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Record gas prices and how they could ‘fuel the fire’ for a bicycle boom in Halifax

Click to play video: 'Price of gas skyrocketing in Atlantic Canada'
Price of gas skyrocketing in Atlantic Canada
The price of fuel across the country is skyrocketing as Russia's war in Ukraine is putting greater pressure on an already-surging oil price environment. There are calls for provinces to halt their gas taxes to help soften the blow, but how much would it really help in the Maritimes? Travis Fortnum reports. – Mar 8, 2022

The ever-changing price of gas could prompt some Haligonians to turn to cycling as a more reliable, affordable means of transportation, experts say.

Although the price at the pumps may not stay high for long, the massive hikes seen in recent days show how volatile the cost of fuel can be, and bicycle shops across the city are gearing up for an active season.

Andrew Feenstra, the owner of Cyclesmith on Agricola Street in Halifax, says it’s still early in the season and he hasn’t seen much of an influx in customers yet, but he expects things to get “very busy” in the spring.

“Based on gas prices, that will kind of fuel the fire,” he said.

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“As the gas price goes up and people start to think about it a little bit more, I think we’re going to see a big increase.”

Gas prices in Halifax hit a record 186.2 cents a litre this week. Alex Cooke/Global News

He said with both March break and the summer months coming up, more people are bound to start showing interest in cycling.

“Cycling is a fantastic way to leave your car parked in the driveway and commute to work, or get groceries, or get kids from school,” he said.

“Whatever you’re using your car for right now, you can probably replace it with a bike every once in a while.”

It’s a similar story for Jenna Molenaar, owner of Halifax Cycles & Guitars, who said there’s “definitely been a lot of conversation” around buying a bike amid soaring gas prices.

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She said she recently shared a post on the topic to the business’ Facebook page, which prompted come customers to pay a visit to the store on Kempt Road.

Molenaar said people are interested in all kinds of bicycles, but electric bikes in particular are very popular. While the store is running low on some bicycle models, she said the store still has a “great selection.”

As gas prices remain volatile, Molenaar said now is a great time to get a bicycle.

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“It saves so much money,” she said. “I saved up for my down payment on my house by the time I was 32 years old because I chose to travel by bike and not own a car.”

Across the harbour at The Bike Pedaler in downtown Dartmouth, manager Sean Therien said they’re about as busy as they would normally be this time of year, but he expects it to pick up again in the next month or so.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve seen a spike in business because of the gas prices. That sort of thing will probably come in a month from now, when people are really starting to lose their minds,” he said.

The Bike Pedaler manager Sean Therien says he’s anticipating a busy spring. Alex Cooke/Global News

He said spring sales are starting to come in and the shop has had a busy week, but once the weather starts getting nicer the amount of customers coming in “quadruples.”

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That’s when he expects most bicycle shops to go “full gas” with repairs and sales – “no pun intended.”

Therien said his store doesn’t sell electric bikes, but gravel bikes are quite popular due to their multi-purpose uses.

“In our region we have so many wonderful trails to ride on,” he said. “Gravel bikes are great for that.”

Cycling ‘drastically’ more affordable

Anika Riopel, the sustainable transportation policy co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, said the pandemic had already resulted in more people walking and cycling more.

While that influx was more related to health and wellness, she said she expects to see more people turning to cycling due to the cost.

“The price of gas going up is certainly going to be an incentive,” she said.

“(Cycling) is certainly a drastically more affordable means of transportation … Your main source of fuel is yourself, so it certainly is less prone to market fluctuations.”

Anika Riopel is the sustainable transportation policy co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre.
Anika Riopel is the sustainable transportation policy co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. Submitted by Anika Riopel

While riding a bike does have a start-up cost of actually purchasing the bike, and then the costs of maintaining it, they pale in comparison to the costs associated with owning a car – especially since the price of gas and oil can change a lot in a short amount of time, as has been recently shown in Nova Scotia and across the world.

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Riopel noted there’s also a rebate program for electric bicycles, which have been growing in popularity as a way to get around without a car, while dealing with the “wicked” hills for which Halifax is known.

“They’re so much fun to ride,” she said. “Literally, you can ride up Citadel Hill and it feels like you’re on a boardwalk. It’s just glorious.”

Still, there can be barriers to cycling. Some people may feel unsafe due to a lack of cycling infrastructure like protected bike lanes, and Riopel said there needs to be a greater focus on planning and infrastructure.

“People might be in a place where they want to make this change, but there’s still some things they need, whether that’s infrastructure or access to a bike, or the educational components,” she said.

Riopel is encouraged by initiatives like Halifax’s integrated mobility plan, which aims to improve active transportation in the city. She also said that, as outlined in the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, the province has a goal to have a strategy to increase active transportation options by 2023, and infrastructure completed by 2030.

Click to play video: 'Advocates concerned about Almon Street Bikeway plan'
Advocates concerned about Almon Street Bikeway plan

The Ecology Action Centre is launching a web app this week which shows maps of both existing and proposed active transportation plans across the province, so people can know what’s happening in terms of active transportation in their communities.

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“I would very much encourage people to start building biking into their life,” said Riopel.

‘A great thing you can do for yourself’

In the meantime, bicycle shops across Halifax continue to prepare for what’s bound to be a bustling spring.

Paul Rogers, who owns Long Alley Bicycles on Quinpool Road, said he expects the season to be a “madhouse” with many people clamoring for bikes.

“With the gas prices, people are going to want bikes,” he said.

He said his biggest challenge is supply issues, and he hasn’t been able to get any electric bicycles in stock.

Rogers said outdoor activities have grown in popularity during the pandemic, though he said there’s “never a bad time” to opt for a bike ride instead of a drive.

“I might be a little biased, but I also think it’s a great thing you can do for yourself,” he said.

“And you can save a few dollars – or more than a few, these days.”

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