If you build it, they will cycle
Ben Buckwold is a father, bike enthusiast, and director of bikeways and Blue Route implementation for Bicycle Nova Scotia.
A planner by trade, Buckwold is pushing for transformational changes in how Nova Scotians move around the province.
Bicycle Nova Scotia is a not-for-profit organization promoting cycling culture, improving infrastructure, and strengthening the cycling community across the province.
By improving Nova Scotia’s infrastructure, Buckwold believes more people will hop on their bicycles, not just for recreation, but as a viable mode of transportation. For inspiration, he looks to countries like The Netherlands where close to 30 per cent of all trips made in the country are by bike. “That’s pretty incredible,” said Buckwold, who lives in Halifax.
What work projects are you most excited about?
“The Blue Route. We see that one as having the largest amount of change.”
Inspired by Quebec’s renowned Route Verte, Nova Scotia’s Blue Route will be a 3,000-km bicycle-friendly network of designated bicycle routes on roads, streets, and trails connecting rural and urban areas across the province.
Buckwold is working in partnership with the provincial government, municipalities, and community trail builders to develop the Blue Route network. He would love to see it completed by 2025, but knows a lot of work still lies ahead.
“The fact that it is happening and being invested in, is a big deal.”
So far about 450 km of the route is done. Last summer, the part of the trail running from Hantsport to Grand-Pré was completed. The route’s first section, a 56-km stretch from Pictou to East Mountain near Truro, opened in 2015.
What are you trying to change?
“We want better transportation options for Nova Scotians,” he said.
“Infrastructure is the biggest deterrent in getting more people cycling right now.
“Making the investment into infrastructure has an incredible amount of potential,” he added. “It’s not about doing things for cyclists, it’s about creating opportunities for all people.”
What drives you to pursue that change?
“I see a lot of unrealized potential with cycling in Nova Scotia.
“I want to get to a place where we see varied modes of transportation and that they’re equally valued,” he added.
What’s the most challenging part of your work?
“It takes a lot of commitment and belief that the work is going to make a difference,” he said. “There has to be a long-term perspective.”
“We’re trying to turn a corner on a trajectory that was heading in a different direction.”
By that, Buckwold means instead of designing roads and cities for cars, like-minded people like him are boldly pushing a new attitude about our transportation system. He’s calling for the building of safer cycling networks that connect a system of traffic-calmed local street bikeways, protected bike lanes, pathways and trails.
What’s rewarding about the work you do?
“Cycling is an activity that is a really pleasant, enjoyable thing. You have a lot of freedom on your bicycle. It is a nice thing to be working to support something like that.”
What is unique about being in Nova Scotia and doing the work you do?
“Nova Scotia has a lot of smaller but relatively vibrant communities. I think we have an exciting opportunity to connect these communities with designated bicycle routes.”
What place in Canada inspires you?
“Vancouver has been the most progressive. They probably have the greatest example of high-quality bike networks.”
Looking ahead to 2019, what are you hoping for?
“I am hoping in 2019 we see home-grown examples of game-changing projects that give Nova Scotians the chance to experience riding on top-quality bicycle infrastructure. There are a lot of best practices from around the world we can learn from but having true success stories of our own is much needed.
“HRM has some really progressive bike network plans,” he added. “It would be super exciting to see the plan implemented.”
What’s on your reading list?
Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett.
What message could you share with everyone in Atlantic Canada?
“If we can remove a lot of barriers and safety concerns for people (by having more designated bike lanes and routes), I think more and more people down the road will look to their bicycles as a way to get to work and to pick up groceries.
“We could really enhance the quality of life for many people.”
What advice do you have for readers who are in the first decade of their career?
“Be aware of what is going on around you and around your community. There is a lot you can learn from other people and other places.”