Hi all! I’m happy to announce this newest installation in the series of interviews––in which I make myself bower bird-like, gathering voices of people who are doing cool things in the world.
There is so much beauty, so much blue! Take a step into the nest…
Jean Chong of Cycle Write Blog is a volunteer cycling advocate in Vancouver. Prior to this work she was active for over a decade in organizations dedicated to social justice and race relations in the Toronto area.
Jack (Hans-Jurgen) Becker is an active proponent of cycling and combined mobility of cycling on transit and public transportation, as an activist and as a consultant. Jack is a principal of Third Wave Cycling Group Inc. and is based in Vancouver, BC and Calgary, AB. Prior to retirement, he worked for a national oil firm and was a weekend beef farmer in Ontario.
Both Jean and Jack have lived a car-free life for the last 23 years.
It was a pleasure to learn a bit more about their activism.
Devi: Tell me a story about water or climate change.
Jean: I live in downtown Calgary, two blocks away from the river near a popular bike-pedestrian path.
In June 2013 I was evacuated along with nearly 100,000 residents after the Bow-Elbow River overflowed its riverbanks in city of Calgary. On the evening of the flood, the police alerted our condo building to evacuate. I didn’t believe it because I didn’t see our neighbourhood listed on the city’s website. I should have known because during a short evening stroll to check the rising river, foot patrol police told me to return home.
I evacuated at 3:30 am after the city website announced that the downtown light transit rail (as well as my workplace building) was flooded. Standing outside my building, I could hear the mighty river’s floodwaters roaring into the night. More about the post-flood time here: https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/major-flood-or-disaster-do-transportation-habits-change/
There are now public murals by the river that flooded at the base. This art installation will be removed by end of 2015 as per contract.
The second story is just a personal regret and wish:
I regret I didn’t travel to Asia 20 years ago. Car use in China is so much higher now because car ownership is still a status symbol there. Less blue sky days and air pollution would bother us, especially my partner who is far more allergic to pollutants and airborne particulate matter.
Devi: What inspired you to start taking bike trips? When and where did it happen?
Jean: I bought my first geared bike in 1992. My first bike trip was later that autumn in Vermont. I started taking bike trips with Jack just about 5 months later.
Jack: People around my work and in the bicycle club that I rode with at that time took cycling trips. As my leg muscles developed and I was riding longer trips, touring seemed to be the way to go. I always enjoyed traveling and had done much by car and other modes of travel within North America and Europe, so it seemed that touring by bicycle was the way to go.
Devi: Why do you ride a bike?
Jean: I gave up my driver’s license in my early 20s. I had problems learning to drive and was never comfortable driving on expressways. I would be a danger to others on the road. I’ve had the occasional nightmare where I’m driving a car and panicking.
For the last 23 years I have cycled to work, to shop, to get around, as well as for fitness and touring. I walk or use public transit in really awful weather.
Jack: I need to get exercise. My body demands that. Getting exercise by bicycle was much more interesting than being in an exercise room or swimming.
I use the bicycle for transportation to work, shopping, meetings, and any other purpose. I do combine trips with other modes of transportation when it makes sense: transit, rail, planes, ferries, etc.
Devi: What projects are you working on?
Jean: For the past few months I’ve been recovering from a head injury. Another cyclist collided into me while I was biking in Vancouver on New Year’s Day. I lost my memory for 6 hours that day.
My injury made me realize how much we rely on our brain for every movement of our limbs and turns of the head, for vision and cognition, to recognize objects, sounds and screening out lesser information. Our brain is a powerhouse for processing information every waking moment. No wonder why I was so tired post-collision. For several weeks, just to read emails for 15 minutes or walk, then microwave a bagel, made me tired. Only now am I phasing back into my full-time job.
John: I’m working to develop an organization that promotes cycling touring in British Columbia called CyloTouringBC.
Devi: What are you most proud of?
Jean: I am most proud of what I have created over the years: what I’ve written, painted, articulated and occasionally translated into volunteer work and paid jobs.
I’ve had the incredible privilege of meeting and learning from a very diverse range of people from all walks of life in both my working career and in volunteer work. I am passionate about social justice matters, information literacy, active transportation, and the development of liveable communities.
John: During my 23 years as a cycling advocate, I am proud to have seen the growth of cycling for transportation and infrastructure design that is more human-oriented than engineering––and those are words coming from a person with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering!
Devi: What do you see as the “big issues” in your home right now?
Jean: Alberta is Canada’s primary oil and gas industry driver. Our big issues include fracking and questions on water contamination as well as earth stability and oil sands extraction. Oil sands extraction is only temporarily suspended by some firms because of the drop in world oil prices. Sour gas from gas flaring is a long-term air pollutant.
Some resource extraction and processing activities are hundreds of kilometres away from Calgary but the major companies have their headquarter offices in our city.
Another problem is the prairie mentality that we have to surround ourselves with lots of space. This expands urban sprawl because we have no natural barriers except for the river. Many long-time citizens here are moving at a snail’s pace to understand the health and social benefits of ensuring communities are built to incorporate active transportation with services and shops located near by so that we aren’t always car dependent.
Our city has mushroomed to nearly 1.3 million people in past few years as Canada’s fastest growing city. But affordable housing has not kept pace. There are some socio-economic problems in certain communities that require trained professionals and counselors that speak non-English languages. In Toronto and Vancouver, where I’ve lived previously and still visit, there are well-established multilingual social services and strong, articulate community advocates who are also teachers, health care professionals and counselors who develop programs and work hard with the government on funding. Their issues and efforts to solve social problems, are reported in their local press frequently. This is not the case in Calgary. Here’s an example.
John: Our “big issues” are lack of commitment from government, staff, planners, and engineers to move towards truly sustainable. vibrant, liveable cities than move away from cars.
Devi: Who inspires you?
Jean: Doris McCarthy, a Canadian painter who died several years ago. I had the chance to meet this gracious and prolific artist in Toronto when she was nearly 90 years old. I have read three of her autobiographies and have a painting of hers. She was a gregarious artist and teacher who shared with other artists and students. There are photos of her painting outdoors in the Canadian Arctic in the snow and of her ice skating on her house property pond when she was in her 70’s.
Devi: What are you reading/listening to right now?
Jean: On the Map by Simon Garfield is a history of maps from medieval to present. Some of the earlier maps were jammed with information describing place details, local things seen, something like a precursor to our infographic.
John: Baroque music.
Devi: What is your favorite place on earth?
Jean: Anywhere with mountains by ocean, forest and clear blue skies.
John: Vancouver, France, or the Rockies, touring on my bicycle.
Devi: What’s your favorite word?
Devi: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jean: May you have many tailwinds.
John: I’m interested in how you are going to use the information and what conclusions or theories you are trying to work towards. Enjoy your travels, wherever they may take you.
That’s all for today! Be sure to check out Jean & John’s work online and drop them a line of support.