Story by Caitlin Lee. Photography by David Keogh.
Despite the snowy weather, it was a full house at Fix Coffee + Bikes for the sixth episode of BIKE MINDS. This episode’s theme was Bike+Careers. We heard stories about how some have built their career with the help of bikes and how others have used their life experiences to improve active transportation for the next generation.
Armi de Francia
To kick off the event, Armi de Francia, Active Transportation Planner and Coordinator spoke about how her upbringing in the suburbs shaped her career in active transportation and how bikes have the potential to leverage racialized communities.
Armi grew up biking as a kid in Scarborough despite the lack of infrastructure, bike racks and even a helmet. A near miss collision when she was 12 years old stopped her from biking and and this continued when she eventually moved to Pickering and was only able to drive and take transit to get around. She completed her Master in Urban Planning in Montreal and was inspired by the bike infrastructure and walkability there. That experience, combined with attending a road safety workshop by Cycle Toronto, allowed her to gain the confidence to start riding again.
In 2015, Armi attended a presentation by Veronica O. Davis about mode equity and she learned that the neighbourhood she grew up in was not the only racialized community that lacked access to bike infrastructure. With this in mind, she shared examples of how we can create spaces for marginalized people to share their experiences. Becoming a bike host mentor allowed her to share her own experiences and through The Untokening, a multi-racial collective, she met other racialized bike advocates and found a place for her own voice. Armi has learned how bikes can connect people and create freedom and through her lived experiences she is committed to leveraging racialized communities in the suburbs so they can receive the benefits of active transportation and overcome barriers she had while growing up.
John Spagae and Ollie Sheldrick
Next up was John Spagae and Ollie Sheldrick, Web Developers for Bike Space, a community web-based app that allows users to identify and report bike parking issues. They talked about the origins of Bike Space, its evolution with support from agencies and the community and what they have in store for the future of the app.
Finding bike parking that isn’t already full, occupied by abandoned bikes, or in poor condition is a struggle that many cyclists face. Recognizing this issue, John and Ollie wanted to create a platform that could address this problem and be entirely user-driven. Thus, Bike Space was born through a partnership of Civic Tech Toronto, the City of Toronto and Cycle Toronto. Through Bike Space, users anonymously report bike parking issues with information about the type of issue, location, date and time of the encounter and users can send a photo for context.
Bike Space had a successful launch and gained a lot exposure from news coverage and social media. However, John and Ollie emphasized that a small project like Bike Space wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers behind it. Developing Bike Space was more than just the technology involved; a lot of time, energy, talent and coffee was devoted to bringing the app to where it is now and the volunteer team is currently researching ways to improve the impact of Bike Space so that user participation can continue to drive positive change. Bike Space is available at www.bikespace.ca and the Bike Space team is always welcoming requests for new features to add in their next update.
Fiona Sauder is an actor, writer and co-artistic director at Bad Hats Theatre. She shared how stories come from unexpected places and how two bike collisions became the inspiration for her theatrical production.
Her story started in 2014, when she was working as a server and biked to work regularly, taking the same route every day. It was in June of 2014 where a typical commute to work quickly turned upside when she was struck by a turning van. Beyond the scrapes and bruises, Fiona realized just how “innately theatrical a city street is with all the moving parts”. This collision became the spark that inspired Fiona to start writing a play about bikes and cities.
As Fiona began to write the play, she started to examine the concept of collisions, and began experimenting with chance, luck and timing. A second collision at the same intersection in 2015 left her in the hospital, but she came out with a profound understanding of just how sudden, unrepeatable and precious these collisions were.
With the help of talented artists and cyclists, Fiona has been been developing her piece, The Bike Show. The Bike Show is and ongoing project about challenge and discovery and includes original music and gestures. While literal collisions became the source material for the story Fiona was able to tell, she reminds everyone that “the smallest instances have significance and can lead to monumental expressions”. More information on the Bike Show and Bad Hats Theatre can be found at: https://www.badhatstheatre.com/.
Anthony Smith is an Advisor at Metrolinx, where he conducts geospatial analytics for urban development and public transit planning. He shared his story about growing up, finding a job, love and facing adversity.
Growing up, Anthony was introduced to bikes in high school when he joined his school’s bike team and fell in love with mountain biking. His career in bikes started at a Sporting Life where he began by selling bikes to customers for three years. After receiving his Masters in City Planning, Anthony worked at WSP and most recently Metrolinx, helping build a regional commuter cycling network.
Through biking Anthony also found his love, Stephanie. They share a passion for biking, embarking on journeys together and competing on the same cyclocross team. However, it was also through biking regularly that Anthony’s life changed through a collision with a car. He was left with a fractured vertebrae and is still recovering from the incident.
With support from friends and family, Anthony’s collision initiated a petition to change the legal system and protect vulnerable road users. He emphasized that while his career was built because of bikes, his passion to do what he does is to plant trees for the future and invest in our youth.
The headliner for the evening, Brian Doucet, is the Canada Research Chair at the University of Waterloo. Brian shared his insights on Dutch bike culture and road design from his time living in the Netherlands from 2004 to 2017 and what this means in the context of mobility in cities. Despite cycling to work, he does not consider himself to be a “cyclist”.
Brian opened his talk by sharing an album of pictures he captured of everyday, ordinary cyclists riding in Holland that would only be seen as abnormal elsewhere. From a young girl standing on the back of a bike texting to a parent holding their infant child while they ride. He was caught off guard by the stark differences in transportation between the Netherlands in Canada.
Reflecting on his research work and how people get around, Brian explained about how the infrastructure in the Netherlands is so successful. Firstly, he shared how the Dutch design things simply with safe and separated cycling facilities. Whether it’s big connections like the Hovenring roundabout or small connections like street crossings, Brian noted that it’s not just about the kilometers, but rather designing the correct connections to the entire network. The main lesson he took away was that while the culture and climate between the Netherlands and Toronto are much different, the Netherlands spends $50/person per year while Toronto only spends $3/person per year.
When he moved back to Ontario, in Kitchener-Waterloo, Brian’s perspective changed. He a lot of saw in Kitchener that could be improved, from sharrows to discontinued bike lanes. Thinking about the relationship between cycling, mobility and neighbourhood change allowed Brian to see an opportunity to use his professional knowledge and personal experience in the Netherlands to advocate for better cycling infrastructure.
He explained how there are two mobility experiences in Toronto due to the way transportation infrastructure has historically been built. “It’s not drivers versus cyclists”, Brian notes. It is simply: those who can only drive and those who have mobility choices to drive, walk, cycle or take transit. The real challenge for cities like Toronto is how to bring mobility choices to places that were designed for driving.
The Winter 2019 BIKE MINDS series continues later this month with Bikes+Community at the Courtyard by Marriott Toronto Downtown on February 27. Join our mailing list for updates!