While conversations about bike infrastructure in Edmonton happen both online and offline, one local blog is trying to add more to the discussion by providing some extra context that doesn’t focus solely on motorist interactions, placement of the lanes or amount of useage. Instead, #YEGbike, born out of a Twitter conversation, nurtured by a Google Doc and now powered by WordPress, is a website dedicated to putting a human face on the cycling debate.
(Editor’s note: David Shepard, a member of the Local Good blog team, was the most appropriate person to speak on behalf of #YEGbike.)
What’s the story of how this came about? What was the need you saw in the community?
The idea for #YEGBike came from a discussion between a group of us that had connected via Twitter over our mutual love of biking, and winter bike commuting in particular. We were talking about the current state of the debate about improving cycling infrastructure in Edmonton and wondering what could be done to help move it ahead. We talked about the political situation, public perception, and the backlash we saw happen last year.
As we were tweeting back and forth, I had an idea and said, “What if we created a blog and featured profiles of cyclists in Edmonton as a way to put a more human face on the issue?” Running into people on the road when you’re frustrated or in a hurry is pretty anonymous, and it’s easy to dehumanize others in that space. Creating these profiles and sharing them via social media could be a way to reverse that and help everyone realize that there are more cyclists out there than they might realize, and many of them are their friends, neighbours and co-workers.
The idea met with a fair amount of enthusiasm, so I set up an online questionnaire to gather info and we started seeing responses right away. A couple of weeks later one of the others set up a blog page, I worked with a friend in graphic design to create a template, and the #irideYEG campaign was on.
What’s the response been so far?
So far it’s been great. We’ve had nearly 60 responses to the survey, and there are more followers on the Twitter account everyday. It’s been fantastic to see so many cyclists coming out wanting to support the idea and join in.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I think there are a lot of riders out there who want to see cycle-commuting in Edmonton become safer and more accepted, but have maybe felt isolated or unsure how to make their voice heard. It’s been really encouraging to me to see that a small and relatively simple action can resonate with so many.
I’m also continually impressed with the wide diversity of people who cycle-commute – so many different professions, body types, philosophies and backgrounds. It’s an amazing hidden community.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely. It’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with a lot of people I may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.
What’s the next level for your project? What are you most excited about that’s coming up?
Well, we’re going to continue creating and posting profiles every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and hope to include some higher profile cycle-commuters in politics and business around the city. We also plan to expand the blog to include posts discussing some of the demographics and statistics on urban cycling in Edmonton and clarify some of the issues around the expansion of bike infrastructure.
We also hope it will continue to expand connections between cyclists in Edmonton. We have a core group that regularly meets for beer and conversation at various locations in town and we’d like to keep expanding on that. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet some great folks I may never have met otherwise.
If people want to find out more about your project, support it or get involved, what should they do?
If they’d like to be profiled for #irideYEG, they can fill out the questionnaire here and send a picture to bikeyeg[at]gmail[dot]com. They can follow our posts and find out about our get-togethers via the blog at yegbike.wordpress.com or our Twitter account (@bikeyeg). We also have a Facebook group for longer discussions and to post events. We’re always open to new faces and new ideas to help spread the word.
Why does this work in Edmonton?
I think Edmonton has a strong community of people who love to bike. The river valley trail system is a big part of that. A lot of us got started by riding the trails there and then decided to branch out and make biking a part of our everyday life.
Edmonton is also a reasonably progressive city with active arts communities and a growing population interested in sustainable living. People are friendly and want to make connections. There’s a lot of energy and potential to tap into.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m a big believer in civil conversation, rational debate, and consideration of context. I want to believe it’s possible to turn down the rhetoric and have an honest discussion about a long-term vision for our city, and how solid, accessible bike infrastructure can be a part of that. Hopefully we can be part of that on a grassroots level and help move the issue forward.