August 22, 2022

“Vanbikes” by Colin Stein: Finally a Definitive History & Recounting of the Modern Cycling Movement

Vancouverite Colin Stein has written what is arguably one of the most important books of this year, and one  that will be referenced and have touchstone importance way in the future.

This July Colin published “Vanbikes, Vancouver’s Bicycle People & The Fight for Transportation Change, 1986-2011.”

In a compendium of 366 pages this easy to read,  well organized book is finely indexed and conversation sized, perfect to  take for a discussion in a coffee shop. It is a delight to learn the thoughtful history of how biking advocacy rooted in Vancouver, and the transformational events and cycling visionaries that persisted in reshaping the city for cycling inclusion.

While providing a bit of history on biking, it delves deeply into the  foundational thoughts, words and actions of the advocates for better cycling routes in Vancouver. The book provides a “who’s who” guide of the cycling visionaries transforming the biking paradigm in Metro Vancouver.

In a quarter century a remarkable movement changed the nature of active transportation in Metro Vancouver. Colin’s excellent sense of graphic design, his photographic images, his pinned clippings and post it note style makes this book truly accessible to anyone who just wants to learn how cycling advocacy grew in the Vancouver experience.

The book outlines who did what, and how this attitudinal change and work can spark similar inspiration and concepts in other cities and places.

Colin Stein’s timeline from 1986 to 2011 weaves the storyline and  marks the important local events that shifted towards cycling advocacy. Through a series of conversational interviews with Vancouver stakeholders in the 1980’s through to recent years, Colin explores the political and engineering landscape that accommodated and integrated cycling in Vancouver.

It was not a straight or indeed a gently curved timeline, but Colin’s use of quoted narrative sayings from memory keepers like ex Premier Gordon Campbell, City Councillors at the time, and passionate pioneer cycling advocates show the way.

This book through historic references, photographic vignettes, and conversations with early pioneer stakeholders lays out the pathway to cycling acceptance at the municipal level, and outlines the context that was so fundamental in bringing cycling change.

The book is laid out as a living play, and the cycling stakeholders do not hold back.

In describing the civic government in the 1980’s, cycling advocate Richard Campbell states “There were councillors that were solidly anti-bike, like the George Puil’s and Harry Rankin’s of the world. Real cusses who didn’t like bikes out there. So it was very much on the outside.”

Ken Cameron, a past planning manager for Metro Vancouver recounts his memories of Bill Curtis, the City of Vancouver Engineer in the 1980’s. Mr Curtis  “thought that transit users should pay for the pavement on which the bus stops, because it was the buses that produced the damage to the pavement. The fact that most of the people on buses were City of Vancouver residents, didn’t get past his paranoia. ” You can well imagine what infrastructure Mr. Curtis would have thought that cyclists were responsible for.

From the formation of the Bicycle Advisory Committee at the City of Vancouver to the securing of a staff position, to discussion of the first  official bike plan, Colin Stein weaves the story of how the 1988 Bicycle Plan was created in the context of Expo 86 and the growth of Vancouver to becoming an international city.

It was Mayor Gordon Campbell who later became Provincial premier that eliminated the bicycle co-ordinator position at the City of Vancouver and instead incorporated cycling as an active transportation leg of mobility in City policy.

Colin Stein with photographs and news clippings weaves the story of the politics and sweetness of cycling, and how advocates organized themselves and the civic government to transform Vancouver into arguably one of the best places for cycling in Canada if not in North America.

Colin also writes about the involvement of the First Nations and regional interest and involvement in cycling, and how supportive organizations like the VACC (Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition now HUB cycling) as well as the 2012 VeloCity event shaped cycling work.

As Colin states about cycling activism “similar feelings led to the cancellation of Vancouver’s freeway plan, saved Chinatown, inspired the rise of the global environmental movement”. His book outlines the platform for “values discussion and the outcomes that were based on scientifically sound evidence that was morally just”.

The last word on this wonderful book goes to Colin: “This is a story that must be told. Vanbikes is about the advocacy movement that emerged, survived and eventually helped turn Vancouver into a cycling city.

While the story was previously based upon memory and some conjecture, this well researched volume provides the track record of what was said and what was done, and corrects the anonymity of many of the initiatives that previously have not been linked to groups or people.

This is a book you will dip into and reference and cherish, and it brings names to the remarkable people that transformed Vancouver clearly into the Vanbikes City.

Printed copies of the first edition of this book can be purchased at www.vanbikes.ca. As there are only  100 of the first run of 250 copies left, act now. After the hard copies are gone, you will still be able to purchase the e-book edition.

VanBikes  makes the 2022 Viewpoint Vancouver Approved List of Must Read Books. Get your copy now.

 

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Comments

  1. Colin’s book is an excellent reference guide to the truly astonishing major changes that have happened in Vancouver around the humble bicycle.

    It is also much more entertaining than I’d expected, since it is an oral history. Colin has intertwined the many voices so that their stores reflect upon each other, making the threads more memorable, more illuminating and on occasion very funny.

  2. Years of work went into this book – and it shows! It’s an excellent account of an important movement – which started before the climate crisis was talked about much. I’m hoping it will inspire a new generation to keep the struggle going for healthy transportation options. Thank you Colin!

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