Friday, November 11, 2011

On Bicycle Advocacy

I snapped my gum loudly to call the November Vancouver Bike Club meeting to order. Folks immediately quieted down and I introduced Joe Kurmaskie, author of the Metal Cowboy. Joe then introduced bicycle advocate and author of Joyride - Mia Birk, who treated us to an especially inspirational presentation.

I learned I'm one of the 1% (no, not THAT 1%!) that counts themselves as a fearless and confident cyclist who can make their way in the world on a bicycle without a ton of infrastructure to support them. I started thinking - maybe it's time I shook off my general disinterest in all things political and got more involved in helping some of the other 99% enjoy the phenomenon of bike-riding.

Another thing that got me thinking was the disappointing fact that I drove to the event. Sure, the downtown Vancouver library is 25 miles from my home, but distances like that are the norm for me. The simple truth is, I didn't bike that night because I felt uncomfortable making the long trek all alone in the dark.

The long trek all alone in the dark - what a perfect metaphor for the cyclist's place, and especially the bicycle advocate's place, in the American mainstream and traffic stream. Our towns and cities are built around the car. Many of our cultural rites of passage are built around the car. The bicycle is merely a toy for children or a work out tool for the lycra-clad.

But not in Portland, OR. Here, it's a transportation choice. It's a lifestyle. It's a staple of our economy. This didn't happen by accident - we have gutsy and patient bicycle advocates (like Mia) and advocacy groups (like the BTA) to thank. These dedicated heroes not only made our city into a model bicycle infrastructure successfully increasing bike safety and transportation, they transformed our entire culture.

However, just across the river in Washington, there seems to be a glaring shortage of involved advocates. Vancouver is so close to Portland, but so far away in terms of transportation infrastructure that supports bicycle and pedestrian safety. Vancouver is so close to Portland, unless you have to ride over the narrow I-5 bridge.

Since I began writing this post, I've been approached by some local players who want to help ignite the advocacy scene in Vancouver. We'll be meeting next week. Maybe this is just the opportunity I've been looking for to "make a difference". This time, I'll make the long trek all alone in the dark. Except I won't be alone, I'll have my bike with me.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck! I'm working the scene about an hour north in Centralia. Hooked up two giant boxes on the side of mycruiser bike and have been picking up litter with my wife. Phase 1 go get peoples attention is working! :)