Full disclosure, perhaps of no real consequence but still — Lisa's nieces are friends with my daughters, connections established through the kids' high school in east Vancouver.
Lisa and I were already co-workers of sorts at the time we made that connection, due to my staff role at HUB Cycling, and her long-term volunteer role as co-chair of the Vancouver HUB committee
I say co-workers, and it sounds funny in my head. First because while there's much effort and time involved in the cycling sector, it's not 'work'. And second, I consider her more of a friend than an associate.
As would many folks who spent any time with HUB over the years, or the City of Vancouver's Bicycle Advisory Committee, or Active Transportation Policy Council. A working collaboration with Lisa is likely to turn into a friendship due to the qualities she brings to the table.
Trustworthiness, first of all. And honesty, combined with a measure of discretion. She's also polite, but plain-spoken. Most importantly, she's on good terms with a pint of locally-crafted beer. So yes, Lisa rocks the local bike advocacy world.
(And yes, I will once again shamelessly flatter my subject. And this time, it's personal.)
But Lisa might spin the tables, and suggest that she only gives what she gets. And that's as good a way as any to summarize her attraction to the advocacy world in the first place.
It was probably around 2004 when I realized that the vaguely improving situation for biking in Vancouver had a fair bit to do with a group that was fighting to make things better, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition.
Especially as traffic was getting worse in the city, it became more and more important to see some of those improvements.
I'm not a meeting-goer, I try to avoid them at all costs if I possibly can. I choose very carefully. I went to one of those meetings and it was mostly guys, and they were all really into maps and routes, and that's totally not what I was into.
But I was completely won over by the passion and the integrity and the willingness to sacrifice so much in order to make this city a better place to bike in.
At that time it was also an NPA council and so the need for pushback was much stronger.
So I decided that that was where I needed to put a fair bit of my time and energy.
It was right around the time that the VACC Board began to pivot the organization toward a paid staffing model, one which would allow it to formalize programs that might contribute more productively to moving the dial on cycling mode share in the city .
The timing was not a coincidence, because while others were recognizing the same need, Lisa was one of the main protagonists reaching for that dial, and taking responsibility to do the heavy lifting that came with it.
We had zero resources. Just our time and energy. At that time, we were meeting in a library room.
It became very obvious that we needed more of an infrastructure — we needed an office, we needed paid staff.
Even though I'm incredibly appreciative of people who volunteer their time, and I've done a lot of volunteer work over time, it ranks in a slightly different way than people who are being paid to do something.
The role of paid staff and an actual physical space is critical in making sure things continue.
The first two programs Lisa helped support — as both a constant volunteer and occasional contractor — achieved the objective of expanding VACC mandate, affected change beyond that which can be engineered, and are both still around today.
The first was cycling education — courses for kids in schools, and adults at community centres. There was many names involved in those early days, like Bill, Arthur, Mona and Mary.
And one name in particular, a familiar one in this story, with its many, many players.
In the early days, Bonnie was also there. She had seen what was happening with the education programming in Victoria, and she brought it over to Vancouver and got the programming started.
That was the first thing, as far as I know, to bring any money into the organization. She had all the supplies and everything in her teeny little apartment.
The other was Bike to Work Week. Its first incarnation, with B.E.S.T. in the 1990s, failed to stick, but by 2005 and '06 it had sprouted new sprigs of life on the North Shore, through the efforts of Dave Perfitt and John Fair.
When, in 2007, Mia arrived in the Lower Mainland from Victoria, Lisa was on-board with support once again.
Mia was extremely passionate, she sold it really well — it made total sense.
It would be a way to expand the programming, expand some of the revenues, and continue to grow as an organization, which at that time we were really keen to do.
There would be concerns about how far do we go. The organization had been totally volunteer for so long, there were some apprehensions about risk.
The initial sense one gets from people who avoid meetings like the plague is that they can't stand the politics, or can't deal with the personalities.
But Lisa's experience, and who she is as a person, proves otherwise. By running towards actual, on-the-ground programs that actually impact people in communities, Lisa was maximizing her effectiveness.
Sounds like stodgy HR talk, but take it from another angle — she was avoiding wasting her valuable time.
There's no substitute for being with people.
Such as kids, and programs in the schools geared towards encouraging behaviour change. You have to be there, and not in the boardroom.
You had to work with the schools, you had to work with the parents.
We discovered a lot of kids were not even getting a bike, had never biked. People were so fearful of the roads and stranger danger they weren't allowing their kids to walk or bike anymore on their own, or even at all.
So that's how I got more involved in the education and promotion side of things. It often gets ignored in the face of infrastructure.
Not to suggest that Lisa was immune to the call of infrastructure. She just managed to find the people angle to it. Such as with the controversial Hornby bike lane in late 2010.
I felt it was really critical to be working with businesses. I went up and down Hornby prior to it going in, talking to the business owners.
Because it had reached that critical point where the business federation had already gotten out to [them] with a survey kind of like the one on the Drive — very misleading, very biased.
But we found that business owners weren't typically keen to speak to somebody who was from the biking community, that they were looking for somebody somehow more neutral.
It's hard to find a neutral party in the fight over the place of bikes on our roads. (Lisa has the crazy idea that everyone could stand to give researchers like Kay Teschke and Meghan Winters a pass on partisanship: "I've always consulted with both of them - I always felt it's important to make sure communication has evidence-based information, and not just the interests or the thoughts of individuals.") And thus, the Hornby bike lane, like the Dunsmuir bike lane before it, was a fight.
Beyond her role at VACC/HUB, Lisa was in close touch with a number of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Council members through the years. The group, a living monument to two decades' worth of ingratiation to, and fig leaf offerings for, active transportation advocates by City Hall, was by that point a who's who of the bike advocacy movement.
I didn't want to be on the BAC because I really didn't like the sound of how those meetings were happening. It needed to become more cooperative and less adversarial.
On the other hand, they also did some amazing stuff. My take at the time was that there wouldn't have been a lot of benefit to bridge-building measures necessarily. It was really really challenging at that time, just to be heard at all.
Following the election of Gregor Robertson as mayor and a Vision-majority council in 2009, the Bicycle Advisory Committee was dissolved. By 2012, a new entity had been established to fill the gap — the Active Transportation Policy Council.
My impression is that there was intention on the part of Council to ensure that there were a variety of voices being heard. People who were on the committee were wanting to hear different voices.
And not just exclusively talking about cycling, but walking and skateboarding too.
Lisa's been an official member of the ATPC since that time.
There's obviously more to Lisa that HUB and the ATPC, and it's only the last 12-14 years of hr life. But they're years that coincide with great change in the City of Vancouver, as well as within the advocacy community. A great maturity, one might say. And she's a big part of it.
I've always volunteered for things but cycling thing has been by far my longest term commitment. I just got totally enmeshed in this one.
I just love getting around the city by bike. It was always my go-to mode of transportation. I literally never stopped biking.
I couldn't imagine choosing another option.