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Longtime Vancouver cycling advocate died after an accident doing what he loved

Arno Schortinghuis passed away Nov. 30
Arno Schortinghuis
Arno Schortinghuis died Nov. 30. He was known as a tireless advocate for cycling in the region. File photo Dan Toulgoet

Longtime cycling advocate Arno Schortinghuis, who “travelled the world on two wheels,” died Nov. 30, a day after he had an accident while riding home from a meeting about cycling.

The 72-year-old president of the BC Cycling Coalition and Richard Campbell, the organization’s executive director, met with TransLink in New Westminster on Nov. 29 about the B.C. bike summit being held in June.

Afterwards, Schortinghuis took the SkyTrain part way home and then hopped on his bike to travel along Vancouver’s Ridgeway Greenway. He was found on 37th Avenue just east of Ross Street. He suffered a spinal cord injury, which possibly led to cardiac arrest. But there were no witnesses, and it’s unclear exactly what happened. Passing cyclists provided CPR and called 911. He was taken to the hospital where he died the next day.

Campbell said when it came to cycling advocacy, Schortinghuis would do whatever needed to be done — from administration work to arranging meetings with politicians.

“He did so much, worked very hard and was a really kind and gentle person — really good to work with,” Campbell said.

Aside from the BC Cycling Coalition, Schortinghuis was involved with many cycling organizations throughout the years. Previously, he was a board member and past president of HUB Cycling (formerly Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition), a co-chair of the HUB Cycling Regional Advisory Committee and a board member of Bike to Work BC Society/GoByBike Society. He was also a founding member of Canada Bikes.

Schortinghuis met his wife Jean Matthewson in 1977. They have two adult children.

“I’ll miss my partner in adventures most,” she told the Courier.

The couple went on a three-month-long cycling tour in Europe last summer, including biking through Hungary, Denmark and the Netherlands. Schortinghuis was born in the Netherlands. He moved to Ontario with his family in 1949 when he was three. He moved to B.C. in the mid-1970s.

Matthewson said her husband, who was a computer programmer for Finning before he retired, always talked about the mental, physical and environmental benefits of cycling, saying it’s not wasted time if you go from A to B on a bike instead of sitting in a car.

But she said cycling advocacy wasn’t the only volunteer work he was involved with during his lifetime. He also volunteered for the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C., for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and on school parent advisory committees.

Matthewson is appreciative of those who assisted her husband.

"I would like to acknowledge the help of the passing cyclists who assisted Arno by calling 911 and providing CPR until the paramedics arrived. Their actions preserved Arno's life long enough that his family could say goodbye. We will be forever grateful to these two men," she said, while also acknowledging the work of paramedics and the ER and intensive care staff at Vancouver General Hospital.

Schortinghuis’ contributions to the region’s cycling community, meanwhile, were highlighted through online tributes.

Colin Stein wrote about Schortinghuis on the Van Bikes website. The piece notes that the first time Schortinghuis became involved in cycling advocacy was when the city was rolling out residential bike routes and wanted to put in the 37th Avenue Ridgeway Greenway.

“Over the past decade, Arno put most of his waking life (or so it seemed) to advocating for and promoting cycling safety, accessibility, urban commuting and touring — to decision-makers, planning and engineering staff at all levels of government, in meetings, at public events, and across all forms of media — always with a characteristic twinkle in his eye,” Stein wrote in the post.

"He was always the person to check a fact, look up legislation, debunk fake news, gently put down a troll, appear on-camera, help make quorum, start a new committee, and store (and haul out) the extra bus bike rack for a demonstration at a Surrey library. Arno was that guy."

Stein, who had known Schortinghuis since 2013, said he will be missed for many reasons, including his historical knowledge of cycling advocacy in Vancouver and his subject matter expertise.

Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (B.E.S.T.) described Schortinghuis on its website as a "local cycling legend" who "was a champion for increased sustainable transportation options and, in particular, the creation of safe and effective cycling infrastructure."

Erin O'Melinn, executive director of HUB Cycling, knew Schortinghuis for about a decade.

"He was very well loved. He got along with everyone, even when he was pushing hard to make change..." she told the Courier.

O'Melinn said Schortinghuis devoted thousands of volunteer hours to improve cycling in the region and had probably travelled on more bike routes in Metro Vancouver than any other cyclist she knows.

"Arno was an institution in cycling advocacy, and worked tirelessly for many years to improve cycling conditions within HUB Cycling, BC Cycling Coalition and Canada Bikes, among many other worthy causes. His generosity of heart combined with his tenacity made him a unique advocate who has left a distinct mark on safer and more accessible cycling," she wrote in a follow-up email.

"He travelled the world on two wheels, coming back with new ideas for local improvements, and gave so much of his time to see these improvements take place here."

About 80 people took part in a 35-kilometre memorial ride in Schortinghuis’ honour Dec. 8.

A private memorial for family is planned for Dec. 17.


Note: This story has been corrected since first posted. Arno Schortinghuis died a day after the incident on his bike.

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