Vancouver’s Build-a-Bicyclist program

By Emily Jackson
Metro VancouverAmenah Amini wants to learn to ride a bike so she can cycle to school.

It’s a familiar concept for many Vancouverites, but for Amini, a 54-year-old immigrant who wants to bike to English classes, it’s a bit of a dream come true.

Amini is one of 16 newcomers to Vancouver who will get lessons and a bike from the Build-a-Bicyclist program, meant to empower immigrants and low-income residents to access a reliable, cheap form of transit.

It’s the first year the program is able to donate bikes, refurbished from donations of old or used bikes, said Steph Gray, HUB’s bike education program manager, at the first lesson at George Wainburn Park on Monday.

“Just getting out to teach is great, but if you can’t afford a bike it doesn’t go very far,” Gray said as the recipients, mostly women, fussed over their new gear.

The program, supported by local cycling organizations HUB and PEDAL, the Vancouver Foundation and the city, will provide 50 bikes this year, as well as locks and helmets.

The first round of bikes went to English Language Services for Adults (ELSA) students selected by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. based on letters they wrote saying why they wanted to cycle, ISS teacher Andrea Szakos said.

Some want to save money on transit while others wanted to participate in family activities, Szakos said.

The program “makes a huge difference” by teaching people to bike as well as the rules of the road, she said, as some people may have cycled elsewhere but are uncomfortable here.

Others like Amini, who moved to Canada from Iran six years ago, are learning to cycle for the first time. While she took a three-day course with the program last year, it wasn’t enough to feel comfortable on the road considering she’d never cycled before.

She’s looking forward to having her own bike: “It’s a big change.”

reprinted from Metro Vancouver May7,2013
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