The 10 Best Bike Cities in North America

You don’t have to give up the amenities of a large urban environment just because you prefer traveling on two wheels over four

Biking in Chelsea, New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Read my latest coverage of The 10 Best Bike Cities in North America at

Local cops join 900-km ride to fight cancer

By Sarah Ripplinger, Special To The North Shore News

Losing a loved one to cancer is difficult. For West Vancouver police Const. Glenn Marshall, losing a father and father-in-law to this disease has been both a source of pain and motivation.

“I had signed on to ride the tour before my father was diagnosed with cancer,” said Marshall, who will be part of a Canadian Cancer Society’s Cops for Cancer bicycle tour this September. “His passing has motivated me even more to commit to helping (to prevent) kids and their families from knowing that pain.”

Marshall will be among more than 30 riders taking part in the Tour de Coast – one of four Cops for Cancer tours designed to raise money for childhood cancer research and programs for kids and the families of kids affected by cancer. Two other local officers will be joining him: RCMP Const. Corey Abendroth and WVPD Const. Griffin Gillan

“I am very blessed to have two wonderful healthy children and I can’t image if anything happened to them,” said Marshall. “I feel so deeply for any parent that has to endure this disease with their child; I am hoping to help support a cure.”

Cops and emergency service personnel will travel 900 kilometres from Coquitlam to Powell River, Pemberton and back to Maple Ridge, finishing at the Creekside Community Recreation Centre on Sept. 27. The nine-day tour kicks off Sept. 19 with the starting line celebration taking place at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown in Burnaby.

Although this will be his first ride, Marshall heard about the fundraising event eight years ago when he became a member of the police force.

“I knew it was something I would do at some point in my career,” the Squamish resident recalls. “I was further motivated to sign on because every year we would go to the dinner when the tour would roll through town. Just hearing the amazing stories of the riders and the kids was more than enough motivation.”

The society is celebrating 15 years of successful Cops for Cancer Tours in British Columbia this year.

Since 1997, Cops for Cancer has raised more than $27-million for childhood cancer research and support programs for children and their families, including Camp Goodtimes, a society-run summer camp at Loon Lake in Maple Ridge.

Shivani Malli, community giving co-ordinator with the Tour de Coast, said, “This year not only marks 15 years of celebrating our supportive communities, sponsors and agencies, but also our team and wonderful support crew, who spend several months training and fundraising.

“These dedicated men and women continue to inspire me with their generosity, drive and passion and without them the tour would not exist. This is my first year on Tour and I cannot wait until the journey begins.”

Marshall made it through the pain of losing loved ones to cancer by connecting with his family.

“From my immediate family to my extended family, we have all been there for one another to deal with our collective loss. The sense of loss is different for each one of us, so we just fumble though it together and it helps to know none of us are going though this alone.”

To others affected by this disease, Marshall offers the following advice: “Know that you are never alone and that no matter what you are feeling it is all right. People deal with things in their own way and the grieving process is just that, it takes time. Celebrate the lives of those you may have lost and remember the good times.”

Marshall will be holding a fundraising dinner in Squamish on Saturday. He has already raised almost $5,000 and is hoping to reach his goal of $6,000 with the support of the community.

The West Vancouver community is invited to greet all of the riders and their support team as they arrive at the West Vancouver Police Department on Monday, Sept. 24 at 10 a.m. Later, there will be a barbecue lunch from 11: 30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Civic Plaza, 141 West 14th St., North Vancouver.

For more information about the Tour de Coast, upcoming events and how to donate, visit the Cops for Cancer website at and click on Tour de Coast.

Sarah Ripplinger is a freelance writer and editor. She is currently interning with the Canadian Cancer Society.

© Copyright (c) North Shore News

Velo-city: Policymakers talk ‘must haves’

Photo by Sarah Ripplinger

Photo by Sarah Ripplinger
Director of Sustainability and Casas GEO in Mexico City, Dr. Gabriel Lagos, speaks to a packed crowd at the Keynote address “Leadership: The Politics of Change,” on the opening day of the conference.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BRAIN)—Around 650 BIXI bike share bikes lined the courtyard of the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre for Velo-city Global, the premier cycling planning conference, happening this week.

The second time that Velo-city has been in Canada—the first was in 1992 in Montreal, Quebec—this year’s event brought in 700 delegates from 40 countries and six continents, along with close to 200 speakers and around 100 support members.

At the opening keynote address Tuesday morning, Gil Penalosa called on policymakers and cycling advocates to prioritize the “must haves” of cycling infrastructure: physically separated bike lanes and reduced speed limits on urban roadways to achieve a higher cycling mode share in cities.

“If you have the right infrastructure, it will immediately affect the culture in a community,” he said. “We need to create more sustainable cities to accommodate the 2 billion more people [in population growth expected] in the next 30 years.”

“Gil Penalosa really rocked,” commented SRAM fund director Randy Neufeld, “and the key piece was his 60-second test: things that are nice to have and things that we have to have.”

The executive director of 8-80 Cities—a nonprofit organization based out of Toronto, Ontario, that promotes sustainable cities—Penalosa said that bicycle routes should be safe enough for everybody from 8 to 80 years old. Without a proper cycling network, “nice to haves,” such as signage, sharrows and bike parking, won’t be enough to attract the estimated 60 to 70 percent of members of the public who are interested but concerned about bicycling in their cities.

The consequence of not creating public spaces and the infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation, he said, is more traffic congestion, higher levels of air pollution and increased rates of obesity. In short, he said, “cycling infrastructure is a symbol of respect for people.”

Several panelists echoed this call, including Manfred Neun, the president of the European Cyclists’ Federation, which runs the Velo-city conference series. He added that connectivity between cycling routes—particularly physically separated lanes—transit and bike share facilities is an essential component of effective urban cycling infrastructure development. Partnerships and pilot projects are ways he suggested to move from the planning to the implementation stage.

Under the leadership of Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver, British Columbia, has launched several groundbreaking initiatives for the region, such as separated bikes lanes in the downtown core, on-street bike corrals and bike-specific traffic signals and boxes at busy intersections. Vancouver aims to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, an ambitious goal that will involve shifting the focus of its transportation system toward cycling, walking and transit users, Robertson said. The broader aim, he added, is to create more sustainable and livable communities.

“One of the challenges of living in a larger city is that it’s harder to have those community connections,” Robertson said. “Cycling is a way to have that community sense of connection that’s a challenge in urban environments. And that’s a huge bonus we cannot overlook.”

On the final day of the conference this Friday, Robertson and Neun are slated to sign the Charter of Vancouver, which is reflected in one of the conference’s major themes: empowering people and inclusivity. Based on the United Nations 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the charter will recognize the rights of children around the world to have access to biking.

Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis addressed the main theme during an afternoon plenary titled “Diversity and Empowerment: Building a Cycling Culture.”

“The challenge is bringing in people who don’t necessarily agree with you.” His approach is to talk to as many different people as he can to get across the message that biking is a great way to get around.

In a press scrum after the keynote address, Ellis added that catering to the Lycra-clad road warrior and the fearless cyclists who will bike no matter what isn’t going to cut it. “You have to make it [your approach] broader than the traditional folks who cycle. … You have to bring in the broader community.”

Houston, Texas, he said, is in the midst of an approval process to potentially allocate $150 million for 2,000 more acres of green space and to double its bicycle trails to more than 240 kilometers over the next seven years, which would put more than 50 percent of Houston residents within 2.4 kilometers of green spaces.

Photo: Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis spoke during the afternoon plenary, “Diversity and Empowerment: Building a Cycling Culture.”

Originally published in Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

‘Tsunami’ of City Dwellers a Global Threat: Harcourt

Crowded Cities.jpg

Canada needs to lead in urban eco-design, urges former Vancouver mayor.

By Sarah Ripplinger, 28 Oct 2009,

He was Vancouver’s mayor before becoming premier of British Columbia, so no one could mistake Mike Harcourt for a city-hating, back-to-the-land kind of guy.

But his message lately paints a dark picture of city life in the future — unless Canada shows the way in designing and building green urban systems.

Harcourt and other experts say a massive global population shift towards city life is undermining efforts to combat climate change and achieve sustainable communities.

A massive global shift

Millions of people are flooding the world’s urban centres, placing increased pressure on infrastructure and available resources. According to the United Nations, the world’s urban population surpassed its rural population in 2008.

As a result, city officials have to find the means to construct more buildings and roads and provide more goods and services to meet the demands of swelling communities. It also means there will be a greater need for agricultural land and access to clean sources of drinking water.

Add this to the push in developing nations to attain Western standards of living, and you get an urban tsunami, said Harcourt during a presentation held at UBC Robson Square in September. It was a theme he picked up on again when he spoke at the Resilient Cities conference last week in Vancouver.

There are already warning signs on the horizon that the full force of the tsunami will hit sooner than expected.

Harcourt, who chairs QUEST — an action group designed to improve Canada’s urban energy systems — and is the associate director of the UBC Continuing Studies Centre for Sustainability, says that projections show a global population expansion of four billion people or more in a little more than 40 years. And 75 per cent of the 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050 will reside in urban centres.

“It’s not just the size of population growth overall,” Harcourt told his Robson Square audience. “It’s where it’s happening; in cities.”

Asia and Africa most challenged

The bulk of the population expansion will take place in the developing world, mainly in Asia and Africa, Harcourt said. This shift to city life will place a great deal of pressure on the infrastructure and services available in those urban centres.

Particularly worrying for Harcourt and his colleagues is the prospect that the developing world could end up replicating the ecologically destructive ways cities have evolved in the developed world.

China and India, Harcourt pointed out, are undergoing a rapid technological revolution in a bid to attain the modern conveniences found in the Western world — a goal that, when coupled with population growth, could have dire consequences for the planet.

“The global population increase has gone from one billion in 1800, to two billion by 1930, to six billion by the year 2000, to eight and a half billion by 2025, to nine to ten billion by 2050. . . that’s the problem; it’s population growth.”

Harcourt adds that while population growth in and of itself may not seem alarming, the rate at which population numbers are climbing and the extent to which this growth is occurring in cities should be raising some eyebrows.

As the equivalent of the population of two Chinas makes its way to the city from the countryside in search of jobs and other opportunities, governments will be faced with the challenge of how to manage rapid growth on an unprecedented scale.

Canada’s unsustainable city-dwellers

Canada’s population is already largely urban. About 80 per cent of Canadians reside in some form of urban centre. Still, Harcourt says Canadian lifestyles remain far from sustainable.

The reason? We consume significantly more resources than the rest of the world. To supply and absorb the goods, services and waste of an average Canadian would require approximately seven hectares of productive land per person. Multiply that by the 6.7 billion people living on the planet and you get a number that far exceeds the estimated 13.5 billion hectares of land and water available for human use.

That fact alone has many researchers concerned about the future sustainability of our global communities.

William Rees, whose concept of the ecological footprint has received international attention, said what Canada and the world need to do right now is establish national population policies.

This is necessary, Rees explained in a telephone interview, because not having such a policy in place will mean that communities will continue to expand at an unsustainable rate, placing even more pressure on the global ecosystems required to support human life and, particularly, modern lifestyles.

Consumption rising three times faster than population

Rees, a professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC, said his real concern is not that the global population is increasing by about one per cent each year, it’s that per capita consumption is increasing at an average yearly rate of three per cent. That equals a grand total of a four per cent increase in the rate of consumption globally each year.

“Which means we’re doubling our impact in about 17-and-a-half years to 20 years.”

Governments will have to take the reins to avoid having a catastrophic impact on the earth’s ecosystems, already stretched to the limit by demands from urban and rural dwellers alike, Rees said.

Policies, such as smart growth, have received a lot of accolade as well as some dissension from the sustainability community.

In a paper on population growth in cities Randal O’Toole questions the benefits smart growth policies have had on achieving sustainable cities.

“Thanks to smart-growth policies, Vancouver and Victoria are the least affordable housing markets in Canada,” says O’Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute who studies urban growth, public land and transportation issues. In the paper, published in 2009 in The Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development, O’Toole states that despite “decades of smart-growth-like land-use regulation in Europe, European travel habits are not significantly different from those in the U.S.: where Americans drive for 84 per cent of travel, Europeans drive for 79 per cent.”

That’s where governments need to step in, according to Rees. Smart growth principles, such as housing densification and decreasing the distance people have to travel to get from home to work and play, require government investment in affordable housing and mass transit.

Sharing sustainable solutions is a must

At the international level, it comes down to sharing the information we have about how to create sustainable cities.

The key issue here, according to Harcourt, is to not have 10 billion people living like the average Canadian does now by the year 2050.

“If the Chinese and the Indians decided to copy our kind of sprawl — car, big house, misuse of energy, misuse of scarce natural resources — we would need four planets, but there’s only one.”

The idea is to avoid a global urban tsunami where the rapid, and often unsustainable, expansion of cities results in more greenhouse gasses spewed into the atmosphere and a heavier reliance on manufactured consumer goods.

“Right now, one half of all construction is taking place in China,” Rees said. “And it’s inefficient construction using concrete, which is incredibly energy intensive, and the main source of energy is coal.”

It’s up to Canada and other developed nations, therefore, to share “our best examples of modern construction technology, for free.”

Developing countries will be looking to Canada for solutions to sustainably manage large urban populations.

‘If Canada can’t, no one can’

According to Harcourt, who served as mayor of Vancouver from 1980 to 1986, and NDP premier of B.C. from 1991 to 1996, “If Canada can’t become sustainable, no one can.”

And Harcourt believes Canada can become a sustainable leader on the international stage. The best approach to setting a good example, he said, is to consume less and live more modest and less resource-heavy lifestyles.

“Where we are now, we can’t sustain, and that’s what sustainability is all about.”

It will mean condensing cities, moving more people into smaller-sized homes located close to jobs and recreational activities. In other words, smart growth.

Economic factors are likely to convince more individuals that spending hours on the road and paying hundreds of dollars in gas money and thousands on a mortgage doesn’t make good economic sense. Still, the close-quarter lifestyle of downtown city life isn’t for everyone.

That brings up the difficult question of reducing pressure on the natural environment through population control.

The issue, Harcourt said, is to try to decrease the projected 10 billion people soon to arrive on earth to eight billion or less. The way to get there is not clear-cut, but Harcourt believes that the education and empowerment of women across the world is likely to result in more women choosing to have fewer children.

It may not solve all the problems associated with the urban tsunami so long as per capita consumption rates continue to rise, particularly in the developing world. It could, nonetheless, form part of future government planning, as municipalities, provinces, states and countries consider their carrying capacity and if and when to draw a line on future growth.

Originally published in The Tyee.