When Gord Johns departed the McLean Mill courtyard on one of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce’s new Bike SEAT e-bikes last month, he called it his victory ride.
While the chamber was kicking off its new program, Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay-Alberni, was celebrating news that the federal Liberal government has committed $400 million over the next five years for active transportation trails.
Johns gained a reputation as the bicycle-riding MP during his first year working on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. He even rode his bike to work during snowstorms.
During the early part of his first term of office, in 2017, he kicked off a “Ride the Riding” promotion where he rode to all corners of his riding while promoting his national cycling strategy.
“The push for a national cycling strategy and for dedicated funds for active transportation started here in our riding of Courtenay-Alberni,” Johns said. Together with volunteer organizations such as Cycle Alberni, Comox Valley Cycling Coalition, groups in Oceanside and also participation from Velo Canada Bikes, Johns requested and received support from Port Alberni to Cumberland, Tofino to Victoria, and even Ottawa, Toronto and St. John’s, NL.
“Local governments have a difficult task,” he said in explaining why this funding is important. “Their first priority is to make sure you can turn on the taps and flush the toilets. It’s very difficult for them to carve out funding for active transportation, to do their part when it comes to climate change, so they were thrilled to see this money.
“It’s the first time in history that dedicated funds for active transportation from a federal perspective. This is going to be a five-fold increase in what was being spent per annum on active transportation. Hopefully we’ll see some of that money land directly here in the Alberni Valley.”
Johns advocates for active transportation because, he says, they lower greenhouse gas emissions and get people outdoors using different modes of transportation, which means people are healthier—lowering the cost for health care and possibly infrastructure maintenance.
Johns, the Courtenay-Alberni MP, was one of four people taking a guided ride on the chamber’s e-bikes, purchased with a New Horizons for Seniors federal grant. He called the project innovative, and said it is one way people can learn more about active transportation routes in the community.
Former mayor John Douglas also sees Bike SEAT as a way to synergize with Port Alberni’s Active Transportation Plan. Douglas, also an e-bike rider, advocated while on council for this plan.
“It’s a great thing,” he said of the Bike SEAT program. “It orients people to another mode of transportation, it helps the city and the population orient to the fact you don’t need a pickup truck to get around town. And also about sharing the road—the more people are riding bikes the more people will realize how important it is to share the road.”
One positive side effect from the coronavirus pandemic has been a boom in bicycle sales as more people stick close to home and look for outdoor pursuits. Douglas said there are benefits to riding a bike in town—among them, the slower pace means you get to see more and meet more people.
Johns would attest to that.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.