Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Beautiful Day for the CT Bike Walk Summit

The summit was held in beautiful Kroon Hall on the Yale campus with a soaring conference space and huge windows, which had neat automatic shades. The attendees enjoyed comfortable seats and excellent sound. Before the conference began I snagged a replacement re-usable REI bag for the one I got last year, which has about worn out. This is the 2nd Annual statewide summit put on by Bike Walk CT, and despite the publicity issues associated with a week of power outages the conference was almost booked to capacity. Hopefully I played a small part in the level of attendance with some website and Facebook work.

Special thanks to Charlie B for the carpool down to New Haven, and props to Carl, a fellow P&W bike commuter, for riding 30 miles, in the dark, from Marlborough to catch a West Hartford carpool. On my way over to Charlie’s I passed another carload of Summiters (Kevin, Georgette, Mike G, and Chris B) on Park Street headed out. I really didn’t expect to see anyone I knew at 7AM on Park Street. With his trademark dayglo yellow, Kevin Sullivan was even visible behind the wheel. Carl and I will be riding back north after the summit, and it looks to be excellent weather.

Nice to see a mixed age crowd at the summit, with many showing up on bike or foot from the New Haven environs. Having Yale, New Haven definitely sees more bike commuting energy.  

I was also excited to see a goodly number of females in attendance. Aside from the recreational interest of a freshly divorced male, I see the future of cycling as a movement turning on the involvement of women. Women will drive the movement. Without even trying, one powerful female cyclist will lure a gaggle of men to give it a shot. Mothers will teach children to ride and will play a key role in the Safe Routes to School movement. Instead of male only weekend jaunts, often a cause of friction, riding couples have the opportunity to turn that into a shared experience. The posturing, race oriented, male centric, competitive bike culture will be rounded out into a healthier whole that welcomes all to sustainable transportation. There are so many reasons that bike advocacy should focus on getting more women on bikes. “Fat bottomed girls, get on your bikes and ride.”

Would have liked to see some more ethnic and economic diversity at the event, but most of the attendees looked like me. I often wonder how to reach out to a more diverse crowd on sustainable transportation. Chris Brown asked a related question during the Q&A session on the breakout session on the economic impact of biking and walking. He pointed out that one of the biggest economic carrots is that biking and walking provide stabilization for the segment of population living in poverty or at the margin. The panel members fumbled the criticism / question a bit. Perhaps Chris and I could set up a panel next year that discusses diversity in bicycle advocacy or evaluates the impacts of biking and walking on low income populations.

Way back in 2006, I was in a meeting of the Central CT Bike Alliance, now Bike Walk CT, meeting with Dave Snyder from what was the Thunderhead Alliance, now the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Dave had a very succinct theory related to the bike advocacy demographic and how that related to fundraising. Paraphrased below:

Your typical bike advocate is white and economically secure. They started riding recreationally or as a bike commuter and have some experiences on the road where they felt threatened or disrespected, which really bothers them. As a privileged class this person hadn’t previously experienced this type of adversity. They have some time and money, and realize that cycling aside from being great for them is also great for the environment and their community. Righteous anger kicks in and they create or join a bicycle advocacy organization.

This is the reason that even with embarrassingly small bike mode share (< 1% national average), bicycle advocacy groups are more well funded, organized, and influential than one might expect. The drawback is that bicycle advocacy is dominated by a relatively homogenous crowd. Anyone who has lived in, worked in, or passed through a diverse neighborhood knows that there is often a bigger biking / walking mode share than your typical suburban neighborhood. Unfortunately these riders typically aren’t represented. Many of these riders see cycling or walking through the lens of necessity, and not self righteous advocacy. Additionally there may be economic and cultural issues that lead these riders to focus their valuable time elsewhere.

The ride back to East Hartford was particularly nice. A tailwind made the panniers seem lighter. I passed through Northford and Durham and managed to stay on small side roads until I got to Middletown. The photograph is at the top of Whirlwind Hill, which is just Southeast of Durham.

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