I became Bicycle Mayor of Halifax in December 2019. I started strong out of the gate, with media interviews early on and introducing my new role at the Halifax Cycling Coalition’s birthday party in February 2020. During winter bike week, I gave a Pecha Kucha talk along with other members of the Halifax cycling community. Along with the Halifax Cycling Coalition (HCC), I launched a survey to gather insights about what people think the term “all abilities” means with respect to cycling. I was lucky to have the support and collaboration of Meghan Doucette, who was the Executive Director of the HCC at the time.
Everyone knows what happened next - the pandemic struck in March 2020. It disrupted my plans as Bicycle Mayor, but it also radically reshaped my life, as a disabled, immunocompromised person. My plans to be out in the world, meeting people, were shelved. I did find ways to keep going, connecting with people through Twitter and attending virtual meetings. It was a difficult time in my life and I did try to retire from being Bicycle Mayor early, but no one else wanted the job, so I took a break and came back to it. I’m glad I did because it has been absolutely delightful to meet so many wonderful people and to have a platform to share my thoughts.
In accounting for what I’ve done over these three years, there are some things I can count. I have attended many stakeholder engagement sessions with city staff. These sessions are specifically held for “stakeholders”, which includes organizations like Walk ‘n’ Roll, the Ecology Action Centre, and Bicycle Nova Scotia. We continue to see proposals from staff that include outdated practices that will not get more people on bikes, and risk harming people who are being ignored or adversely affected by cycling infrastructure. Vigilance is needed, so I keep going to these meetings and saying the same things again and again.
Meghan, who is now building cycling community on the south shore, and I released a report of what we found when we surveyed the community about what “all abilities” means. I wrote a post for BYCS when the Bruntletts released their latest book, and Lucas from BYCS interviewed me about disability and cycling. When Jen Parker and Susie Addison launched Kidical Mass in Halifax in 2022, I enthusiastically amplified and supported the initiative. I also stepped up to help keep Kidical Mass going through 2022 and now into 2023.
In terms of less tangible items, I have tried to build bridges with a variety of other advocates in Halifax (and be clear about the boundaries I’m not willing to cross). I have developed friendships with many of the #BikeHfx community. I have also developed connections with #BikeTwitter folks across Canada and beyond. I am lucky to have other Bicycle Mayors in Canada (currently Lanrick and Arcy) and the US to connect with.
I have shown up, spoken up, and raised awareness about a myriad of cycling and cycling-adjacent issues. Some of this work has been in public and some of it more behind-the-scenes.
As I prepare to retire from my role, I have some thoughts about what I’d like to see for Halifax (aside from getting on with building the damn bike lanes, already).
The city has a wonderful community of folks who just want to get around on bikes. I appreciate these people so much and I believe they can be a huge asset in advancing cycling culture here. I think there are a few ways to tap into this asset.
First, I’d love to see an advocacy bike shop here, much like the London Bicycle Cafe in Ontario. A shop and cafe within the city that promotes cycling for transportation would be a magnet and an organizing space.
Second, Kidical Mass and Critical Mass were incredibly successful in 2022, showing both the numbers of people wanting safe cycling infrastructure and the additional opportunities to build community. Kidical Mass will be happening again in 2023 and I hope that we will see more Critical Mass, too.
Third, we need more media coverage of cycling, with a focus on the stories of people who ride bikes and less on the clickbait that some reporters love. We had some great reporters who really “get” cycling, but I think we need to hear more about people who ride bikes for transportation, perhaps as frequently as we get traffic updates on Mainstreet.
Finally, we need a strong cycling advocacy voice. I don’t think the state of cycling advocacy in Halifax is in a healthy place. There is a wonderful, strong community in #BikeHfx, but there is not a strong advocacy voice. I believe I have done some work to fill a gap that’s been growing over the last couple of years, but I am only one person, volunteering a bit of free time to do this work. To be blunt, I believe the Halifax Cycling Coalition needs to step up. As an example, I haven’t seen any HCC representatives at most of the stakeholder meetings I’ve attended over the last year or so.
I’d encourage members of the HCC to find out more about what the organization is doing and speak up about what you want to see! You can influence what happens, just like when you show up whenever I share opportunities for engagement on new active transportation proposals.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for Halifax to have a strong cycling advocacy voice. It is also vital that this work centres equity.