About Hans on the Bike


Update: As per March 1, 2016 this blog is being not updated. I am continuing on Hans On The Bike, also on WordPress. All content has been copied to the new site. It is just a name change really to align it with my social media. If you followed me by email, you may want to sign up again on the new page as I am not sure the email addresses were transferred.

How did I end up in cycling advocacy?

By accident really. I cycle to work. When the weather is nice, we go out for bike rides. Rarely more than 40 km. That is very do-able in Ottawa. Since 2009 I am a member of Ottawa’s bicycle advocacy group, Citizens for Safe Cycling, because I believe that cycling has enormous potential in Ottawa. Others believe that too, so I thought that sharing my bike experience from the Netherlands with others is a good idea. Before I knew I became the president, not because I ever had the ambition to do much volunteer work, let alone being a president of a cycling group, but because the former president was hired by the city as a bicycle planner and I was the VP; I had no choice.

Daytime

I also have a day time job at an embassy of a country that is known for its extensive bike network and extremely high bike modal shares and billion dollar investments in bike infrastructure, for their relaxed approach to cycling, for their beautiful bike bridges and their 29,000 kilometres of segregated bike lanes across the country. The Netherlands is only now slowly waking up to the fact that they are the best bike country in the world. If you live in the Netherlands, you honestly have no idea that the rest of the world is envious. They have hardly even bothered seriously marketing the cycling knowledge abroad. So I took it upon me to advocate cycling in Canada.

Learning experience

Soon I learned about vehicular cycling, desire lines and design standards. About manuals for engineers. About the reasons why we have cross walks but not cross rides. About the golden rule that car traffic always has to flow. All of a sudden people think you are an expert, because you come from the best bike country in the world. It is like people thinking you are a cowboy because you come from the US. Or that you can cook because you are from Italy. So I went along with it, fell back on contacts in the Netherlands, particularly Johan and Angela of http://www.Mobycon.com, who provided me with many great ideas and concepts. I had to show up in panels, on TV, on radio. We received awards and nominations for our bike advocacy group. I am called in as an expert by planners sometimes. I know lots of reporters in town and we wave to each other from our bikes. Even at so called right wing news outlets I have friends. It is all about how you deliver the message. Smile. Always smile.

Feminine hygiene pads

My background is marketing, but in general I don’t like marketing types. I once saw a picture of a brand manager guy in an ad magazine sitting on the floor, holding up feminine hygiene pads (with some kind of a wing design) like a plane. (Wings. Airplane. You get the picture).That was it. I decided to move to another country and start a new life.

It is kind of hard not become radical in advocacy in general, but that is not my style, you never want to burn your bridges. I’d rather keep showing examples of best practices. Some call me laid back and engaging, a super star cycling advocate, a delight, an extremely good facilitator, an inspiration, a creative thinker, a treat. In the three years that I put more serious effort in the Urban Commuter Blog, I am approaching 50,000 hits, about 1500 to 2000 a month currently. Not much to some, but what the heck, perhaps I convert a few souls along the way. I also post only every two weeks or so.

Friends

I made large number of friends, too many to mention. All dedicated people, who put countless hours of spare time in advocacy. They study drawings, repair bikes, attend public meetings, advise, write to council, present at committees, are educating at events. While paid staff, paid councillors and paid consultants listen between 9 and 5, these volunteers get up early, stay up late and sacrifice weekends to work around their jobs for the good cause. They take afternoons off to make their case at council. Some councillors look at their Blackberries if you talk for city council, forgetting you actually took a day off to bother coming to council.

That is why I love and appreciate bike advocates. They put effort into making the community better. If you have never heard of grass roots, come to bike advocacy and you know soon what the word means: very little money, tons of dedication.

I also got to know a lot city councillors and city staff and some MPP’s and MP’s. The best thing in Ottawa is that many in public office work towards better cycling in the city. Progress is painfully slow and bureaucracy is stifling, delays are more a rule than exception. While being fairly progressive under Mayor Watson, some councillors are pushing back, not based on facts but emotions (fear for the unknown, fear for not being re-elected, fear for spending). We now have a few kilometres of bike paths built by the city. Mostly as long as they are not in the way of parking.

Part of a change

Ottawa is changing, it is now the third biggest bike commuter city in Canada already, with a higher percentage than Vancouver and Montreal (StatsCan) with, brace yourself, 2,4% bike modal share. Some areas have an 8% and higher bike modal share, like the core area. That doesn’t take into account the tens of thousands of recreational cyclists.

I’d like to think I am part of that change, and how often in life do you get a chance to be part of a change, without going to some unstable country? Some talk about a paradigm shift, but I never really know what that means.

On the scale of things, not enough happens. The transportation budget is around 250 million dollars a year, cycling gets, whoopy, 6 million. We don’t have one single official cross ride, we don’t have one single bike traffic light. Signs are put in the wrong place, there is no thought put in gates and bollards, city owned trucks park in bike lanes, a bike trough takes 12 (!) years to put in, because one former manager didn’t think it was necessary.

Bike lanes are barely maintained in winter, containers are left in the middle of a bike lane, we believe that sharrows are a great solution and we design main streets so narrow (parking on two sides) that cyclists now worry about dooring. Gates are installed across a bike path at the bottom of a hill, cars block cross overs and lowering speed can not be discussed, even though there is overwhelming proof that it saves lives. We discuss 14 hours about a 1 km bike lane of less than one million dollars, but approve an 80 mln dollars widening of a survan road without discussion. A wider road makes it easier to get to a widened Queensway and then we get all stuck at downtown exits. That is Ottawa today. Cycling is not engrained one iota. And still people cycle and more and more people cycle. Thousands. Tens of thousands.

Presenting in Canada

I often combine work related trips to other Canadian cities with a speaking engagement on cycling in the Netherlands and/or Ottawa; the topic depends a bit on the public. Over the last three years I talked to about two thousand Canadians and even some Americans about the advantages of cycling, including to CAA members in Vancouver, to the Perth Chamber of Commerce, to attendees of the Nova Scotia Planners Directors Conference, to members of the public at Dalhousie University in Halifax, members of city council and staff in Regina and members of the public in Calgary, Kingston (at Queens U.) and Mississippi Mills, Kitchener-Waterloo, Fredericton. I was also in Charleston, SC and we loved it so much that our two cats are called after the cities of Charleston and Beaufort. My style is fairly unconventional, because I will also tell what doesn’t work.

What else do I do

I renovated a house in Italy, my vocabulary of Italian consists of words like tubi, mattone and cemento.I also write about cycling once in a while in Healthwise Magazine. I give interviews as training material for Ottawa journalist students. I maintain a newsletter for about 900 Dutch people in Ottawa and Montreal. I have built our own shed and screened in porch. I installed our IKEA kichen. I also read mostly non fiction but don’t have enough time currently, enjoy travelling to quiet places as I have enough of mass tourism, European cathedrals, busy Asian cities, overcrowded beaches, overpriced terraces and waitresses who expect 15% tip for bad service (‘How are you guys doing today’?’. ‘Can I get a coke? Not a problem’). I really like New Zealand because I met my Canadian wife there. It is also a fantastic country to travel.

I fiddle with computers, but less and less as after 25 years I have enough of tweaking Microsoft. I don’t like cell phones, although they boot up fast. I run an Ubuntu computer from 2005. I don’t really enjoy cooking, fortunately my wife enjoys it a bit more. I am less and less interested in politics, and more and more in animals as long as they have fur. The exception are chickens, they are funny to watch. Perhaps one day I will become a vegetarian, but I am always hungry after two days without meat. I miss those proteins too much. I also enjoy Blue Skies in Ontario even though I don’t play an instrument. I am learning more about bike mechanics from Shane and Alex and Berry.

Bike advocacy has been a wonderful addition to my life now I come to think of it. Perhaps you’d like it too. I also don’t want to be the president forever.

Hans

See also: the Facebook pages of Ottawa Bicycle Culture and Citizens for Safe Cycling.

17 thoughts on “About Hans on the Bike

  1. as someone who is unable to drive motorized vehicles as a result of health issues, cycling provides me with a measure of freedom and transportation that often surpasses public transport in Ottawa. safety and accessability is always an issue. a mishap that many would weather just fine could turn out to be fatal for me.

    your blog caught my attention some time ago, and it was with real interest that I read the following article this morning.

    this may in fact be a way to address many of the problems presented by the ‘end the war on cars’ campaigners who drive, design and maintain roads for motorized vehicles as if they have an exclusive right to them and make them safer for all.

    thanks for the great posts.

    “Do busy roads put off cyclists with disabilities, women or older people? And if so, could local authorities be made to improve cycle infrastructure under equality legislation?”

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2014/dec/11/mass-cycling-social-justice-equalities-case

  2. Hans! What a great man you sound like! I am so glad that I’ve discovered your blog. You truly are an inspiration. We can make it better for cyclists, one pedal push at a time. I look forward to reading your posts.

    1. Thanks for the compliments. Advocacy is what you make of it. The pay off is meeting lots of wonderful people who care just as much as you about cycling/the world/community. Change doesn’t come quickly, but every time you nudge your plan a little further, you feel like you contributed something positive to the community.

      1. I couldn’t agree more, Hans. It can feel futile at times and that ‘the machine’ (whether it be politics or planning in general) is bigger than you are, but you’re right – that is when you have to remind yourself that others feel the same way, and get involved. Slowly, things are changing, but goodness it can feel like a glacial process at times!

  3. Hi Hans,

    Would love to get you over to see the Main Street renewal proposal (dedicated bike lanes on both sides of the street!). I am sure your comments and hopefully support will help to make this a reality.

    Main Street Renewal Open House
    5:00 – 8:00 p.m., Saint Paul University, Normandin Room, Laframboise Hall, 249 Main Street.
    City will present options for the reconstruction of Main Street. The proposals that will be on display are the result of the city working with community, business and other representatives over the last eight months. Construction is scheduled to begin next year and will be completed in 2015.
    More info: http://www.ottawaeast.ca

    Thanks, I love your blog.
    Cindy (a dedicated local cyclist)

    1. couldn’t make it as I was invited to come to Mississippi Mills already. However, we have been following this file for a long time with volunteers sitting in the meetings.

      Hopefully something good will come out of it. It is a great opportunity for the city to show commitment to active transportation.

      1. All 3 videos include great ideas that if implemented would make biking in Ontario much safer 🙂

  4. Hi Hans,
    You spoke in Waterloo a few weeks back and I asked a question about how I’d heard that in Holland the driver was presumed guilty until proven innocent in the netherlands. You said you’d never heard about this.

    Well today I came across an article and we both need a correction. In dutch civil cases the driver is presumed at fault in cycling incidents involving children.

    ‎”In the Netherlands, the driver is presumed to be at fault in all civil cases involving children.”

    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3451896.ece#.T-N4kB8bAho.twitter

    I actually think this would be a great change to Canadian law and make drivers dread hitting a pedestrian / cyclist. In my town a year or two ago a cyclists was killed in a bike lane by a driver who had a suspended license, and was driving with a fraudulent license and he only got careless charge, akin to hitting a telephone pole. It’s what we cyclist have called the greatest car subsidy – http://waterloobikes.ca/2011/01/04/driving-subsidies/

    kindly,
    Graham

    1. Hi Graham: I don’t think I said I wasn’t aware of it, as I am, but I am not familar with the details, so I don’t want to state something in front of 130 people, if I can’t really back it up. I am pleased you forwarded this, so I can now confirm it at the next presentation.

  5. Hi!

    I work at EnviroCentre and am coordinating Bike to Work this year, which is taking place for the entire month of May. I was wondering if you were intersted in helping to promote commuter cycling, to your readership? I can send you ready to go text or I’d be happy to invite you to our events, if you wanted to cover them on the blog. Please let me know if there is anyway we could have a brief chat about it in the near future?

    Thanks and I love your site,
    Jess

  6. Hi Dick,

    Thanks for your request. I recommend you put a press release out soon with text that we can use for our blog. We’d like to wait until your website is a bit more up to date.

So what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s