“I don’t own a car. I bike.”
Brad Wade says his conversations with friends frequently go down this path.
“I sold my car in 2015 with the intention of using my bike as my primary mode of transportation year round,” said the Memorial alumnus (B.Sc.’17).
And he does. Mr. Wade bikes all over the city, every day. Leaving his home off MacDonald Drive, he frequently travels Portugal Cove Road, Torbay Road, Elizabeth Avenue, throughout downtown and even Prince Philip Drive.
What’s more, Mr. Wade lives with a heart condition and one lung. While his medical specialists encourage him to know his limits, they also encourage him to keep doing what he’s doing — because it’s working.
“I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and that’s because I’m biking,” he said proudly. “Yes, biking for me is about health and well-being, but it’s also about knowing there’s one less car on the road.”
Occasionally, Mr. Wade will take public transit or hitch a ride with friends to give himself a rest, but otherwise he keeps peddling.
While biking, he finds the majority of motorized vehicles give him space, but he’s had a few close calls. Just two weeks ago, Mr. Wade was riding on the parkway when a pickup truck with a full load of lumber came within inches of his bike. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his first near miss.
The worst biking incident he experienced was in 2016. Mr. Wade was on Morrissey Road near the Engineering building on Memorial’s St. John’s campus when a car turning right hit his bike’s front rack — and kept driving.
“I was okay, but pretty shook up. I remember sitting down and calling my mother and saying, ‘Mom, I was just hit by a car, but I’m okay.’”
He later reported the incident to police, but without a licence plate number, the incident was just a statistic.
These kinds of stories are common to Dr. Daniel Fuller, Canada research chair in population physical activity and a professor in Memorial’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation.
An avid cyclist himself, Dr. Fuller is the St. John’s lead on the research project Bikemaps.org.
The project provides a free app to cyclists and encourages them to report incidents or warnings.
It could be road hazards, thefts, near misses, accidents and others. The purpose is to understand the under-reporting of collision data and provide data for municipal planners about cycling safety.
“We can access police and hospital data on cycling accidents, but those are the most serious cases,” he said.
“Overall, collisions involving cyclists are under-reported. By having better data about collisions and close calls in the city, we can better assess the risks and ultimately make recommendations to inform policy.”
Freedom to move
Camila de Paula de Lima, a graduate student at the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, also chooses to navigate St. John’s on a bicycle, no matter the weather.
As a teenager, Ms. Lima was drawn to the freedom biking offered. She could go anywhere she wanted on her bike, without her parents. It was more than just the freedom; it was social as well.
“I moved a lot. Biking helped me meet my neighbours, get to know them, and make friends.”
Ms. Lima started to get serious about biking as her main mode of transportation when she was finishing up her undergraduate degree back home in Brazil.
“I had to commute 20 minutes by car to get to class,” she said. “After a while the commute, the tight timelines and stress — it got to me. I also had to compensate for the reduction in my physical activity.”
In 2016 Ms. Lima moved to St. John’s to attend Memorial University. Motivated to cycle in St. John’s, Ms. Lima explored her options for acquiring a bike.
“For me, biking is more than transportation. It’s empowering.”
She scored a previously loved bicycle for $25 and brought it to the MUN Bike Share program for fine tuning. They replaced a wheel and fixed it up for her so she could ride comfortably.
“For me, biking is more than transportation. It’s empowering: the freedom to transport yourself, increasing your physical activity and feeling the fresh air in your face is liberating.”
Sometimes though, the fresh air is also freezing, wet or both. While the weather in St. John’s can be a deterrent, Ms. Lima prepares by dressing appropriately. Unfortunately, she does find there is a lack of respect, or perhaps understanding of bikers, by local motorists.
“There are rainy days when I just get soaked [from the spray from cars]!”
The Bikemaps.org research project is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and is ongoing in six cities across Canada. In St. John’s, the project partners are Memorial University, Safety N.L., the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the City of St. John’s.