Cyclists sail for Salt Spring Island
Speaking by phone from Salt Spring Island, cyclist John Rowlandson has trouble containing his excitement.
Who can blame him? The 54-year-old—who has the phone voice of someone 20 years younger—is about to become a part of local cycling history. Rowlandson, a director of a nonprofit cycling-advocacy group called Island Pathways, is organizing a fun-packed three-day cycling and music event called Velo Village, which will include the first bicycle-only B.C. Ferries crossing from Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour. He told the Georgia Straight by phone from his Ganges office that he expects 1,500 cyclists to land on Salt Spring for Velo Village, which runs from next Thursday to Saturday (June 21 to 23).
“If it is a great weekend, and the stars line up the way they should, then…there will be more people riding bicycles than driving cars on this island—and that is going to give everyone a look at what the future is for cycling,” Rowlandson said. “You can do it in the city in little pieces, but it kind of drops off at the edges real fast. In a place like Ganges, if there are 1,500 cyclists there, everyone will know it.”
B.C. Ferries gave Rowlandson the all-clear earlier this year to start building an event with the bikes-only ferry crossing at the heart of it. Cyclists will pay $20, according to Rowlandson, with $10 of that going to the ferry fare and the other $10 to the Velo Village ride. Event and registration information can be found at velovillage.ca/, where riders can also learn about a far-reaching cycling and rural mobility conference, which costs $75.
The member of Parliament for Salt Spring Island happens to be Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May, who exuded a similar level of enthusiasm as Rowlandson. “The whole concept of Velo Village is exciting,” she said on the line from Ottawa, “and it’s really tons of wonderful volunteers on Salt Spring Island who have been working very hard on it.”
The crossing sets sail at 10 a.m. on June 23, and only 400 cyclists will make the cut to become part of history, but you can get on any regularly scheduled ferry at any time if you don’t make it on that sailing.
B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall told the Straight by phone from her Victoria office that this is the first bike-only ferry trip since the corporation was created 52 years ago. “We certainly take bicycles on all of our ferries,” she acknowledges, “but because of this particular event, it was easier for them just to charter the whole vessel because there are going to be so many of them.”
According to Rowlandson, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, so to speak. After discussions with the ferry corporation in 2011, he said, the organizers were told no vessel would be available to take only bikes. That was because this crossing is typically very busy, and the corporation accommodates all modes of transportation equally.
“There have been so many instances where we’ve come up against a wall—and we just jump over it,” Rowlandson said. “We went to B.C. Ferries and we said, ‘Look, Velo-City is happening [in Vancouver from June 26 to 29]. The Victoria International Cycling Festival is happening [from June 1 to 24]. All of this stuff is happening. And it’s going to happen here too. We’re going to invite as many people as we can to come here, and we think you’ve got a real logistical and safety issue on your hands if you let cyclists go willy-nilly through your parking lot from all of these ferries and then make their way onto Salt Spring.’ ”
Then Rowlandson suggested that the corporation start its summer schedule a week early, and bingo, the organizers got their wish.
The only vehicle on the vessel will be a flatbed trailer to accommodate the band that will play, according to Rowlandson. Once the hundreds of cyclists and bikes have convened at Fulford Harbour, they’ll ride into the main town of Ganges.
“It’s going up Beaver Point Road and along Beddis Road, which is probably one of the sweetest rural routes ever laid out,” Rowlandson said. “It is awesome. It’s almost exactly the same distance [as going on the main road], but Lee Hill is a real deathtrap and very hard to cycle, even for a good cyclist. We know that a lot of people will be getting off their bikes to walk up, and there’s a lot of traffic on that road, regardless. Again, the traffic engineers said, ‘Take it this way and it will get the rural charm piece and also be a lot safer.’ ”
Rowlandson likened it to a rural Critical Mass ride, except, he claimed, “It’s going to be a lot more fun.”