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Vancouverism by Bicycle

Aug 04, 2009

by Peg MacDonald, Architect @ VIA’s Vancouver Office

Before seeing the Velo-City exhibit, I took the opportunity of a singularly spectacular sunny summer Saturday to join a bike tour. The ‘Vancouverism by Bicycle’ tours are being offered in conjunction to the Velo-City exhibition, on Saturdays until August 22 at 10am. (So the $45 admission fee is a little steep, but it does include the regular admission fee ($11), and includes two hours on the Seawall talking about architecture…)

John, our guide (and a Planner), led us from the Museum of Vancouver across the newly bike-dedicated northbound sidewalk of the Burrard Street bridge and along the Seawall. From the west end, we traced the rise of ‘Vancouverism’ from its roots in the 60s (Beach Towers) through Concord Pacific and around False Creek to the budding development of Southeast False Creek. Tim, our Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition rep (carrying such necessities as first aid and flat tire kits) brought up the tail.

It’s not a chronological ride, but seeing the exchange of influence between the early (Beach Towers and Granville Island) and the more recent (Concord Pacific, the Roundhouse, and SEFC) made the dialogue all the clearer for the historical alternation.

The ride and discussion was like a tour of VIA influences and work. I wasn’t undercover, since I’d already confessed my profession and office before the ride began – so whether or not John meant all those nice things he said about the Roundhouse being the heart and soul of the neighbourhood, I may never know.
(I think he did.)

Our last stop was at in the heart of the residential side of Granville Island, and a little discussion on alternative housing models. There was something very familiar about the scene…

There’s so much intricacy to the development of Vancouverism, the podium/point tower model, North and Southeast False Creek, that it is impossible to include all the sordid details in a two-hour tour. Naturally, there were holes in the discussion. But really, they’re only noticeable if you’ve heard many versions of the stories over time. The broad strokes were there.

Back at the Museum, the Velo-City exhibition was a well-assembled glimpse into Vancouver’s cycling mainstream and counter-culture. A timeline marked various points in the development of Vancouver’s cycling culture, from the first bylaw to regulate bikes (#258, in 1886) to Alison Sydor’s victory at the Cape Epic Challenge in South Africa (2009). All along this timeline, the connection between the cycling community’s powerful activism and the City’s development of bicycle amenities is clear.

Lining one wall hang portraits of a variety of cyclists – professionals, commuters, casuals and kids – including maps of their frequent routes and interviews on why they bike. Across the room, a photowall displays more casual images of known and unknown cyclists, and quotes about their experiences riding. Two monitors mounted within this collage stream submitted images from a Flickr page. (see the website for details on how to submit your image)

Some extraordinary bikes are on display, including unicycling pioneer Kris Holm’s mountain unicycle (plus an accompanying video), and some more original creations – including the Monkey’s Wedding Tall Bike by Paul Bogaert (aka tall pol). This bike was built specifically to ride at Burning Man events.

There’s also a video room with films by and about cycling culture, and room of chalkboard walls that invites your tags and slogans.

Designers and curators Propellor Design have done an fine job expressing the freedom and passion so treasured and celebrated by Vancouver cyclists of all stripes. For myself, it had been quite a while since I’d taken the role of cyclist through the city, and longer still since I’d ridden the Seawall.

It won’t be quite so long until the next time.

Notable moments in Vancouver cycling:

1886: Vancouver City Council passes bylaw #258 to regulate the use of bicycles, which must henceforth not exceed 8 mph.

1902: The Vancouver Bicycle Club is formed.

1928: The Bartholomew Plan proposes a continuous waterfront parkway from Stanley Park around False Creek.

1968: Protests force Vancouver to scrap plans for the Chinatown Freeway, which later becomes part of the route for the Adanac Bikeway.

1978: A couple of guys in a Vancouver bike store modify road bikes with wide tires, straight bars, and thumb-shifters. This is the first experience with ‘mountain’ bikes for the soon-to-be Rocky Mountain founders.

1986: Gordon Price is elected to Vancouver City Council and becomes a champion of cycling.

1990-91: The Gastown Grand Prix is won by a young Lance Armstrong.

1996: Riders take to the streets for Vancouver’s first Critical Mass ride.

2008: Bike Month [June] is capped off with the largest Critical Mass ride yet; more than 5000 Vancouverites take to the streets on their cycles.

Velo-City runs until September 7th
Museum of Vancouver
1100 Chestnut Street (Vanier Park)
Check with the Museum’s website for confirmation of the ‘Vancouverism by Bicycle’ tour schedule.

One Comment

  1. Livable, lovable, walkable and BIKABLE Vancouver. What an assett that seawalk bike trail is. Can you show Seattle how to do it? Excellent reporting Peg.

    Dr. Density