Saskatoon Cycles Alumni: Sean Shaw

Saskatoon Cycles has been advocating for a more cycle-friendly city since 2010, and over the years a number of wonderful people have graced the organization with their time, skill, and passion. We’ll be featuring some of these builders in an ongoing series, starting with Sean Shaw, Saskatoon Cycles’ first elected chair. He currently resides in Victoria, BC and works for the Provincial Government.

Q. What inspired you to help create Saskatoon Cycles?

A: There’s a bit of a backstory of how things started.
 In 2009 (I think in the fall), Curtis Olson and Carrie Catherine organized a mass ride with food/music through the downtown as a ‘thank you’ to the city for painting bike lane ‘sharrows’. I believe the same group then worked to organize the first Ice Cycle in 2010, which is where I got involved. My inspiration was to build on the success/momentum (small as it was) of those events, so I helped organize a group of 10 people to come together to figure out what to do next. That became a full-day brainstorming session at Cathy Watts’ house; at the end we had picked out a name and registered the website for a group committed to better cycling infrastructure through a single/unified/consistent voice to speak up for it to city hall and the wider community.
We started meeting weekly as sort of a collective at the Mendel Art Gallery and after a few months the decision was made to focus on advocacy and working with City Hall/politicians to get incremental improvements to cycling infrastructure in Saskatoon. A board was eventually struck to replace the collective approach, and I was elected chair.

Q. Did you and the group have specific goals at the beginning?

A: I believe shortly after we created Saskatoon Cycles, we made the commitment that we would sign up 1,500 members as an indication of the support there was for better cycling infrastructure in Saskatoon. I believe we made that commitment public and essentially raised the membership from social media posts, media interviews, and doing our first ever ‘bike tagging’ (hanging tags on bikes parked all over the city).

Getting to that first commitment of 1,500 supporters in 3 months – We kinda faked that until we made it; we had no clue if we could get that much support!

Q. Do you remember any major hurdles to getting things moving early on?

A: It was getting supporters of the organization to buy into a pragmatic, constant, approach, to work within the system to create change instead of standing on the outside banging on the doors and yelling. When we first started, there were those who wanted to agitate and it was hard to make the decision to work within the system knowing we would lose some core and key early supporters.

Q. Do any specific successes stand out during your time with the organization?

  • Building IceCycle and keeping it going. 
  • Doing a SunCycle and getting the Mayor Don Atchinson out to it and on a bike (a trike actually); he was all but vocally opposed to cycling so that was a huge win. 
  • Generally becoming the go-to group for the media for any story remotely related to active transportation (we spent a lot of time doing interviews, TV/radio/newspaper…)
  • Bike Valet – we didn’t start it but we were able to get it to be sustainable.
  • One of the biggest, of course, was getting the ‘pilot’ separated lanes on 23rd and 4th St – that was a lot of work by a lot of people.
  • Building a sustainable organization; it’s so amazing to see you are still going after a decade!

Q. Crystal ball time: where do you see Canadian cycling (participation, infrastructure, etc.) going in the next ten years?

I only see it growing.

Moving to Victoria made me realize how much work there was still to do in Saskatoon (that was 6 yrs ago). But it was also interesting to see that even though cycling was supported much more here, it still had an uphill battle. What ultimately has helped the most in transforming Victoria (it had its first separated lane built in 2015, and now we have a large and growing AAA network) was a city council that fully supports cycling but also learned to stop asking ‘should we build it’ and shifted to ‘we are building it, help us build it better’.

Victoria has been a great example (weather aside; being able to bike 365 days a year is a distinct advantage) of how getting down to actually building a connected network rapidly can cause a wholesale shift in attitudes of the whole city.

Build it and they will come…

Q. Any other comments/observations in general?

Saskatoon, like other Prairie cities, has the challenge of winter. Ultimately, figuring out how to adapt a good cycling network to the 3-5 months of winter or figuring out how to rationalize a network that may be largely unused during Nov-March is the biggest challenge you face in gaining broader support (publicly/politically) in Saskatoon. I don’t have the answer but perhaps connecting and networking with counterparts in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg or Nordic European countries will prove useful.

Oh, and keep a consistent flow of new people/new energy into your group; it’s tiring work!

Sean and partner Steph in Desolation Sound.

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