Anke Van Van Leeuwen is an extremely dedicated to advancing issues of environmental justice. In comparison to most World Cup fanatics, her passion for green initiatives could make, even the most die-hard soccer fan seem apathetic. I can infer this almost immediately, over a cup of coffee at a local cafe where she smiles vibrantly and gestures; while explaining how we can transition to an economy in the future that is no longer dependant on fossil fuels. She explains that this can only be made possible, if we choose the bicycle over the car as our primary means of transportation within the near future.
As an agent for progressive social and environmental change, her tool of choice is the bicycle. She has been using this tool to teach traffic safety course to hundreds of people since 2003 in and around Victoria, British Columbia [including yours truly]. Anke is from Denmark, a country where riding a bicycle, as a means of primary transportation, is as natural and normal as breathing; in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if most children learn to peddle before they learn how to walk in this European nation.
A long time Victoria resident, she has made a concerted effort to share her love of cycling with others: ” I wanted to teach people how to become safe and responsible users of the road,” she states, after taking a bite out of her chocolate cookie. Her aim is to use education as a form of advocacy, to show citizens and policymakers alike that making the transition from the car to the bicycle, isn’t prohibitive but rather very accessible and desirable. By taking your bicycle, on your daily commute instead of your car- you can shred that rarely used gym pass. By cycling to work you’ll also save on gas and develop a hot ass, as well! It’s undeniable, that Anke’s love of cycling is contagious; if I didn’t have bicycle fever before the interview, I sure did after the interview was over.
On Tuesday June 15th I was able to sit down with Anke at the Parsonage Cafe in Fernwood [a bohemian neighbourhood in my adopted home of Victoria], to ask her ten questions regarding safe cycling, so that you can hop on top of your bicycle saddle feeling more empowered as a safe or safer cyclist.
Question # 1 To Tread Lightly [TTL]:
Can you give the blog readers some background; how did you become a safe cycling instructor?
Answer # 1 Anke:
I was able to take a one day free course. This class is organized and hosted by the Capital Region District [CRD] traffic safety commission and UVIC [The University of Victoria]. *TTL’s note: the CRD is a regional municipal governance organization similar in design to Metro Vancouver.
But this was just the beginning as I wanted learn how to teach more students so I enrolled in the CAN BIKE 2 training class [please visit the following URL for more info: http://www.canbike.net/cca_pages/cb_cb2.htm]. This is the same class that police and security officers take, although you wouldn’t know it by the way they cycle sometimes (j/k!).
Question # 2: TTL
What are some basic considerations that individuals, who decide to become commuter cyclists should consider before getting on the road?
Answer # 2: Anke
First of all, they should read Bike Sense: the British Columbia Bicycle Operator’s Manual available at: [http://www.bikesense.bc.ca/manual.htm]. Next you must realize that cyclists have the same rights as drivers. We cyclists, can’t scoff at the driving laws, if we do so, it looks bad on everyone [cyclists and drivers alike].
Question # 3: TTL
Building or elaborating upon my last question, how do the rules of the road differ for cyclists, as opposed to drivers?
Answer # 3: Anke
They do not differ, they are exactly the same.
Question # 4: TTL
What should I do before I go for a bicycle ride, is there a pre-trip check list that I can go through?
Answer # 4: Anke
There are a few things that you should do and it is as simple as learning the ABCs, over again:
Next you’ll have to learn about:
Lastly you’ll have to remember one last letter:
ANKE: Also I should add that before you get on your bicycle, ensure that there are no loose dangling straps hanging down from a dress or a backpack. If so tuck them in and make sure that they are securely fastened. If you don’t do this, the straps can get tangled in your chain and derailer and seriously injure you; this happened to a good friend of mine who is now in a wheelchair as a result of this accident. Also roll up your right pant leg or tuck it into your sock, so it won’t catch on the chain as you pedal.
Question # 5: TTL
What is your opinion on clip-on cycling shoes, are they a safety hazard? Can they reduce your reactionary time?
Answer # 5: Anke
I’m neutral; although they give you access to a full range of muscle motion. This thereby reducing the resistance [that you encounter] as you pedal up hills.
Question # 6: TTL
Often we hear about defensive driving; does the same apply for cycling? Can you be a defensive cyclist?
Answer # 6: Anke
[An emphatic yes] It is the only way for individual cyclists to survive on the road, by becoming defensive. [By assuming this point of perspective] They learn how to keep themselves safe [at all times] when they assume that drivers haven’t seen them [yet]. Another key tool for being a defensive cyclist is by remembering to be an MVP:
M– stands for maneuverability, this means that you need to give yourself wiggle room if you get something unexpected that gets in your way.
V– stands for visibility, remember that you need to see and be seen.
P– stands for predictability, remember that this means that you must obey the rules of the road. Such as riding in a straight line [and single file if riding in a group] or by using your legal turn signals. Obey the laws so that drivers and other cyclists can anticipate and prepare for what your behaviour will be like on the road.
*TTL note: Always ride at night with both a front and a rear bicycle light. In Victoria, British Columbia [where TTL lives] if you are caught riding without night lights, you can be fined. According to Anke, the fine for having no bicycle lights at night is higher than the fine for not wearing a helmet. Yesterday I saw a gentleman riding his bicycle through a major intersection with his helmet dangling from the handle bars, this isn’t cool and doesn’t make much sense either. If you’ve gone to the trouble of bringing your helmet with you on a bicycle ride, it makes more sense to put it on your head then to have it hanging off of your handle bars, where it can limit your maneuverability and possibly endanger yourself and others as well. Lastly, I asked Anke about drinking and cycling this seems to be illegal. Plus besides being illegal it is stupid so please don’t do it; I’m speaking from personal experience here.
Question # 7: TTL
How do you know when you are in a driver’s blind-spot how can you be assured that they see you, and that they see you?
Answer # 7: Anke
If you can see the driver in the side view mirror, then they can see you. Also it’s important to remember that when you are stopping at intersections, you are safest when you are either behind or in front of a car. This is because your view is not obstructed. Also I should mention that, the rules of the road state that you must ride single file, unless you are riding on a bicycle trail like the Goose or the Lochside [these are two bicycle trails that transact many of the communities on Southern Vancouver Island].
Question # 8: TTL
How can cyclists commute and communicate properly with drivers?
Answer # 8: Anke
Signaling. This is a huge way to communicate [better] with drivers [for more information see your Road Sense Manual]. Also understand that cars have the right to turn right at an intersection across a bicycle lane. Therefore, you shouldn’t get angry at drivers when they do this, because they are not trying to cut you off. Next remember that, after they have completed their right hand turn, you can pass them on the left [but do a shoulder check first].
Also you should maintain eye contact [to better increase your awareness of the road] and do not wear IPOD headphones on the road, while cycling. They reduce and limit your ability to perceive and pay attention to the hazards that surround you on your commute [so leave them at home]. Also, if you find yourself getting angry [as a cyclist] at a driver, calm yourself down. It’s not worth it to fight back and if you can’t control your anger [aka: road rage], then you should consider enrolling in anger management classes. The issue of anger on the road is a big issue.
Another tip, for being road safe is to keep at least 1.5 metres in diameter, between yourself and parked cars next to the curb. Remember, as well to do your shoulder checks while cycling. Before changing lanes always do two shoulder checks; the second shoulder check is called the ‘lifesaving shoulder check’. Also when you are changing lanes always point down towards the lane that you are moving into.
Question # 9: TTL
In your opinion what can cities do to make it safer for cyclists? Do you support the idea of concrete barriers that physically separate drivers from cyclists? Especially in terms of the newly announced separated bicycles lanes in the City of Vancouver. [See the link below for more information] Or do separated bicycle lanes create a false sense of security?
Answer # 9: Anke
Personally, education wins out over infrastructure. But in general, I think especially wide roadways are very nice for cycling.
*TTL’s Note: Without proper knowledge of the rules of the road, then infrastructure upgrades such as protected and seperated bicycle lanes are useless.
Question # 10: TTL
If the blog readers want to find out more information about the safe cycling classes that you offer, where can they go to find more information?
Answer # 10: Anke
Again they should also get a copy of the Bike Sense Manual which is available online. Lastly they should take the free one day long bicycle safety course.
Question # 11: TTL
Lastly, in closing what are some of your proudest or happiest moments as an activist and safe cycling instructor and do you have any closing comments?
Answer # 11: Anke
I’m extremely happy about the satisfaction I get when I see people [especially her students] change their behaviour and improve their confidence levels on a bicycle. I can notice this in a big way, [over the course of the one day instructional workshop] as they move from being untrained to trained cyclists. I’d also like to say that I am thankful for this blog and other websites like it. They help to show more people, that together we can work together to create smaller [ecological] footprints, which is better for the planet in the long run. Cycling is a big part of the solution to reduce your footprint. If more of us ride our bicycles it will also reduce our collective dependency on oil.
PS: Stayed tuned for Sunday’s post regarding all the equipment you need to make your bicycling goal a reality, as I speak with Gary at North Park Cycles in Victoria. Also upcoming are two interviews with local cycling advocates: Will and Emily from the SPOKES program at the University of Victoria as well as Dan Pollock, a member of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition. Until next time, may you tread lightly.