05/26/2013 12:08 EDT

Bike To Work Week Vancouver Celebrates Pedal-Power Travel


Get on your bike!

That's the message the organizers of Metro Vancouver's bi-annual Bike to Work Week are shouting loud and clear.

And, while the weather may rain on their parade, HUB, the non-profit behind the City of Vancouver-sponsored event, are expecting many commuters to choose pedal power to get them to work between Monday and Friday this week.

“We usually have a thousand brand new commuter cyclists every year,” notes HUB's executive director Erin O’Melinn.

Promoted widely throughout the Lower Mainland through bike shelter ads and word of mouth, Bike to Work (and School) challenges Metro Vancouver residents to ditch their cars and public transit for seven days in the spring and fall. Cyclists in the Okanagan have also signed up.

Participants are asked to register on the Bike to Work Week website so they can record the number of kilometers traveled, and also keep track of greenhouse gas reduction and calorie counts. They can also spy on other participants’ progress, which has created some friendly rivalries.

“In the past, we’ve had people challenge one another, " O'Melinn says. "EA challenged SAP because they’re both software related and said, ‘We can get more kilometers logged than you can.’”

Since the program started in spring 2007, headcounts at commuter stations set up across Vancouver have grown from 2,778 to 7,300. Although, according to O’Melinn, only 4,450 registered online last year.

But for those who make every week bike to work week, the novelty event doesn't address the real needs of cyclists.

Chris Bruntlett, a Vancouver-based architectural technician who lives car-free with his young family, says despite Mayor Gregor Robertson’s green mandate for Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, City Hall is still “talking the talk” and “certainly has a lot of work to do” to make the city more bike-friendly.

“We have a workable network of bike lanes as it stands,” he says. “But we’re reducing cyclists to the back roads, keeping them out of sight, out of mind.”

According to Bruntlett, the City of Vancouver is missing the mark on getting cyclists of all ages and ability cycling because of its limp stance on opposing the provincial helmet law. Since 1996, it has been mandatory for all British Columbian cyclists to wear a helmet.

“If we didn’t have the helmet law, we’d have had the bike share three or four years ago,” he insists. “It’s telling people that cycling is dangerous so most people don’t bother.”

Despite Bruntlett's concerns, cycling has become the fastest growing mode of transportation in Metro Vancouver, according to TransLink. Since 2011, the number of bike-only trips rose 26 per cent – outpacing the growth of bus, car and pedestrian trips, according to a report released in October 2012.

In the same year, Vancouver was named one of the most “bikeable” cities in North America by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Seattle-based Walk Score, a private company that calculates walkability through its website and mobile software.

For a full map of Vancouver's cycling routes, click here.

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