made connections, and began contributing to advocacy, like editing the newsletter. But it wasn't until he was noticed by Marion that he was asked to champion cycling issues in a more formal manner, and a more public forum.
The City of Vancouver was going to re-do Northwest Marine Drive, and I was asked to present to the transportation committee on behalf of the VBC. For me this is a short distance from where I grew up. I'd spent summers on Spanish Banks.
He was also just 21, and lacking any experience in what we today call 'stakeholder relations' (today more commonly expressed through the equally bureaucratic but necessary 'community consultation' process). And he took a slightly less confrontational approach than that of the more activist-style Bicycle Advisory Committee.
I started talking to the residents. Because they were dead opposite of Spanish Banks, their main concern was they didn't want to have 'hard engineering', which is what the city had proposed — taking away that real beach scape.
I said, "Forget about all this hard engineering. Just give us a shoulder and keep the gravel parking. Don't touch the park." Every resident got up after that and said, "We like what he said."
Because what I was doing was I was respecting the community and the cycling. How do you blend the needs of everybody together?
It's a good point, and it's also a sticking point, one aimed directly at a core debate within the cycling community. Push hard to get exactly what you want, regardless of relationship impacts? Or seek a suitable middle ground, even if it comes at a cost to the integrity of a vision (often one which was never unreasonable in the first place)?
It's going to take twenty to forty years to get there. So do we say 'no' to every bicycle project if it doesn't meet that complete segregation? Or do you do something in the interim?
Especially in the suburbs and in the valley. You build up the critical mass, and you can move into the next wave.
Also not unreasonable. The fact is, I've come to feel there's room for both sides, because there are groups of people out there pushing for both sides, and these day's they're not mutually exclusive. You can have room on the roads for bicycles, and separated paths. But back in the 1980s and '90s, getting a seat at the table was the big win. So there were big fights about what to ask for.
Despite his relative youth, Ken has been around long enough, and actively advocating in enough locations around the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, to have seen a lot of those fights, and partake in a few. And lest this paint a picture of discord within the cycling community, it's important to understand that many times 'fights' is code for 'advocacy efforts', or even campaigns. And most were (and still are) conducted as much against ignorance and historical inequities, as they are against people or governments.
Lack of understanding is nobody's fault, and thankfully Ken has a variety of tools to wield in that battle against ignorance. Ruthless logic, with a little spice just so you'll remember his name for the next meeting.
In the City of Vancouver, they're saying that Ontario is an arterial. But if the city's not going to maintain it, it's not a bike facility.
I'm sorry you've already completely alienated the cycling community from an institutional point of view. You have to give it the exact same servicing as you would do on 49th, Main, Cambie. Nothing less.
If you're not treating this the same way you would anything for a car, then why are you doing it?
By 1998, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition was founded out of the dissolution of the cycling advocacy function within the Bicycling Association of BC, alongside the BC Cycling Coalition. Ken became one of VACC's earliest members — and the organization's second President — and worked with fellow Board member and former VBC cohort Marion to strip back some of the VACC's blatant Vancouver focus ("I looked at the situation and said, if we're regional we've got to act like a region, and I recommended that we start meeting in New Westminster, dead centre of the region."), as well as trying to rationalize the role and responsibilities of President.
There was likely little question of the need to fulfill the VACC's evolving mandate, but how in the world to do it?
I took on this mantle of being President, and all of a sudden I was community outreach person, I was membership, I was newsletter, I'm liaising with thirteen municipalities as a volunteer — I had six hats on.
I got frustrated. Like, this is nuts. I said, "I have the capacity, but anybody who replaces me probably will not have the capacity in life to carry on liaising with all these municipalities." So I made the recommendation of setting up the local area committees.
While it took a few years and iterations of the model to eventually become what it is today — ten highly functioning, volunteer-based committees meeting monthly across Metro Vancouver, each with their own political relationships and priorities — it was a critical move, and one which, despite many life moves and career changes, is once again relevant to Ken. In addition to his role as HUB Cycling instructor, he's co-chair today of HUB's Surrey-White Rock Committee, and taking up some of the biggest, hardest battles in the cycling advocacy community.
I'm a White Rock resident, so I have to go through Surrey to get to anywhere. The problem is we're an isolated population island in Metro Vancouver in relation to cycling infrastructure.
Right now, if South Surrey and White Rock were to separate from the municipality, they'd be the seventh largest by population, and the hardest to get into. It's actually easier for us to go to Bellingham than it is to get into Vancouver.
So what's the solution? First, let's look at this portion of the peninsula not as one city and part of another city, but as a single area called Semiahmoo. Next, put in the space and infrastructure for cycling that will give it (the area) and them (people on bikes) the rest that they deserve. Connect it to places, like Tsawwassen, the Peace Arch, Aldergrove and Sumas border crossings, even Horseshoe Bay, downtown Vancouver, and Hope.
Because despite the efforts of people like Ken, the basic questions remain — and in this case it's a question for the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure — how does someone fresh from a bike tour of Victoria get back to their home ? ("You leave Tsawwassen ferry terminal and eventually their signs actually route you back to Tsawwassen ferry terminal, instead of to Vancouver.")
The questions, sometimes, never seem to end. But if you ride a bike and think regionally, you have someone like Ken out there, searching for answers. And ready to continue the fight.
What are the infrastructure pieces that are missing along that corridor? How do you link? How do you deal with that?
To me, it's important that we start to see it from a regional point of view, and start saying ok, you can come into Metro Vancouver as a touring cyclist and you know you're going all the way to Vancouver, all the way to Tsawwassen, or all the way to Horseshoe Bay, as if you were driving a car.
We don't do that at all for cycling.