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Meet Arthur Orsini: VCH Healthy Transportation Lead

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With Bike to Work Week and the Clean Commuter and Wellness Challenge right around the corner, we sat down to talk with Arthur Orsini, active transportation facilitator with Vancouver Coastal Health. Arthur also works with a Transportation Demand Management group, serving all four Lower Mainland health organizations, helping to promote and advocate for active and clean commuting opportunities for staff from all Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, Providence Health Care and PHSA.

Arthur began working at VCH during the planning and community-engagement phase of creating VGH’s Cycling Centre. He works out of the VGH Commuter Centre, has been a bike commuter for over 30 years and has never owned a car. We asked him for his tips for active commuters and a healthy lifestyle.


Q. Tell us about your role. What inspires you to work in active transportation?

“I have been working in active transportation promotion since the 90s, and the basis of what I do focuses on community engagement. My work aims to help lower barriers to active transportation for people who want to make their commute more active.

“Those who walk and bike to work really do seem to enjoy it — myself included. Generally, it’s not difficult, but as it is not the norm, too many people think that the car is their only option. For those who don’t yet know how doable active transportation can be, a bit of guidance or coaching may be needed. That’s where I come in. Over the years, I’ve worked directly with groups of children, adults and teenagers — it is very inspiring when they try succeed.”

Q. What do you enjoy most about your role?

“I really love that I get to support people and communities in identifying real solutions that are far simpler than they could have ever imagined. It is fun, and I’m reminded of that each time someone asks, ‘Really, there’s such a job as that?’ ‘Yup, I say, I help to make not driving to work safer, more comfortable and more convenient.’”

Q. Since you have been the active transportation facilitator, what programs have you been most excited about?

“Our #BeSeeninDarkCoats fashion show launched earlier this year to address a gap in walking promotion. Amongst walking advocates around the globe, it seemed to be the first effort to highlight stylish and creative approaches to making dark-winter-wear more visible. (I mean, not asking pedestrians to wear blinky lights or construction vests.) It was fun to create this campaign, and so cool to see the responses and submissions. Stay tuned for an even larger event and fashion show this autumn.

“One of my favourite ideas from the first show came from a guy, Jason Cheung, who had turned up the collar on his coat and sewn a reflective strip underneath it: simple, subtle and brilliant! This fall we will get lengths of iron-on reflective stripping and host an event at VGH where people can attach strips under their own collars.

“I’ve no idea where this will expand to, but I’m very excited to imagine the results we might get with more fashion designers on board and more regions contributing. I’ll be talking about this in Seattle next month.”

Q. Since opening the VGH Cycling Centre, what changes have you seen to ridership and use of the facility?

“The community of riders at the Cycling Centre continues to grow. Looking back over the past 20 years, the number of people across this region who are cycling has continued to increase. I’m not surprised that ridership continues to climb, because cycling is no longer a fringe activity. It is no longer alternative and that is a good development.”

Q. Do you have any recommendations for staff looking to try cycling for the first time or increase the number of days they commute by bicycle?

“Generally, my solution is to find someone you can talk to one on one. Certainly that is a part of my role: people can and do ask me about the how-tos of bike commuting. But for those who aren’t near the Cycling Centre, I’d suggest that they find people around them who are already cycling, and talk to them. That way, their own specific questions can be answered within a conversation. And you can get help with questions you didn’t even know to ask! When venturing into something new, it’s good to have a mentor who can help. Also, when the days start to shorten and the rains return, come to one of my Riding in the Rain seminars.”

Q. What are your future goals for active transportation, your role, the commuter centre and VGH’s Cycling Centre?

“I hope to see the numbers of active commuters continue to grow. We want to see record numbers of cyclists at the health authority sites. We would like to know that every cyclist feels that they have a safe and secure place to lock up their bike so that they don’t have to worry about it while working. I’d like to think that new facilities — such as a new St. Paul’s Hospital — instinctively plan for very high-quality cycling centres for their staff. And, at a smaller scale, part of my role now is to liaise with cyclists at community VCH sites to help them create manageable bike storage spaces for staff who commute by bike, or who cycle to nearby client visits.”

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with your colleagues and staff from across the Lower Mainland health organizations?

“Being in this role, I have a lot of conversations with cyclists — either new cyclists who’ve just made the switch or people who have been biking for years. The overall benefits and ‘good vibe’ that people attribute to active commuting is really refreshing. And it is still important to remember that some people will not be able to readily identify a keen, happy, outgoing cyclist/walker/transit-user working near them. If that is the case, then they should certainly contact me and I will help find a bike-buddy, walk-buddy or transit-buddy to help them get out of their car.

“Since the Cycling Centre opened, I’ve stopped being surprised at the on-going appreciation people have for the camaraderie there. Especially in the morning, and especially in the women’s change room — there is a sense of community and friendliness when people arrive at work freed from automobile traffic. I’ve always felt that the key motivators amongst commuters that bike or walk to work is that it’s fun, it’s fast and it keeps you fit. I feel like this still rings true.”

More information

To find out more, or visit the VGH Cycling Centre, drop by the VGH Commuter Centre, located behind the information desk in the Jim Pattison Pavilion, VGH.