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Bike to Work and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition (GVCC) have a long and complex history culminating in the formation of Capital bike. Bike to Work originated as a GVCC initiative starting in 1995. In 1997, the GVCC decided to turn Bike to Work into a separate organization in order to separate advocacy and education/promotion, as at the time it was felt that the two were incompatible. GVCC continued with a membership volunteer model while Bike to Work operated with staff supported by sponsorship and grants. In the past decade or so, that split made less and less sense in light of the growing acceptance of cycling infrastructure, in particular All Ages and Abilities Infrastructure.
GVCC was founded in 1991 as a coalition of disparate groups: cyclists comfortable with riding alongside motor vehicles, those advocating for development of regional trails, and bike lane/street facility advocates. The GVCC was founded as an advocacy organization and has been part of nearly every major cycling infrastructure success over the past 30 years.
The 1990s and 2000s saw numerous successes, including the creation of the Galloping Goose/Lochside Regional Trails, on-street bike lanes, BikeSense and Cycle Therapy. GVCC advocacy led to the implementation of road diets (reducing the space on roads used by cars) on numerous roads. GVCC also initiated and ran the first Bike to Work Week, and campaigned to have BC Transit install bus racks installed on buses.
By the early 2000s, the GVCC had reached ~1000 members, acquired street side office space, and enjoyed an extensive team of volunteers. However, the organization saw a split in the membership over the issue of creating an Executive Director position for the organization. After a very contentious AGM in 2002, a number of individuals left the GVCC to form Victoria Bike and Walk Society, with a greater focus on advocacy and research. For the rest of the 2000s, the GVCC struggled to maintain its membership and revenues, seeing declines that lasted until around 2008.
By 2010, the GVCC was posting stable membership numbers, an active Board, and a renewed focus on advocacy driven by the Johnson Street Bridge replacement referendum. For most of the 2010s, the GVCC focused on four main pillars:
The GVCC also developed several important programs over the years, including Bike Valet, a bike parking service for events; and Bike Lockers, a partnership with BC Transit that saw the GVCC manage locker rentals at bus exchanges.
The GVCC successfully applied for and administered a number of grants for capacity building and running a speaker series, but faced major challenges in growing and retaining membership, despite major advocacy successes. By 2017, the volunteer editorial team for Cycle Therapy stepped back without a succession plan. By 2019, a number of capable Board members moved on without finding strong replacements.
Where early campaigns involved direct action and complaints from outside the organization, including activities such as Critical Mass, GVCC advocacy evolved over time, becoming more involved with lobbying politicians and government staff. This took a lot of volunteer time, especially as GVCC advocacy discussions largely took place at the board level.
Meanwhile, many successful cycling organizations (ex: HUB, Cycle Toronto) combined advocacy, events, education, and other initiatives in a single organization. Given the shifting advocacy landscape , represented by changes such as wide acceptance of the All Ages and Abilities cycling network, the GVCC recognized a need to continue advocacy work alongside more services and events. This lead to the exploration of reuniting the Bike to Work Society and the GVCC.
In 1995, a group of commuter cyclists in the GVCC who wanted to improve the profile and spread their love of cycling spearheaded the first-ever Bike to Work Week (BTWW).
The first Bike to Work Week primarily targeted government employees, and was funded and backed by the (former) BC Ministry of Government. 50 teams and 500 participants took part. Over the next few years, interest in the event grew. In 1997, that core group of commuter cyclists established the Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society (GVBTWS, formerly Bike to Work Victoria) a non- profit society, to:
To achieve its mandate, the GVBTWS coordinated two program streams: Events and Education.
The GVBTWS’ flagship program was Bike to Work Week. This week-long event continues to happen every year during the last week of May, renamed to Go By Bike Week in 2020. Its purpose is to raise the profile of cycling and to expand bicycle use, and is now run by Capital Bike.
Over the years, this event saw steady growth, with an average of 8,000 participants each year, reaching its peak in 2019 on its 25th anniversary, of 10,050 participants.
Spring Go By Bike Week is complemented by Fall Go By Bike Week and Winter Go By Bike Week.
The other major event stream, which dovetails with Bike to Work Week, was Bike to School Week. Since 2017 the province has offered funding for Bike to School events for kids and youth. The organizing principle for schools is focused on classroom participation.
To improve the proficiency of cyclists, the safety of commuter cycling, and to promote cooperation and safety among all road users, the GVBTWS organized bike skills courses and workshops. This education program stream evolved over the years.
Education has played a part in BTWW’s overall program, although for most of its history, that part has been relatively small and variable – dependent mainly on grants. The education philosophy has evolved along with cycling infrastructure—at the start emphasizing biking in traffic, with some exposure to the regional trails. In recent years, use of the dedicated cycling facilities has formed a larger part of classes, particularly for adult courses.
With the advent of more cycling infrastructure, education is identified as one of the major barriers to encouraging new cyclists to become more active. Education is now some 50% of expenditures, rising from around 10% in earlier years.
While the Bike to Work Society was well funded and organized, they looked to build on the successes of Go By Bike Week and Bike Skills education. What programs to focus on? The GVCC’s grassroots connections, strong advocacy side, and abundance of programs made a merger a natural option. What comes next for Capital Bike? The future lies open.