Below the Radar Transcript

The Trip Diary: Cycling in Numbers — with Councillor Tony Valente and Dr. Meghan Winters

Speakers: Steve Tornes, Councillor Tony Valente, Dr. Meghan Winters

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Steve Tornes  0:20 
Hello listeners! Welcome to The Trip Diary, a Below the Radar podcast series that examines movement in urban space. I’m Steve Tornes, with SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. In the before times, I graduated from the SFU Urban Studies Program while doing research on the Vancouver Bike Share Program and Employer-Based Transit Subsidies. Over the course of this series, we will explore how different commute modes impact daily life and why we need to think about transportation in our urban design. The Trip Dairy was recorded on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

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Steve Tornes  1:15 
As a transit user, I can’t deny, I look at cyclists with some envy. There is this feeling of free and light movement, the ability to go anywhere, which I really admire. But, at the same time, bike lanes are often put right up next to cars and trucks, with very little protection. Bike lanes, as an urban planning concept, seem to have such underlying potential.

[Sound of SkyTrain Jingle]

Steve Tornes  1:42 
In municipal politics, few things seem to be as controversial as adding a bike lane, and I think it has to do with what we consider an acceptable use of space. A road doesn’t have to be just for cars, even though that seems to be the automatic premise. I want to change that narrative and explore how we can change our implicit assumptions about the purposes of streets. Today we will be talking to Tony Valente and Dr. Meghan Winters.

Steve Tornes  2:11
Our first guest is Tony Valente, city councillor for the City of North Vancouver. I wanted to bring him on the podcast because he’s someone who went from being an advocate to becoming a policy maker on city council. I don’t just want this to be an episode about cycling, but an episode about advocating for cycling and alternate forms of transportation.

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Steve Tornes  2:10
Hi, and welcome aboard the Trip Diary. It is great to have you here Councillor Tony Valente. So let's just begin. How are you? 

Tony Valente  2:57 
I'm doing well, Steve. I'm excited to be here as well tonight.

Steve Tornes  3:01
Would you like to introduce yourself a bit to the audience as well as your connection to the cycling community on the North Shore?

Tony Valente  3:08 
Sure. Well, as you said, I'm Tony Valente, I'm a first term councillor in the City of North Vancouver. And I've been doing that since 2018. And certainly, a big part of, you know, getting elected in the City of North Vancouver, had to do with my previous role where I was the chair of Hub Cycling on the North Shore.

Steve Tornes  3:25
What does a meaningful transportation system look like to you? And has your perspective on transportation changed, going from being a private citizen to being an elected municipal councillor?

Tony Valente  3:37 
Well, I think I certainly being a councillor gives you a different perspective, because of the comments that you hear from the public. So, there's definitely that part. But I think a meaningful transportation system, even in the lead up to the last election, really, on the North Shore, especially, has to mean that it's meeting everyone's needs and what we have on the North Shore right now, and we've seen a lot of is a lot of traffic, and people are looking for a solution to that traffic. And the only real solution to that is a really a multi pronged approach. So, giving people alternatives. And on the North Shore right now, we're starting to see the beginning, the genesis of some of those alternatives. So, whether that be our new B-Line in the R2, Rapid Bus, as well as all those buses that are planned to either connect to it or are connecting to it, for example, from Phibbs Exchange to Gilmore Station and Brentwood. You know, it is again, all about alternatives. And for a long time on the North Shore, really, the easiest and quickest way to get around tended to be the private car. And some folks do need to use their vehicles. And that's understood, but we want to make sure that people have a choice so that they're not punished by taking transit, or using other forms of active transportation.

Steve Tornes  4:46 
So, as an ordinary citizen, that often focuses way too much on transportation, sometimes I get stuck on how to enact change. I do want to make a change in the community. So, Tony, I want to ask you, how does a transportation advocate, who cares about equity and climate change, make a change in their community?

Tony Valente  5:07 
So, I think it's a little bit different for everybody. But there's really a number of ways. You know, one of them can be joining a municipal committee. And I would say, and I think it's a question that's often come up, you know, that could be one of our municipal committees in the City of North Vancouver is the Integrated Transportation Committee. I mean, that's a direct correlation. But we also have committees that deal with the so the Advisory Planning Commission, which is all about land use, and that's clearly directly connected to transportation.

Steve Tornes  5:35 
Hub Cycling fits into your story as well, and are there any other organizations that are related to transportation advocacy?

Tony Valente  5:44
Yeah, so Hub Cycling, certainly an organization that I that I know well, because I was the chair for three years. And they're a, you know, kind of a standalone non-profit, doing lots of work to advocate for cycling. So, whether that be education, or supporting volunteers in the community, so I know that they have programs that are supporting new immigrants to Canada, getting kind of their first bike to use us as a means of transportation. And then of course, there's like the maybe more traditional if you want advocacy. 

Steve Tornes  6:11 
All right, well, then speaking of which, why don't I jump to a later question. What is the relationship between land use planning and transportation?

Tony Valente  6:20 
So, to have transportation, like reliable routes that are frequent means that you need people that are going to be using them. And so, one way that the land use is connected transportation is having more people close to a frequent line means that it's going to get better use, and it makes sense for the line. And it makes sense for folks to be there, because they have that transportation option. So that's what it really means to me, but there's really probably a myriad of things.

Tony Valente  6:45
The other thing that I think about with land use is, obviously, if you're set up in a situation where, you know, the only way to get to the store or get the things that you need is by a private car, because there is no bus or that buses coming, you know, less than once an hour. Obviously, that's not really going to support you in helping change your behavior to address our climate goals. And maybe I'll just add, like we do know that it's about 40% of I believe provincial emissions and emissions in the City of North Vancouver comes from transportation.

Steve Tornes  7:16 
Alright, then just expanding a little bit more upon that as well. When I think of the City of North Vancouver, I also think of density and how it allows for a lot of people to live close to where they work. Is there anything that you wanted to add on that line as well?

Tony Valente  7:32 
Well, I think so using pre COVID stats, I guess, I would say that, you know, while we're constantly trying to push for these alternatives, in transportation, whether it be, you know, public transit or active transportation, we actually had, pre-pandemic, one of the highest mode shares for walking. So that was 11%, in 2019, just before the pandemic. And so that's something that's really interesting, I think it says a lot about how our cities built, you know, we're kind of a special city and that were at the bottom of the mountain. On the seashore, we have the Seabus as kind of a main connection point to our city or kind of gateway to our city. And then the cities kind of built up around that. So, it's quite interesting to have such a high walking mode share. And it's definitely something that I'm trying to support. And I know all of Council is trying to support as well.

[Seabus Announcement]

Steve Tornes  8:22
So, what does mobility justice mean to you? And how do you make sure that you're representing all groups within your community, including marginalized groups. Sometimes those voices don't have the opportunity to be put out into community or to council or to the greater public? So how do you make sure you represent all voices?

Tony Valente  8:44 
I think, so on one hand, I think this is probably one of the most beautiful things about being a councillor, as well as maybe one of the most difficult as well. Because, as you've said, you often don't know about those groups that are marginalized, or people that maybe, you know, traditionally haven't been able to raise their voices. So, I think there's a big onus on councillors to get out and talk to people in general. And that is really what I tried to do is try to understand that other perspective. And I say that with caution at the same time, because I recognize that, you know, those folks that maybe traditionally haven't had a voice, I still might not be hearing them, but I do try to do that. And it is something that's actually one of the more rewarding things is to have your perspective shifted by the conversations you're having with people in the community.

Steve Tornes  9:28 
So, you talked about making sure that you represent all groups, but to also ask you, what does mobility justice mean to you?

Tony Valente  9:37
So, I guess when I think about that, you know, I think about the way that we've really built our cities since kind of the end of the Second World War, and it really has been mostly around like the private car. And, you know, that's something that's a legacy that continues in our cities right now. And I think, when I think about mobility justice, I mean, I'd have to be honest, like, I don't, I don't call it that. But it's clear that if we're going to meet our climate goals, and we're going to continue to progress, to seek out a greater health for the people that live in cities, you know, driving around in a big metal box is probably not always going to be the best solution. And there's a whole bunch of exceptions to that, because there's people with disabilities, people that need their vehicles for work, you know, these vehicles are here to help us. But I do think that that justice piece really comes in the form of greater health for more people, allowing people of different abilities to get around how they want to get around. And so, it really is about making sure that we have kind of a more equitable distribution of space in our cities, focused again, on that public health and supporting our climate goals, really.

Steve Tornes  10:48 
What is AAA cycling infrastructure and why is it important for communities to invest in these kinds of infrastructure?

Tony Valente  10:56 
The good old, AAA, so this is all ages and all abilities, and, you know, maybe Steve, maybe that was actually the answer to your last question about, about mobility justice, because it's for everybody. And this is the type of infrastructure that we've been trying to encourage in City of North Vancouver. So, there's a ton of data that shows that when people feel safe, they're more likely to use their bike, or, and I hope, we're going to have the chance to talk about it, you know, the kind of plethora of electrically supported vehicles that are out there. 

Tony Valente  11:26 
Now, whether those be E scooters, or you know, electronic wheels, that that are all supported by a small electric motor. So anyway, this type of infrastructure provides a safe space. We can't mix people of different speeds. And that's what we've done in the past. You know, we've had folks on multi-use pathways, which are typically great. But once you get to a certain amount of density around those pathways, and they're well used, you really start having conflicts between people walking, and people on bikes or people on things that are rolling, which tend to be a bit faster. At the same time, if people are on bikes or on those rolling things, we don't want to have them mixed with vehicles. It's not good for the vehicles, they don't know where to go. They have people that are driving are concerned about hitting the folks that are maybe more exposed and vulnerable. And so, we really need to have that kind of third space, which is not the sidewalk, not the street, but the place where you can use those mobility devices, whether it's a bike or electric, motor supported whatever.

Steve Tornes  12:24 
This ties really well into my next question, but what is a complete street? And as well, as an example, can you tell us what is happening with Esplanade Street, which is located in the Lower Lonsdale area in in North Vancouver? And how and why is it becoming a complete street?

Tony Valente  12:42 
That's a great question, Steve. So, a complete street. And actually, there's a whole bunch of different definitions. But a complete street to me means that it's meeting the needs of everyone who's on that street. And that would include active transportation. So, like I just said, we have traditionally had sidewalks and street and that's it. And then we kind of evolved to painted bike lanes. And we've had we've had conflicts with painted bike lanes and vehicles because you've got vulnerable folks and painted bike lanes. And we just know that painted bike lanes aren't enough for people to want to ride their bikes with their kids or maybe with their, you know, their senior grandparents or whoever they want to be riding their bikes with. 

Tony Valente  13:20 
So, a complete street actually allows folks to use to use a sidewalk if they're walking or, you know, maybe using a mobility aid. And then you have the safe spot for bikes or electric mobility devices. And what's happening on Esplanade is really a transformation. I think, you know, there was a fair bit of feedback that we did receive from the community. I think it was actually one of the record projects in terms of community feedback because people have a lot of opinions, but you're really seeing a transformation that's going to go beyond just, you know, adding a protected bike route or a AAA bike route, it's actually about supporting the businesses that are down there. In terms of providing them with wider sidewalks space that we've all learned on during the pandemic is so valuable for patios or for even potentially commerce. You'll have the protected mobility route, which is actually how we call our AAA network in the City of North Vancouver, we talk about mobility, we don't talk about bike lanes or just the AAA. And then you'll have of course, space for vehicles, including public transit. 

Tony Valente  14:19 
And I think the really unique thing about this street and why it looks at the future is because it's going to feature a significant amount of greenery, which is going to be key for climate change adaptation and dealing with the urban heat island.

Steve Tornes  14:32 
There's so much that I like want to delve into here. So, with the first question, how were neighbors starting to get like on board after the changes started being implemented? Did they look somewhere else and see an example there? Why were some neighbors supportive from the beginning? And if so, like, what caused them to be supportive? What brought them on board?

Tony Valente  14:54
Yeah. I mean, how can I answer that question? So, there's kind of different groups, right? There are the residents. There are the businesses, we have the Lower Lonsdale Business Improvement Association or Shipyards Business Association. They were certainly supportive of this, and I think see the benefit of it. Residents, it depended it depended on the residents. A lot of people living here, were really keen to see slower speed limits. And not just because of the kind of safety implications, which I mean are probably paramount, but also because of the noise that louder vehicles make. And I think we're seeing now with electric vehicles, that there's the potential for vehicles to be quieter when they're electrified. But we still know that even with electrification, vehicle speeds are perhaps a greater determinant of the noise level. And I think having a more consistent speed limit on Esplanade is going to be a huge benefit to the health and well being of residents along it.

Steve Tornes  15:46 
So, when describing a complete street, what would it look like? Where would trees go as barriers? What would keep things separated? How would a new complete street differentiate itself from how the street was previously designed.

Tony Valente  15:59 
I can say that the alignment is all available online on the Esplanade complete street website. However, you're going to have a sidewalk, you're going to have a row of kind of trees or greenery. And then you're going to have your protected mobility route. And then you'll have some parking, or perhaps it's the Amazon style, you know, parcel pickup parcel drop-off space, and then you'll have your two lanes of traffic.

[Cycling on Road Sound]

Steve Tornes  16:24 
So, let's say, like, we have listeners from throughout the world, and some of them I imagine, do want to advocate for these transportation projects. But they might have a resistant city council. What advice do you have for them in advocating to that city council?

Tony Valente  16:40 
Well, I think, you know, and actually, maybe this is less about my city council experience, and more about my experience, as a cycling advocate with Hub Cycling. Advocacy is all about relationships. And when I say that, I mean, it is about being able to have a discussion, you know, with your elected officials, and maybe more importantly, with the staff that are working in the city or the municipality where folks are. Because when you have those relationships, you can have an exchange of perspectives and of information. And then, you know, maybe one of the key things to do for folks is to actually get out on their bike or their mobility device with the city staff, show them where the concerns are, show them why the concerns exist. And if they can do that with their councillors, as well, it's all about making sure that everyone can see someone else's perspective. And I think that's what's really necessary if we're going to be able to make a change, or continue to make changes in the future.

Steve Tornes  17:35 
Now that you mention it, that I have a distinct memory of, I believe you and some other councillors going on, like a cycling trip with other councillors throughout the City of North Vancouver, but also the District of North Vancouver, if I remember right, was that part of your advocacy technique?

Tony Valente  17:53 
So, I think what you're referring to is like the Bike-to-Work week where we did the like, bike to work, so we biked to council, you know, back in the before times, the before COVID times, when we could still do things like that. And, you know, hopefully, we'll be doing things like that again soon. I mean, I think there was an element of that, but really, but really, at that point, it was more about council, just participating in the bike to council opportunity. But I certainly have used it in the past, when I was with Hub Cycling, I've gone with city staff to do bike rides, and show them where there's problem areas. We've gone and done bike rides, where you take pictures or video to support the advocacy efforts. And even as a councillor, I've gone out on rides with staff and kind of check things out. One of my favorite rides was actually checking out what, you know, right now we're in the middle of requesting public feedback for the Upper Levels Greenway. And we, I did do a ride with staff where we checked out like potential routes for that and it's, it's going to become part of that public input. So, I'm really excited about expanding these networks because the more spaces where that people can be, where they feel safe on you know, whatever device they're riding, the better are off, the more likely it is that, you know, they're going to choose to do that instead of maybe something that's less environmentally supportive.

Steve Tornes  19:05 
And for those transportation advocates that are a bit hesitant in your experience you found like city councillors and staff members to be very approachable, open to these kinds of trips.

Tony Valente  19:18 
I mean, yes, I have to say, absolutely, yes. I think, you know, most, most councillors, at the end of the day, they’re elected officials, and they want usually to get re-elected. So, you know, they should be open to this. One thing that's been interesting to me is sometimes folks that maybe don't have that experience with cycling, or with using an E scooter. You know, sometimes they're, I don't want to say it's not that they're ashamed, but you know, they're reluctant or afraid to try out that new experience. And so, finding ways to engage them, to be able to see things from, you know, stand in your shoes, is maybe a bit of a challenge, but I think once you can get by that, you know, usually most folks are keen to have a new experience.

Steve Tornes  19:58 
So, I know you've already touched upon this a lot. But what is the next revolution of transportation? Do you think is Hyperloop? Self driving cars, electric scooters, something else?

Tony Valente  20:10 
I'm pretty sure it's not the Hyperloop. I don't see that coming soon. I mean, I think for us right now, to be honest, probably the next evolution is that government regulation really needs to catch up with where the technologies are at and the technology keeps evolving. So just as an example, for you, Steve, like the City of North Vancouver, were part of a special pilot under the Motor Vehicle Act that was supported by the province to have E-Scooters. Prior to that we have lots of people using E-Scooters around the City of North Vancouver. But technically they were illegal under the Motor Vehicle Act. And technically what's still illegal under the motor vehicle act is electric skateboards, these electric wheels, you see that people stand on. All those things are illegal. So, I think the next transition is actually where government steps in, and actually starts kind of supporting these things and regulating them in terms of, you know, classifying them so that there is that space, that's not the sidewalk and not the street where they can be used safely. And the benefit for us is that ultimately, that's going to support us meeting our climate goals. And probably folks are going to be a little bit healthier. Overall, either from, you know, the improvement in air quality, that's possible, or from just getting out and kind of, you know, being on their feet with these devices.

Steve Tornes  21:20 
Do you think that these kind of like pilot programs, such as through Micro-mobility, or electric scooters, that this is another avenue for municipalities throughout BC and in other countries to start creating change on a policy basis?

Tony Valente  21:35
I do. I do think, though, like, they're certainly, so municipalities certainly have a huge role to play like, we're the ones kind of setting up many of the streets that are that are in the municipality. So, we have a huge role there, we have a huge role to support it to provide space for these things. And so, one of those things that might be another example in this area would be supporting a shift from, you know, delivery vans to delivery cargo bikes. And so, one of the things that a municipality can do is actually provide land where you can bring in a larger truck or vehicle and then take those packages or that, you know, the that component, those things that it's got, and put them out onto bikes for deliveries. And so yeah, we definitely have a role to play. Having said that, though, there are senior levels of government that when I talk about, like regulating these vehicles, you know, it doesn't even make sense for BC itself to regulate, you know, mobility scooters, for example. It needs to really to be at a federal level, where we can have some standardization, just like we have for cars, and so people can buy something, knowing that it's safe and knowing what they're getting and knowing that they can use it legally.

Steve Tornes  22:37 
So, what is the Northshore Cargo Bike Festival? How did it come about? And what does it say about the cycling community?

Tony Valente  22:45 
All right, well, this is an event that I helped organize together with some friends. And basically, what's happened in Europe right now is that, you know, you've had this boom of e-bikes. But with that, in Europe, you've also had the, there's an international cargo bike festival. And that group has actually declared the 2020s, the decade of the cargo bike. And so, what you're seeing right now in markets, like the Netherlands, but also Germany, a real push towards cargo bikes. So, these are bikes that are far larger, have way more carrying capacity than just your kind of standard, you know, bike with the handlebar. So, some of them have large bins in the back, some of them have large bins in the front, some of them have kind of a flat deck for loading. And I think what you're seeing is these being really an excellent option for dealing with congestion in cities, when they're assisted with the electric motor from an E-bike, or as an E-bike, you're able to get up hills, you're able to carry tons of cargo. And then you don't have all the problems of parking that you would have with a normal motor vehicle.

Tony Valente  23:47 
And I think, I don't know if I answered all your questions there, Steve. But I this festival was intended to kind of bring awareness to this type of bike. And basically, what we did this year was just kind of focus on having a bit of a ride, bringing people together, creating some awareness for this type of transportation. And that should hopefully, fall into something that was already happening in Vancouver, is my understanding. I understand that the Bruntletts, so Chris and Melissa Bruntlett, were actually organizing as type of cargo bike Olympics where you know, you had different things, you had to come along with your bike and kind of pick up a tire, throw it on your bike, go along, pick up something else heavy, throw it on your bike, and then have to complete a bit of an obstacle course with it. And we want to we want to move in that direction, as well as continue to create awareness and see businesses locally, potentially pick up this type of bike.

Steve Tornes  24:35 
That is amazing. What changes would you like to see transportation wise in Metro Vancouver. It could be either policy or project based however you want to take it?

Tony Valente  24:47 
I mean, I think that we have a long way to go in terms of supporting public transit, I think it's going to be a bit of a bumpy road now post pandemic to see kind of how that transportation demand for public transit comes back. I know a lot of people have invested in vehicles. And that's great until everybody starts using them at the same time. And certainly, doesn't necessarily support our climate goals, recognizing of course, that a lot of people do have electric vehicles now as well. So, I think that's going to be a big challenge.

Tony Valente  25:14  
I think the other thing is that, you know, we've talked about well, actually, what we haven't talked about so much has been dealing with noise. So, after air pollution, or air quality, noise is the number one determinant of health in cities. And so, one of the things that I've been trying to do with the City of North Vancouver is really bring a focus to noise and especially transportation noise. So that means vehicles with modified exhausts. It means it addressing vehicle speeds where they're excessive. And it can also have to do with electrification versus you know, maybe perhaps, diesel vehicles, for example, would be far louder. And so that's going to be a key area focus, I think in the future. We haven't quite got there because we're so fortunate to have great air quality in Metro Vancouver. But I do think in the future, that health determinant is going to, there's going to be increasing awareness. And I think you are kind of seeing it maybe tip of the iceberg with the focus on leaf blowers and lawn mowers that are gas powered. But I think there's going to be a huge push for electrification just because of the noise health benefits.

[Sound of Skytrain jingle and Announcement of “train to King George, please keep moving into the train to allow others behind you to board]

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Steve Tornes  26:29 
Dr. Meghan Winters was my secondary supervisor when I wrote my thesis of bike share, and it is to her credit that whenever I discussed my intended thesis topic, everyone recommended I reach out to her. And, when I told people about wanting to do an episode on cycling, everyone again recommended I reach out to her. Meghan is undoubtedly an authority on cycling in Vancouver, and I know that all of us, including myself, will learn something from this episode.

Steve Tornes  27:00 
Welcome aboard The Trip Diary, Dr. Meghan Winters, it is great to have you here. How are you today? 

Meghan Winters  27:06
Doing great. Thanks. 

Steve Tornes  27:08 
Alright, so as a professor in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, you appear in many new journal articles, and in so many different subjects. So, for the audience, what are your research interests? And what do you want people to know about you?

Meghan Winters  27:23 
Sure, I guess I would say I lead the City's Health and Active Transportation Research ( CHATR Lab ) group. So that is a whole set of graduate students and staff who work alongside me and we are interested in how city infrastructure and policy and programs impact how people choose to get around how they connect with each other. And we're specifically interested in sort of equity impacts. So, who's benefiting from city policies and programs? And who may not be being reached?

Steve Tornes  27:49 
Can you also describe your research methods, the tools that you use to link concepts like cycling to data to eventually findings?

Meghan Winters  27:58 
Sure, pretty varied over the year. So, I described my research area as population health intervention research, essentially, that is looking at what are the impacts of, they call them interventions. So those city policies, programs, infrastructure, things that are outside of the domain of the researcher, things that happen in the real world, maybe by various levels of government, in my case, municipal governments, and then I study what the health social inequity impacts of those might be. It kind of means you need to put on very many tools for the job. So, some of the work that we do is more policy analysis, some of the work that we do, I mean, I'm trained as an epidemiologist, so I also work with large administrative datasets, and do epidemiology kinds of studies. I frequently used mixed methods to kind of answer the question. So that would be complementing quantitative data with the lived experiences and narratives of people as we go. And so that may involve interviews, it might involve focus groups. And then I think as a whole, my group does a lot of work on pushing the boundaries on new datasets. So, trying to tap into crowdsource data, trying to use data sources, like Strava data, which is a fitness app, or OpenStreetMaps data, where community like where residents are mapping data in their communities, to try and sort of fill in some of the gaps, some of the answers some of the questions that we don't have using traditional data sources.

[Sound of clackity clack of bikes]

Steve Tornes  29:25 
That is so interesting. I'm already moving past the initial questions that I have. So, since you work with all these different datasets, and some of these datasets are kind of new, like Strava, using crowdsourcing. Are there any datasets that you are interested in that might appear in the future or just like an ideal dataset?

Meghan Winters  29:45 
I think mostly the data stream and sort of like the big data world is so rapidly moving right now. And so, I said, some of the more conventional ones we do use are like OpenStreetMaps data, or even the Strava fitness app, there's a lot of people using that, or are starting to use that now. We've also sort of taken initiative to start new kinds of data collection. And one of those is, which was community science projects that aimed to collect data on where cycling collisions are happening, because that's a huge gap in terms of capturing where safety events happen. I think more when I would answer your question with Steve is this data streams are coming out at an intensive rate, I would say. But there's a lot of hesitation to start to use them. And so, people are really quick to throw them away to say that they may not be representative, this isn't a good data source. They can't trust it. It's not what they're used to. Or they may not have the tools to be able to process and use that kind of data.

Meghan Winters  30:40
And so, the great team that I work with, and alongside is often developing tools and training and capacity building around how to use these kinds of data streams. So, we're really interested in supporting cities, and not just the big cities, but also sort of midsize and smaller cities to tap into these kinds of data and tools and be able to use them. And that might be one of the things that we're doing. Sometimes it's just about mapping the data and creating sort of interactive maps that they can use and query themselves. In There's a whole visualization page, which means that you could sort of generate products and reports that would help you with your own work. And so, trying to put these make tools, sometimes complicated, sometimes much more simple to put into the hands of different advocacy groups, municipal partners, or just the general public so that they can have a chance to answer their own questions in their own sorts of ways. 

Steve Tornes  31:33 
So much I want to get into, but I will stick to the questions. So, transportation sometimes gets framed as moving from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible. But a lot can get lost through that perspective. How should people look at cycling, and transportation more generally? What are the important considerations that people should have for designing a meaningful and equitable transportation system?

Meghan Winters  32:01 
Yeah, I guess I would start with, you know, one consideration is that the motivation for transportation may be in order to access opportunities, and different kinds of opportunities that meet the needs of different people. And so, that it's not just getting from point A to point B, but rather, it's enable to in order that you can achieve your daily needs in order that you can achieve your social goals, in order that you can be engaged. I think that that how you make that trip that transportation, not all transportation modes, and experiences are the same as we can all reflect on in our daily lives. And that there can be deep pleasure in getting around cities and communities to the places we need to go. So, it's a chance.

Meghan Winters  32:41
I mean, my health perspective would tell you that being it's an opportunity for physical activity, but I'd say it's so much more so than that. So especially for cycling, you know, it takes you through the city at a pace that's really at a human pace, it allows you to see things around you. And it allows you like the amount of eye contact that I make with other people on the road, whether it's cyclists, pedestrians, or car drivers, people using their cars, when I'm taking a trip by bicycle is a really notable thing. And so, you know, especially when you're not inside a vehicle, you're able to make that kind of meaningful eye contact with people as you go possibly make a conversation while you stop at a stoplight. And in you know, the vast majority of moments that can be a very enjoyable kind of way to experience the city. I think the pace that cycling goes is also a pace that allows you to see and explore the details as you go and have a moment of engagement and attachment with your communities.

Steve Tornes  33:38
Nice. So, in a paper that you were an author on “Impacts of Bicycle Infrastructure in Mid-Sized Cities”, it makes this great point that quote, “cities with safer facilities attract more bicycling, and cities with more bicycling are safer, a phenomenon referred to as safety in numbers.” Can you explain the concept of safety in numbers and what lessons transportation advocates and public officials can draw from it?

Meghan Winters  34:11 
So, the concept of safety and numbers is that safer cities would attract more people to cycling. And that in turn, that would also create safer conditions for cyclists. And we see that when we look at differences across cities in terms of how much infrastructure is there, and the relative safety and we see that over time as cities and communities build out as well. So that relationship holds. You know, a lot of the fears, the barriers that people feel about getting started on cycling or cycling in all places is around safety and safety concerns. And I think one of the ways you can think about safety in numbers is at some point when there's enough cyclists on the road, all of the road users start to look around and expect to see cyclists and so they may be looking for cyclists at all those corners and stops and driveways and different kinds of ways because there's often somebody there when you turn the corner and you can think about that from a pedestrian perspective too when you're approaching something where there's always a lot of pedestrians. If you're a person driving a car in that moment, you will also notice. The other thing people would often say is then perhaps then more of the people driving are also cyclists on some of their other trips. You know, none of us are one single mode user, we all walk, many of us cycle, many people drive, many people take transit. And so, they might be more used to the behaviors of cyclists might do at a particular intersection. And so may make different kinds of choices.

[Sound of crowds]

Steve Tornes  35:34 
And you've mentioned this partly already, but what are some of the effects of cycling on health, whether for the individual or for public health more generally? And what are the potential equity implications of this?

Meghan Winters  35:46 
Sure. So, you know, I kind of often parsed this conversation into these individual benefits for somebody cycling themselves and the population level benefits. The individual level benefits are sort of that increased physical activity, which has consequent effects for heart disease, for various cancers. And so, you know, physical activity being sort of the fourth leading physical inactivity being the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, this is one way that you can build activity into your daily lives. And it doesn't need to be intense cycling or intense activity. 

Meghan Winters  36:17 
There's also a lot of mental health benefits. And I think that's something we've all come to realize, especially coming out of the pandemic is that people, there was a huge boom in cycling during that time. And maybe part of it was because gyms were closed, and people wanted to get their physical activity. But I think a lot of people were also doing it for mental health benefits. So that linkage between your physical and your mental health is very clear. And both of those can be benefit be improved through cycling. And then I think that there's a number of other sort of individual benefits that are not about health. And so, in general, cycling is very economical way to get around, it can have cost savings in terms of, instead of driving a vehicle paying for parking and paying for upkeep. And those funds can be used for other things in someone's life. And I think the social benefits in terms of that access to extra opportunities, which might be available as well. So, when people have the ability to make more trips, they can get out of their homes more often into different kinds of places. And cycling may facilitate that as an affordable transportation mode.

Meghan Winters  37:16 
At the population level, you know, a huge number of impacts that are really relevant in this time of climate emergency. So, in terms of reduced emissions, in terms of like reduced noise, so if those trips are replacing trips that otherwise would have been made by car. The one sometimes people overlook is the sort of population level, safety benefits that happen. So, the most serious road injuries happen when motor vehicles between motor vehicle collisions and motor vehicle collisions with pedestrians and cyclists who can be considered vulnerable road users. And so, the less cars on the road or the less vehicle kilometers traveled also translate into improved safety outcomes. And so that's a population level benefit, by getting people off the road.

Meghan Winters  37:57 
I think the maybe to highlight, there's also a whole host of sorts of things that people looking softer, less measurable. So, in terms of livable cities, and some of that is about the presence of cars, about the noise from cars about the air quality. But just the sort of feeling and culture of being in a city that is not dominated, or on a street in a city that is not dominated by motor vehicles. allows for more mixing, more sharing, more social opportunities, and more spaces for people.

Steve Tornes  38:24 
As an introduction, what is street allocation, especially in the context of COVID-19?

Meghan Winters  38:31
Yeah, so, you know, cities were reeling in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, part of that being as all of a sudden everybody was readily aware about their physical space and how much physical space they needed around it. And I commend many cities across North America and around the globe that undertook street reallocation. So, these were, you know, we call them that, as a technical term maybe now, but essentially, what does that mean? It means that they took street space that may have been designated for cars prior to that, and instead opened it up for people and so that might have been that they were reallocating space so that it was more comfortable to use for walking and cycling. It might have been that they were reallocating space so that it was available for ultimately outdoor patios and for businesses to operate in outdoor spaces. And so, reallocating the space from what it was used, which was oriented towards motor vehicles, and instead using it for spaces for people.

Steve Tornes  39:26 
Alright, so on that note, in an article co-written with Fisher, “COVID-19 street reallocation in mid-sized Canadian cities”, you discuss how, “cities with strong active transportation plans are better positioned for rapid response.” I find it so interesting because it shows how active transportation ties into resiliency for our communities. So, I wanted to ask you, what do you look for in a strong active transportation plan? And how can communities become more resilient in terms of their transportation?

Meghan Winters  40:04 
Yeah, I think I’ll backup a bit, I’m going to explain that research for one minute, and then maybe say where that comment came to. So, we did a couple of papers. One of them with my PhD student, Jaimy Fisher. And that looked at street reallocations that happened in Victoria, in Kelowna, and in Halifax, in those four cities that we were already doing research in. I did a similar or concurrent study with a postdoc who was working with me, Dr. Caislin Firth, and we looked at Vancouver and Seattle. And so collectively, we sort of tell a story of the different cases that might have happened in a selection of Canadian or West Coast cities.

Meghan Winters 40:39
You know, city staff were, like the rest of us, working from home, you know, experiencing the stresses and anxieties of really pandemic times. And also, you just sort of put to task on like, what are you going to do for response, even under those conditions and ever-changing conditions. And so, amongst those cities that we looked at some moved faster than others in terms of making street reallocations. And we were looking at equity impacts of those. And so specifically looking at, from a distributional, so which kinds of neighborhoods benefited from street reallocations. Where did cities decide to put them and roll them out? And I will say that some cities move faster than others, some did more than others. And we were sort of trying to understand what the motivations were or where they chose to put them, albeit in an extremely fast-moving environment. And so, things that would have taken years under another context, we're just rolling out in the spaces of months. And so, I want to commend just how fast cities were moving during that time.

Meghan Winters  41:33 
You know, the cities took very different styles in terms of how they roll things out. So, some people were, or some examples of street reallocations were around shops, so that there was space to queue, right, that was an important component as we're all lining up to get groceries. And the comment about like cities with strong active transportation plans were better prepared to act, I think stems directly from a couple of the study cities that we're looking at. So, I'll highlight just Halifax in the end, did roll out a substantial slow streets program fairly quickly. And the way they went about choosing whether they were going to do this was that they looked at their pre-existing Active Transportation Plan that they planned to roll out over a couple of years, and immediately acted to put in sort of temporary measures along a whole host of those routes.

[Sound of SkyTrain]

Steve Tornes  42:23 
So, this leads into my next question. Depending on where an intervention happens, different groups of people will be affected. Whether income, ethnicity, gender, age or more, where to do an intervention can be a difficult decision. But I wanted to ask you, when it comes to street reallocation interventions, what are your thoughts on equity considerations, and what should urban planners be aware of when it comes to equity going forward?

Meghan Winters  42:50 
Well, I think of this in other work, I mean, certainly allocations are one piece of a larger network and in reality, they were probably temporary and in many cases, lower quality measures than the kinds of infrastructure that most people would feel comfortable on, that new people would feel comfortable cycling on. Some examples of them were like, in areas that are highly desirable, and so I would say the closure of the motor vehicle lanes in through Stanley Park for cycling, enabled, you know, so many new people to try out cycling through that first summer, and to bring their kids out there. And so, I think that it's a learning opportunity to look at how if you want to attract new people to cycling, and different kinds of people a cycling, the kinds of sorts of interventions you can make, it was a great testing ground for those kinds of places.

Meghan Winters  43:37 
I think it's also true that there wasn't, you know, geographic coverage in any way, in any of these cities, in terms of where the slow street interventions are. Again, I'll underscore, they’re just one piece of the network, and they may look a bit like the residential bikeways that we have in Vancouver. And so, bike routes that are along with potential roads that have high quality, or that have designated bicycle infrastructure on them, it could be diverters, they have reduced motor vehicle volumes. And I think, you know, at the end of the day, where they're going to remain, they'll become part of that context.

Meghan Winters  44:08 
And the work that we have done with my postdoc, Caislin Firth and PhD student, Kate Hosford, we've also looked at sort of the build out of Vancouver's bike networks network, so which communities and Vancouver in areas of communities are well served by cycling infrastructure and how that's changed, even as they built over 100 kilometers of new infrastructure over the years. And so, there are areas of our cities that don't have high quality bicycle infrastructure in them still, those tended to be areas where more children lived, you know. And so, we're not necessarily considering all the populations as we're building that infrastructure. Even though we're building and building and building, it may be concentrated still in the downtown core. And just an eye on whether or not we're building our bicycle infrastructure to only support commuters or whether we're building our bicycle infrastructure so that we can connect across neighborhoods. The City of Victoria has really nice goals about building out their AAA network or their bicycle network downtown but building it  also to connect into all of the neighborhoods so people can get from community to community.

Steve Tornes  45:07
I think part of the reason I found the street reallocation quote so interesting was because it suggested a new way of looking at our relationship to space and to driving and to cycling, and to active transportation just in general. Not really a question, but just like, to me, this was one of those singular points in time where it did feel like we were moving very quickly and it was so interesting to see what would happen, how people would change their relationship to infrastructure and their communities.

Meghan Winters  45:36
Yeah, I mean, one of the things I really noticed during that time is all of a sudden people were aware of space, where they hadn't been before. And so, you know, the video clips of people carrying giant hula hoops that were two meters and walking along the sidewalk and be like, “I can't even pass somebody on the sidewalk”. I mean, those sidewalks had been too narrow for years and years and years. But people didn't really think about those bubbles or buffer zones before. And so now all of a sudden, the pedestrians, people walking needed more space on the sidewalk and were really aware of that. Likewise, in the bicycle lanes, as bicycles were passing each other, you know, they were feeling really narrow, all of a sudden, we're looking and if somebody's in our bubble space, were really uncomfortable about that. So, I think most people didn't walk around the world, I did, but most people didn't walk around the world thinking about space and how wide sidewalks were, how wide bike lanes were, how much space there was on the multi-use path, and they were getting close to other people.

Meghan Winters  46:33
And then all of a sudden, that was on the radar for everybody, regardless of what mode they were traveling or whether they were just standing in a lineup. I think it made people realize that as they were walking and cycling around the city that they wanted to have more space allocated to that. And then as we saw the boom in the numbers of people cycling and using different forms of micro-mobilities. So, they're, you know, at the same time, there was a real boom in terms of like E-scooters, and unicycles and various other things, especially on the streets of Vancouver, we saw, you know, that we needed to have more space to accommodate people.

Steve Tornes  47:07
So, I want to go back a little bit to your data method approach. So, how would you describe the cycling demographic, whether in Vancouver or in North America? What are certain variables that increase the likelihood that someone will cycle as part of their regular commute or for recreation?

Meghan Winters  47:07
It's a big question and a big backstory. So, one of the things, you know, when we look at what the profile of a cyclist is, we need to define what we're talking about when we talk about cycling and which data is available for that. And so very often, we're left relying on the data that's available for how the commute to work data that's within the Canadian census. And so that only captures people who are commuting, it only captures work trips, and it only captures the main mode that people use for their transportation to work. And so that's a very incomplete picture of all cycling, that happens, maybe only 30% of trips are for work. And as I said, people are multi-modal, so maybe they take transit sometimes and they bike and other times.

Meghan Winters  48:07
Still within that data, you know, we really see that it tends to be people who are male, tends to be people who are younger, tends to be people who are higher income. We've also looked at the Canadian Community Health Survey, which sometimes asked questions about cycling for leisure in it and try to do a bit of a contrast, like what's the storyline in terms of cycling for leisure. And so, you know, our publication on that indicated that like 6.2 million Canadians do make cycling trips for leisure every year. So that's a big, a big number. But again, younger, male, higher income, and identify as white. So, we've got these kinds of gaps. They're not consistent across geography and places. You know, in some place, we see the proportion of, on average, maybe the proportion of women who are comprising this bicycle commuter sample, it's about a third. But in some cities, it would be much higher or much closer to sort of gender parity, or maybe we get up to 40% of the community and cyclists are women.

Meghan Winters  49:01
Past work that I did looked at, sort of, what was that gender profile across different types of infrastructure, and on infrastructure types that are more protected, like protected bicycle lanes, or along sort of Vancouver Seawall, we saw higher proportions of women's cycling versus or as compared to sort of on painted bike lanes. So, you know, we can paint a broad brush of what the demographic of a cyclist is. But I want to say there's a lot of nuance within that. And a lot of really interesting narratives on that. Steve, you know, our past work with bike share, where we linked datasets and looked at who the users of bike share were. And while, bike share members tended to be male, it turned out, when we looked at how often people use the system, it was actually sort of lower income people who were using the system a whole bunch. So, if you'd signed up and got a membership, the super users, who were making sort of 50% of the trips tended to be lower income people versus higher income people. So, once they'd signed up, this was really a primary mode of travel.

Meghan Winters  49:59
I guess, in my research, I'm passionate to find about finding those different those nuances to the story aside of, as compared to painting a broad brush. Maybe one worth mentioning is often a sort of point of contention in the lay media is about, you know, people not being able to cycle in generalizations about who can and can't cycle. Often hearing that, you know, cycling is not for older people. And you know, really, there's a strong counter narrative to that as well, as people come to sort of cycling in different times of their life or as a retirement activity even, and with the sort of increasing availability of E-bikes, which have just been like coming into a price range that's affordable for many more people, and enabling people to sort of take away those barriers that they've had for cycling, like the hill was too steep, or the trip was too far. And really the pace at which we're selling as an indicator. I want to also highlight sort of the nuances of people will often say that people with sort of mobility challenges can't cycle. And there's also many stories within that if people with mobility challenges may not be able to walk and who may not be able to drive, but actually the bicycle is the right place for them to get around, whether it's knee injuries, hip injuries, or aging. There's all sorts of narratives and stories within that, that that don't get reflected in the common media.

Steve Tornes  51:09 
So earlier, you also mentioned that sometimes when you get datasets, you try to make it easier for community organizations or activists to access them, in order for them to do their own research or to be able to use that data in their own way to tell her own stories. Do you have any advice for transportation advocates who might be listening about how to access that data? Or even what to do with that data?

Meghan Winters  51:34 
Yeah, I mean, our goal is to generate resources and websites that allow for interactive maps, that enable people to probe that data for themselves. And we do that by designing them with community members, we do them in response to needs that we've heard from community members, and with feedback on how useful things might be, or what kinds of outputs people might want to have from that kind of data set. So certainly, within the open data philosophy, making the data available, but I think it's also absolutely vital to make it available in a way that people can easily access and create the charts and graphs from it in ways that make it meaningful an act for them. I guess, you know, our lab group, my lab group, our website is And so, there's a number of projects we have there that would link to other initiatives. One of them would be

Meghan Winters  52:23
We're also working on a project called WalkRollMaps. And it looks at mobility challenges and accessibility challenges. And so not just looking at cycling, but also walking and wheeling as well, to identify hazards. I think the other thing that I've been working on recently is creating a national cycling dataset. So, this is going to appeal to different kinds of user maybe but a national dataset on cycling infrastructure in Canada, because actually, we don't have one. So, each city may have some open data, which they've used different terms and different categorizations. And it may be updated more or less frequently. But our group has, with funding from the Public Health Agency, has been using open street maps to identify cycling infrastructure and create a map of cycling infrastructure in Canada that's consistently coded. I think that this might appeal to people in cities. And so, the idea is that this is based OpenStreetMap data and OpenStreetMap data can be updated freely at any point in time by any user things get approved. And so, a couple of ways this can help people, I think it can, we've created measures of the cycling environment for all Canadian communities. And so, people can experience that and use that. And it's all on interactive maps. And on GitHub, the data is freely available and can be downloaded. It can be used by researchers, by cities, by advocacy groups as well. And so that kind of portal as all available on our website right now and continually in development and sharing it with other sort of, to gain profile or to link it to other resources like that of ESRI Canada and people who manage spatial datasets.

Steve Tornes  54:03
That is incredibly cool. And I did not know about that dataset. So, I'm so happy that you mentioned it.  And is there anything that I didn't ask you about that you think listeners should know about transportation?

Meghan Winters  54:17 
I guess what I want to say about transportation is that people make choices every day. And it's always going to be changing. And so sometimes I feel the public retorque is like stuck in its ways, we are this way, this is the only way. And maybe the message is, is that the context in which we're moving. And the pressures in which we're moving. And the policy setting in which we're moving is always going to be changing. And that can affect the choices people make about how they want to get around on any given day in any given year. I think COVID has highlighted that, as we've seen, you know, real shifts and disruption in terms of travel behaviors, and we don't quite know where that's going to head. So, we hadn't seen such an immediate change ever, to the sort of transportation choices people were making. And now we know that that's possible. Change is possible, and people have their eyes on what else they would do. What different choices they would make. And it's a real moment where things may go in any number of directions according to how safe people feel. And according to the actions that cities take.

[Sound of Terminus Station Waterfront]

[Original Music]

Steve Tornes  55:26
This concludes our third episode. My favourite questions were based on the idea of how to advocate for alternate forms of transportation. And I hope this episode encourages people to reach out to elected representatives, or use publicly available data to share the knowledge. Who knows, maybe you can even start a podcast.

Steve Tornes  55:46
Thank you to our guests, Councillor Tony Valente and Dr. Meghan Winters. And to you, listeners, thank you for joining me on this cycling journey, the third instalment of The Trip Diary mini-series. This episode is roughly 57 minutes. This is the same time it takes to cycle from Richmond-Brighouse to southern base of the Burrard Bridge, going through Cambie Street and then turning left on the Island Park Walk by Granville Island. I hope you enjoy the commute!

Steve Tornes  56:20
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. 

Steve Tornes  56:27
A special thanks to the team that created this series: Paige Smith, Melissa Roach, Kathy Feng, Alyha Bardi, and Alex Masse. Original Music by Alex Masse. Sound design, editing and mixing by Paige Smith and Kathy Feng. Series artwork by Kathy Feng. Many hands make Lightwork. It has been a joy to work with all of you on this project. Head to the show notes to read up on some of the initiatives and examples mentioned in this episode. Stay tuned for the next instalment of this series, about the future, coming out on July 26th.

[Original Music Fades]

Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
July 19, 2022

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