Get to Know Vélo Canada Bikes: Canada’s Cycling Advocacy Voice

Did you know that Canada has an organization devoted to bicyclists’ rights across the country?

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Velo Canada Bikes National Bike Summit

Photo by Yvonne Bambrick

Did you know that Canada has an organization devoted to bicyclists’ rights across the country? That organization is Vélo Canada Bikes and they are an incredible resource if you’re wanting to make sure your local MP’s are in support of active transportation, cycling infrastructure and road safety initiatives. They are also the ones behind the National Bike Summit taking place in Ottawa on May 28th-29th, 2018.

We caught up with Vélo Canada Bikes to learn more about the National Bike Summit, how you can get involved, the importance of a national cycling strategy and more! Thanks Vélo Canada Bikes!

MM: Can you tell us about the history of Vélo Canada Bikes and how it got started?

VCB: Perhaps surprisingly, Vélo Canada Bikes was only officially founded 2012. Unlike some countries with longstanding bicycle-advocacy clubs – the League of American Cyclists or Fietsersbond for example – Canada did not have a voice dedicated to the bicycle’s rights in public. We have grown quickly and have been humbled and excited by the number of organizations who have decided to support us, as a voice.

Of course, an idea whose time has come seems effortless and it was past due. We are really only the latest in a long succession of people and organizations across Canada that feel extremely strongly about this. Whether its Vélo Quebec leading the way for decades, or the local bike shop keeping things alive in a small town in Alberta, we formed out of the spirit of advocacy and need that has been growing across the country.

MM: What does Vélo Canada Bikes hope to achieve in the long run?

VCB: You know those tweets that get sent back from that city planner friend in Denmark with a picture of the little kids and their parents biking together “even” in the snow completely free and easy with no care in the world? We want that for us. In Saskatoon. In Toronto. To the people in the photograph, cycling is just normal. There is no fight. No battle. No fear. We want people to come to Canada and see that we too understand what cities can be. We want people to come here and send those pictures elsewhere.

More importantly, we want to achieve equal access to the space between the houses, offices, schools, banks, hockey arenas and grocery stores. We want women to match the number of men who choose to cycle. We want all people in Canada to be respected – whatever their mode of transport.  We want to get more from our taxes, our roads, our transportation networks in general. We want it so that YOU do not have to think about how or whether you will get there every time you choose to go to work. You will just bike there.

To achieve this, we want two simple things right away: a commitment from the federal government to create a national cycling strategy for Canada, and a multi-billion dollar fund for cycling, and active transportation, infrastructure to support provinces, cities and towns from coast to coast to make up for the decades of neglect, and to build cycling networks as soon as possible.

MM: What are the current priorities of the organization?

VCB: As a member-based organization, we are focused on the priorities of our membership. We are here to serve as the national voice and coordinating body for commuter, recreational and touring cycling.

Currently, VCB  is focussed on two main priorities: 1. Securing the support of the federal government for increasing cycling across the country, by improving the conditions, physical, legal and social, that people in Canada face when they choose, or wish to choose cycling as a mode of transportation for recreation or tourism. To this end, our current priorities are: to bring Canada inline with most OECD countries by having a National Cycling Strategy as a framework for collaborative action between all levels of government; 2. To have a dedicated green infrastructure fund for active transportation, that makes it feasible for even smaller communities to access federal dollars to make their communities safe, convenient and enjoyable for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

MM: Does every province and territory have representation within the organization?

VCB: Nearly all of Canada is represented. We have members from coast-to-coast, all the way from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador. We do not have a member in PEI nor the North but we do have allies in these areas and look forward to groups joining us as we build momentum for a bike-friendly Canada.

MM: What is a National Cycling Strategy and why is it important to have one?

VCB: A national cycling strategy is basically the product of serious discussions and collaboration, and results in a record of commitments the government makes to actually do a whole list of things.

The strategy document itself is a public facing reminder. We could get down to the details of all the things it needs to include, but perhaps the real reason it is “important” is that it gets results.

Compare countries that have national cycling strategy vs. those that don’t and it’s pretty clear that it ends up getting a lot more people riding. Think about it. If you run a government and you see something as important and beneficial, why not develop a strategy for it? Not only that, but we are just one among dozens and dozens of important organizations that have recognized how valuable this. In fact, we think the government should take on walking at the same time and develop a plan to get all Canadians moving.

It is important for a government to come out clearly and say “we have a responsibility here” and this is what we are going to do. Set targets help us see where this fits into our larger goals – such as climate change action plans or chronic disease prevention.

MM: Last year was the first annual National Bike Summit. Can you tell us about this event and the impact it had?

VCB: On June 1st, 2017, Vélo Canada Bikes convened the 1st Canadian National Bike Summit on Parliament Hill in partnership with Senator Nancy Greene Raine and “National Health and Fitness Day”.

The Bike Summit was a first-ever opportunity for stakeholders from across Canada to join in a national conversation on the importance of federal support for cycling in Canada, particularly the development of a National Cycling Strategy and funding for cycling infrastructure.

There was a full-house of 90 delegates attending by invitation, and a further 200+ people and organisations participating via a live webinar link from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

Each presenter was asked to respond to two questions: Why is Federal support of a National Cycling Strategy for Canada, including funding for cycling infrastructure, important to the people and/or organisation you represent? What should the Federal government consider when developing the National Cycling Strategy?

No matter where our speakers came from — urban, rural, bike store owners, engineering firms, health experts, planning or politics — they all brought unanimous support for a National Cycling Strategy.

The momentum created at the 1st National Bike Summit has continued to build and Vélo Canada Bikes is now poised to host the 2nd National Bike Summit over 2 days in Ottawa, May 28th-29th, 2018.

MM: What can you tell us about the 2018 National Bike Summit taking place this May?

VCB: The 2nd National Bike Summit (#CNBS18) will take place in Ottawa on May 28th-29th, 2018. Building on the success of the 1st National Bike Summit, this event will bring together cycling and active transportation stakeholders from across the country, so that together, we can take tangible steps towards building a bike friendly Canada.

The objectives of the Summit are to:

  • Demonstrate the need and importance of Federal support to advance everyday cycling in Canada
  • Mobilize cycling stakeholders to work together to achieve a bike and active transportation friendly Canada
  • Engage with Parliamentarians and decision-makers from all levels of government and civil society to increase understanding of the opportunity cycling presents for a healthier, greener, more equitable Canada.

Day 1 of the Bike Summit, May 28th, will take place at Ottawa City Hall and consist of presentations and interactive sessions. The purpose of this day is to mobilize and educate cycling stakeholders so that, together, we can take coordinated and concrete steps towards building a bike friendly Canada.

In the evening, a reception and film screening will be hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Caucus on Parliament Hill.

Day 2 of the Summit will take place on Parliament Hill and will start with a cycling education morning with MP’s and Senators, followed by cycling infrastructure tours. At 4:30pm, Summit delegates and other cycling supporters will gather on the steps of Parliament Hill for a few speeches followed by a 40 minute bike ride with MPs, Senators and other federal officials.  The day will be capped off by an informal BBQ reception in the East Block courtyard.

Check out our #CNBS18 Agenda here.

MM: Do you encourage kids to attend the National Bike Summit?

VCB:  There is a kid-friendly portion to the Summit which takes place at 3:30pm on Tuesday, May 29th, and we eagerly encourage children to join us. At this time, Summit delegates will gather on Parliament Hill for Bike Day on the Hill and there will be music, a children’s bike rodeo and demonstrations, followed by an easy-to-manage bike ride with Members of Parliament and other cycling stakeholders. Last year we had some children attend and they had a great time. After the bike ride everyone is invited to attend a BBQ in the Senate Building courtyard, a unique opportunity for kids and teens to see “inside” our federal parliament.

MM: For those who can’t attend the 2018 National Bike Summit what do you suggest they do to make sure their voice is heard?

VCB: If you aren’t able to join us in Ottawa at the National Bike Summit, ask your MP if you can schedule a meeting in your riding, or better yet, work with them to host a Ride Your Riding. If you need assistance in preparing for a meeting or a ride, or even just a simple email asking if they support a bike-friendly Canada, let us know; we can send you some materials like fact sheets, a checklist of what you will need, and even some blank templates.

MM: How can one get involved with Vélo Canada Bikes and what does it mean to be a member?

VCB: As a national organisation, VCB is watching for bike initiatives and actions across the country, including keeping our fingers on the pulse of advocacy groups, research projects, municipal council decisions on bike friendly plans, and on the national front. Members can let us know what is happening that is relevant to their part of Canada while learning about what is happening elsewhere. We offer a variety of memberships, from individual to not-for-profit group memberships and even municipal and business memberships. Benefits include :

  • Opportunities to join Canada-wide panels / task force working groups
  • Member discount rates to National Bike Summit
  • Your chance to add to the national voice
  • Ability to engage with fellow members for best practices
  • Being a part of the group helping to make a national advocacy voice possible

MM: Any stand out moments that serve as great reminders as to why Vélo Canada Bikes exists?

VCB: If we had to pick a moment, it would be one of yours. Close your eyes for a second and try to remember that first moment your mom/dad let go of your bike seat and you found yourself pedaling on your own for the first time.

Now think about what it must have felt like for your mom or dad to let you go. Think about what they thought they were sending you into – and how they instinctively treat their street, their city and their country to make sure you’d be OK. That feeling right there is how the good countries “do” cycling. We want that to be Canada, too. That’s why Canada Bikes exists.

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