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Fostering an inclusive cycling environment in Nova Scotia

September 1, 2023

4-minute read

Established in 1971, the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is the oldest environmental organization in Nova Scotia.

The EAC’s transportation team—one of its seven areas of focus—has long demonstrated how grassroots organizations can grow and adapt to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve. Here, we’ll explore four initiatives that have been promoting equitable access to cycling for the past 25 years.

Bike Again

In the late 1990s, the vast majority of Halifax cyclists relied on for-profit bike shops. For many, the ever-rising cost of parts, tools and repairs made purchasing and maintaining a bike unaffordable. Through engagement and discussions with concerned citizens, the EAC recognized the importance of fostering an inclusive cycling environment in the city. As a result, in the summer of 2000, the EAC piloted Bike Again, the community's very own do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) bicycle repair space.

Bike Again offers the public free access to repair stations, tools, and used bike parts. When visitors enter the shop, they are encouraged to perform their own tune-ups while being supported by Bike Again volunteers.

In addition to helping cyclists fix their bikes, the shop also repairs donated bikes which are then sold to the public at an affordable price.

Since 2000, Bike Again has continually adapted to meet community needs, fixing thousands of bikes in the process. Its success can be attributed to the shop's volunteers who possess a wealth of knowledge and demonstrate great care for the space.

Welcoming Wheels

During the Syrian refugee crisis, Halifax witnessed an influx of newcomers. Among the many challenges they face, access to adequate transportation has proved to be a substantial barrier.

Newcomers cannot typically afford a personal vehicle when they first arrive in a new city, and navigating new roadways or public transportation systems can be extremely overwhelming.

To help mitigate these challenges, in 2015 EAC’s transportation team launched Welcoming Wheels, a program that offers newcomers the opportunity to access and enjoy the benefits of cycling.

Originally operating out of a donated community recreation centre, Welcoming Wheels now calls the Bike Again space home. The EAC partners with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) and the Halifax Refugee Clinic (HRC) to best reach newcomer communities and select appropriate program participants.

At Bike Again, participants are offered a space to repair a donated bike, with the support of Welcoming Wheels volunteers and staff.

Once the bicycle has been refurbished, participants are required to participate in safe cycling education and are provided with free safety equipment such as lights and a helmet. This helps ensure that participants feel confident to safely ride their bike on local roads, allowing them to travel across the city in order to reach the services and resources vital for their everyday life.

Since its inception, Welcoming Wheels has repaired 590 bikes.

Despite the success of Welcoming Wheels, the program brought to light additional gaps in Nova Scotia’s cycling equity. Those who had received a bike through Welcoming Wheels expressed difficulty maintaining and repairing their bikes due to a lack of easy access to shops and tools.

The majority of Nova Scotia’s bike repair shops are for-profit and concentrated in the city centre while a high proportion of newcomers and other equity-deserving groups live in underserved or rural areas. Therefore, a large section of Nova Scotia’s population (including newcomers), lack access to affordable bike repair or tools.

As a result, regular wear and tear—as simple as a flat tire—might prevent people from riding their bike. And so, the EAC’s cycling programs evolved once again!

The Pop-Up Bike Hub

In March 2020, the EAC piloted the Pop-Up Bike Hub (PUBH). The PUBH is a 100-square-foot mobile trailer containing a variety of bike tools, replacement parts and four adaptable bike stands. Every summer, the PUBH travels to underserved communities across Nova Scotia, where staff offer basic bike repair services for free.

The EAC partners with Mi'kmaq and Municipal Physical Activity Leaders (MPALs) to identify the resources and locations best suited for each community. The trailer is typically stationed beside a local school, park, library or community centre.

One of the EAC's many trips has been to Eskasoni, the Maritimes' largest Mi’kmaw community. The EAC reached out to the community following a CBC report on the Eskasoni Summer Bike Rodeo.

Although Eskasoni has long exhibited a vibrant cycling culture, community repairs have been restricted by access to tools. “The closest bike shop is in Sydney, and that’s about 45 minutes away,” notes Wekatesk Augustine, adolescent education/accreditation coordinator with the Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling Association.

The PUBH's first trip to Eskasoni had an amazing turnout, with 150 bikes repaired over three days.

In addition to bike maintenance, partnering communities are often gifted tools, second-hand bikes and/or safe cycling education.

“At its heart, the PUBH is a community space on wheels, a place for people to connect and learn,” says Simone Mutabazi, community cycling activation coordinator with the EAC. “Just being present in that space with people is the part I enjoy the most.”

Over the last three years, the PUBH has collaborated with 29 communities across Nova Scotia, helping over 1,200 dormant bikes get safely rolling again. In 2023 alone, the PUBH plans to reach 17 communities.

The Pop-Up Bike Hub Mini

In the summer of 2022, the EAC piloted the PUBH Mini. The PUBH Mini is an electric cargo bike loaded with tools and supplies needed for simple bike repairs.

Inspired by the community connections that the PUBH sparked, the Mini commutes to underserved Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) communities within a 45-minute ride of the EAC’s office.

Just like its larger predecessor, the PUBH Mini offers simple repairs aimed at getting bikes safely rolling and stopping in order to increase accessibility to cycling in the province.

The EAC's transportation team chose an electric bike because it involves fewer physical constraints and produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a vehicle.

Though just over a year old, the program has already greatly increased the number of communities that the EAC reaches each summer. In the 2023 summer season, the Mini will complete weekly drop-ins at five partner locations and assist in the completion of safe cycling education at schools and summer camps.

Furthermore, the PUBH Mini has partnered with the Wonder'neath Art Bikers, a local program that delivers art programming via bikes. Together, the two teams aim to foster a culture of care, creativity, and cycling.

The Ecology Action Centre’s impact

At present, all four programs remain operational. Together, their stories exemplify the need for similar community programs to be continually adapted in order to fill gaps identified by the communities they serve.

The programs have helped to improve community resilience by using low-carbon and active transportation solutions. They have been designed to not only reduce gaps in infrastructure but to simultaneously address cultural and socio-economic barriers.

Moving forward, the EAC will continue to strive for change and make Nova Scotia a place where people have equitable access to the resources they need to make cycling a part of their lives.

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