For HCC member Oriana Duinker, a regular bike ride involves pedalling her child around Halifax in a cargo bike. “I think that a lot of parents view children as a reason to buy a car – I think that makes no sense,” says Oriana, who describes that she and her partner got more into cycling when their child was born. Kelsey Lane of the Halifax Cycling Coalition met with Oriana to talk about how she uses a bike to move herself and her family around Halifax. Segments of the conversation are below and have been edited for clarity and length. Thanks for your steady support of the cycling movement in Halifax, Oriana!
Q: Why do you bike?
A: For a million reasons! First off, it’s cheaper, and I think that is a reason why a lot of people bike. I think we may have been able to afford a car if we wanted to, but we chose not to buy a car for many reasons. Even though we have a pretty high-end cargo bike, it was not only cheaper than buying a car, but also cheaper than the cost of car ownership for even just one year [which is estimated by CAA at around $10,000 a year]. So, a bike is cheaper than that.
We also bike for environmental reasons, which, as a younger generation, is always on our minds. We think a lot about climate change, and it’s clear that cars have a huge environmental impact on the planet. Biking obviously has a much smaller carbon footprint, so that’s another reason we choose to bike as a family.
Another reason is that biking is so much more fun! I myself don’t drive, but whenever I’m stuck in rush hour traffic as a passenger, I can’t even imagine how people do it. It would drive me nuts! Sitting in traffic means so much wasted time and frustration. I’m not interested in that at all, and that’s why I’m going to bike.
And exercise! Although, perhaps that doesn’t fully apply to me since the cargo bike has e-assist, I still have to work to make it move (even though I don’t slog uphill on a bike like my husband does every day!).
Finally, as parents, we feel it is important to teach kids that active transportation is a good and important thing to do from a young age. We are very consciously trying to get our toddler into bike culture.
Q: Have you always biked? How did cycling come about for you?
A: I biked as a kid, but not as a daily thing. I grew up in a family of six people, and we had one car for the most part, but our parents mostly walked everywhere. We lived within walking distance to our schools and other amenities, so my parents preferred to walk or bike as much as they could.
I started biking every day for commuting purposes when my husband and I moved to Oxford in the UK. We lived and worked there for a year and a half. The cycling culture in the UK was great, especially in a small university town with a large student population. Bikes were a cheap and easy way to get around in Oxford, especially when we knew we were only there temporarily.
Then we moved to Toronto, and we kept cycling. Of course, bike commuting in downtown Toronto was terrifying, but we got used to it – at least in downtown Toronto, there is a critical mass of cyclists, which makes you feel safe. And now, here we are in Halifax with a cargo bike – riding our bikes every day!
Q: Because Halifax is an older city, we hear that it’s difficult to implement bike lanes because streets are too narrow, etc. Did you find that Oxford had appropriate facilities for biking safely?
A: Oxford had a lot of narrow streets, but also a lot of bike paths that weren’t even next to the streets, that were just through farmers’ fields and pastureland. For instance, on my commute from our house to the museum where I worked in the city centre, I had to go through a field with cattle in it, across tiny bike bridges, and through a large park.
I think our prior experiences biking in different types of cities has given us a sense of comfort and the courage to bike in a city like Halifax, which lacks the necessary biking infrastructure.
Q: After having children, did your perception of cycling change (i.e., did you cycle less often)?
A: We got more into it! We discovered more cycling options as a family! It might have even been before our child was born that my husband started researching cargo bikes. And it wasn’t too difficult for him to convince me about the idea.
I think that a lot of parents view children as a reason to buy a car – I think that makes no sense! I just don’t understand the logic behind it. They think that when they have a kid they’re going to go have to travel farther or take the kid somewhere more often – but I think if you have a good stroller, transit pass, and/or a great bike, you really wouldn’t need a car that often. All of these options are so easy and affordable, so we didn’t think we’d need a car when starting our family. In fact, one of the best decisions of our life as a family was to buy the cargo bike.
Q: For our listeners who are wondering how this cargo bike looks, could you briefly describe it?
A: I would describe it as a wheelbarrow bike. It’s a nice upright bike, with upright handlebars that mean I’m not hunched over when I’m riding it. We have the long version which has a long box in the front, and a bench with seatbelts for two kids.
And we also made the decision to include – and I would recommend anyone biking with kids to consider this – an electric assist add-on to the bike. Let’s say you have 50 lbs of cargo in the bucket – you couldn’t easily bike up Morris Street, for example, with that much weight on any bike, let alone a heavy cargo bike! That was advice that we got from a cargo-biking family in Toronto, and they told us, “We didn’t think we needed it, but you’ll never regret having it.” It’s true.
Q: How does having e-assist make it feel?
A: First off, having e-assist makes it feel like you’re riding a normal bike, rather than a 100-pound bike. Secondly, it makes it so easy to manoeuvre the bike. What I really like about e-assist is how it helps when I’m in traffic and I have to stop on a hill. Trying to get going again without an e-assist would be nuts! I would probably just roll backwards. I would be holding up traffic, and I would be a lot more frustrating and unpredictable as a cyclist. E-assist gives me a boost of energy to start biking easily when I’m at a standstill.
Another great accessory that we got is a canopy – a sturdy plastic rain cover, which clips onto the box beautifully – useful for rain or snow. But not wind, since it can act like a big sail! So as a word of caution, if you are going to use a rain canopy on your bike, don’t use it on a windy day.
We can carry a lot of things on our cargo bike. When we had to move house recently, we were able to carry boxes of our stuff on the bike. We can carry our weekly groceries. And last Christmas, we even carried our Christmas tree home on the bike! I think we probably carry more on our bike every day than most people carry in their cars. I assume that when most people commute, they just take themselves and their purse or a gym bag. People rarely use cars to their carrying capacity. If we really need a car, then we use CarShare. Sometimes we do need to use a car – very rarely, but sometimes.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who bikes in the city a lot and is about to have a child?
A: Parents naturally get nervous taking their child out anywhere – on the road, in a car, or on a bike, and I know it can be scary on a bike. I think you need to be confident in your own cycling abilities before you go on the road with a kid, just to make it easier on yourself. If you’re nervous to ride in traffic (which is fine), go on quieter streets and plan out your route beforehand. We plan our routes to various places we often go (like the library, the Discovery Centre, museums, etc.) and we know which are the best routes for biking. I myself avoid certain streets. For instance, during rush hour, I won’t bike on North Street. It’s just too crowded.
So really, it all boils down to being confident in your own abilities. And although drivers sometimes get frustrated with cyclists, when they see a kid in the box I find that they often give me more room – not always, but usually drivers seem to drive a little more carefully.
Even if you don’t bike with kids on your bike as a part of your family’s daily commute, biking with your children as a recreational activity, or on weekends at the Oval, is a great thing![About biking with children]: There are so many benefits for children who bike or walk places. My toddler knows where so many landmarks are on the Peninsula, they know the routes to so many people’s houses, they know street names, they have noticed so many interesting things! They are even getting familiar with proper hand signals, and learning left from right.
My husband recently read a study about children who either walked or cycled versus kids who were driven – and the findings were that kids who walked or cycled had a much better mental map of what their neighbourhood looked like and a better sense of where the safe and unsafe places are. I think this is fascinating, and it makes sense – when you walk or cycle, you go much more slowly than you would if in a car, and you have the chance to actually notice things around you.
Q: [Political] What would you say to a counsellor who is maybe hesitant about setting up infrastructure/bike lanes?
A: We need more infrastructure! Protected bike lanes will go a long way towards encouraging new cyclists to try riding on streets on a daily basis. It would help parents feel safer about cycling with their children on the streets.
On the Peninsula, I feel that the councillors are pretty on-board with things, but for a councillor who is hesitant, I would urge them to question why they are not supportive of bike lanes. I don’t think they could find any reason that takes precedence over my and my child’s right to safety on the road. Their constituents’ convenience, the convenience of parking, shorter commute times – none of that should deny us our right to a safe means of travel. We have every right to choose our mode of transport and use it safely on the streets of Halifax.
If things were equal between cars and bikes, we would already have proper bike infrastructure (just as is already all there for cars). But seeing that there are so many more health benefits, economic benefits, social benefits, and environmental benefits to cycling – considering all of that, we should have better infrastructure than cars! We should be prioritized across the board, for all of those reasons. But we are not even close to equal with cars in terms of infrastructure yet.
Q: Moving forward, what do you hope for this community (North End Halifax in particular)?
A: I hope for more infrastructure. I’d love to see more families on bikes, and I hope that’s something we can encourage through events like Bike Week. The more people do it, the more it attracts others to start doing it too. Especially when kids see it and realize how fun it can be, I think parents will be more inclined to bike as a family.
Q: Why do you support the HCC?
A: Because I think that the work you’re doing is very important, and if you were not doing it, I don’t think we would be seeing the kinds of results that we’ve seen in Halifax in recent years. I love knowing that if I’m unable to get to a public meeting or consultation, that you’ll still be there standing up for all of our concerns. You encourage us to write to our councillors, which I think is important. We all want these results, but we all have busy lives and we don’t always have the time to do the most important thing [emailing our representatives]. I appreciate all the good work that your team does!