Category Archives: activism

You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go home to a trailer park and farm in North Carolina again, not after living the simple bicycling lifestyle in Chicago for three years. It’s not that folks from my hometown read my blog and hate me for portraying them as bumpkins, a modern and predictably crappy remake of Thomas Wolfe, simply that my way of seeing the world has changed dramatically in the past few years.

A Vanity Fair article I read years ago aptly described my military hometown as a mix of strip bars and Baptist churches. Growing up, I itched to get out of my city; it was an ill-fitting sweater that took 16 years to wrestle off, catching my limbs, pulling my nose, tangling my hair and finally releasing me as I gulped for fresh air. My yearnings were basically the cliche teenage feeling that there is a big world going on without me – not a world of parties and glamor, but a world of pedestrians and cafes. I had fantasies of sidewalks, which I knew existed from TV and rare visits to family in Massachusetts, and a hazy idea of “culture” that my city lacked.

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A Bike Lover’s Gift Guide: Give Back

Week one of our Bike Lover’s Gift Guide highlighted fun and beautiful handcrafts available on Etsy. For week two we are shifting our focus to gifts that give back to the bicycling community.

  • Life-Changing Bikes – Gift a bike in honor of someone you love via World Bicycle Relief. The Bicycles for Educational Empowerment program aims to give 50,000 bicycles to school children in rural Zambia – 70% of whom are girls – to enable the children to travel to and from school more easily. The cost is $134 per bicycle, which includes shipping and assembling the bike, as well as paying for a trained bike mechanic for each school. Any donation amount is welcome.
  • Local Bike Advocacy – Give the gift of membership to your local bike advocacy organization. In Chicago the Active Transportation Alliance works to create better conditions for bicyclists, pedestrians and public transit users. Membership is inexpensive and includes lots of discounts at retailers across the city, several membership events and a newsletter.
  • Bicycle Cooperatives – Give the gift of community. Examples include gift memberships at co-ops like Bici Co-op in Birmingham and used bicycles for purchase at Bikes Not Bombs in Boston and Working Bikes Cooperative in Chicago.  Your community may have a bicycle cooperative you could support in some way through your holiday gift-giving.
  • The Open Road – Give the gift of adventure. A gift membership for the Adventure Cycling Association includes a subscription to Adventure Cycling Magazine, discounts on route maps and affiliate benefits, and if you join or renew for yourself now, you can give a holiday gift membership for half off. If you really want to go all out, you could give someone an amazing cycling tour.
  • Magazine Subscription – Momentum, The Magazine for Self-Propelled People, is distributed free in several cities across North America. Gift subscriptions are super affordable and help support this first-class publication.
  • Organized Rides – Give the gift of a fun day together.  Many rides support bicycling or other environmental causes.  If you find a ride you like in another city, make a whole weekend vacation of it.  This ride along Chicago’s beautiful lakefront benefits Climate Cycle. The annual ride is scheduled for May 14, 2010 and cyclists select from a 4, 10, 20 or 62-mile course. Proceeds go to installing solar energy in Chicago public schools, which currently pay more for energy costs than books and computers combined.

If you have any other ideas or know of a worthy bicycling cause, please share in the comments!

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Bike Calendar 2010

Our friend Elizabeth of Bike Commuters created a Chicago Bikes calendar with great pictures that she has been taking year-round from her bike. All of the proceeds support Chicago’s Ride of Silence, which Elizabeth plans and coordinates.

Image from Chicago Bike Calendar

Oma is excited to be Ms. September.

There is also a calendar of Chicago Flowers and Chicago Scapes.

Everyone needs a calendar, right? Today they are 40% off with free shipping. Order here.

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The Natural Attraction to Bicycles

I am still thinking a lot about bicycle marketing, and how important a simple and positive message is for eventual infrastructure change. I strongly believe that on a basic level people are naturally attracted to bicycles. Cycling reminds them of the freedom and fun of childhood. If only we can expose everyone to the beautiful side of cycling – think Copenhagen – the tide would start to turn in our favor.

11-8 sunday

Out and about with Oma

Am I veering too far into unicorn-and-faerie territory?  An experience today makes me think that this idea is not too far-fetched.  Continue reading

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Marketing the Simple Bicycling Lifestyle, Part 2

Earlier this week I asked what you would do as a marketer tasked with getting people to switch from cars to bikes. The resulting discussion was impressive.  The main points were to emphasize the ease and desirability of cycling, while not being too pushy or preachy and remembering that infrastructure is the most important piece of the puzzle. Steven Vance is discussing this approach in his Making cycling normal series, and of course it’s a constant theme over at Copenhagenize. Today I was hoping to report back on how I had the opportunity to spread this message via the mainstream media, but life is never that simple.

I volunteered to participate in the filming of a segment on winter cycling for a show on the new ABC Live Well network, along with a few other people, including Elizabeth of Bike Commuters and Julie of The Chainlink. Prior to filming, the producer sent us the following instructions:

Please be bike-ready, that is, bring your bikes and gear. We don’t want anyone showing up to the shoot site coming off a bus in work clothes! And finally, please bring your winter gear. We want to capture some footage of you guys wearing balaclavas, your three layers, and someone applying gel toothpaste to their goggles! (emphasis added)

After reading this, I considered canceling. I have no balaclava, goggles or gel toothpaste tricks, and my goal is to dress in work clothes looking as if I could have stepped off a bus instead of a bike. They obviously had a story in mind that I did not fit into. I should have followed my instinct.

The Interview

The Guys

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Marketing the Simple Bicycling Lifestyle

Today there is an interview with me on funsherpa, whose tag line is “uncovering what interesting people are interested in.” What a compliment! In my experience people who ride bikes to get around tend to be pretty interesting – they are independent people who take the time to question and challenge the status quo.


One of the most thought-provoking questions funsherpa asked me was:

Lets say you worked for a marketing firm tasked with getting Chicagoans to switch over from cars to bikes – what would you do?

I would use all the tactics that automobile advertisers use. They show the car as sexy, safe, freeing, fun, attractive, normal, necessary. In my experience, these adjectives describe bicycling more accurately than driving, especially in the city. Bicycling delivers the kind of freedom that car advertising promises. We need images of successful and happy people on bikes dressed nicely, going on dates, smiling and laughing. Exposure to such images, like those on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, is necessary to show the public the possibilities that the bicycle presents. Most women here have no idea that riding a bike with a skirt and heels is easy; that bicycling does not have to be a sport; and that the bicyclist does not have to get sweaty.

My answer is a start, but I’d like to hear all of your ideas. We’ve touched on this in The Bike Commuter Stereotype, and now we’d like to take the issue head-on. What would you do with unlimited resources, or what can you do working with the resources you have? How do we go beyond preaching to the choir and reach the general public – posters, commercials, product placement in movies? Let’s hear your ideas!

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More Gender Gap Analysis from the Media

The press lately has been fascinated with women on bikes. Reading these articles brings us a mixture of pleasure, optimism, frustration and annoyance. While mainstream acknowledgment of transportation bicycling is positive, the coverage regarding women has been shallow. Back in June the New York Times and Treehugger published articles that focus on women’s appearance and risk aversion – flaccid analyses that Trisha took head on in Mind the Gender Gap. Our female readers made their thoughts known loud and clear, which I highlighted in Women’s Voices.

My sister and nephew

My sister and nephew

Now Scientific American has jumped into the discussion with its article, “How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road: To boost urban bicycling, figure out what women want.” While there is the typical assertion that women are more risk averse than men, based on “studies across disciplines,”  there is also an interesting note that even within the same city, women’s cycling rates shoot up when one counts riders on protected paths.

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America Needs Traffic Justice: Pedaling Revolution

I read the book Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes soon after it was published in the spring. I was going to write a review, but then David Byrne and the New York Times scooped me. Suffice it to say that anyone interested in reading this blog also would be interested in reading the book.

Senior Crossing Street in Miami Beach - PBIC Image Library

Senior Crossing Street in Miami Beach - PBIC Image Library

Mapes brings up many interesting points in the book – the kind that made me read and re-read, fold down the page, and want to talk about it with someone. I picked up my dusty copy this morning and started flipping back through the folded pages. My mind started sparking again, so I thought I would explore these ideas more through discussion here.

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Bikes Count in Nashville

My Tuesday afternoon was spent counting bikes and pedestrians going through the Belmont bike lanes. There are worse things than sitting on the grass on a sunny September afternoon, watching bicycles go by.  I have to admit being disappointed by the actual number of bike commuters, since I’d expected to see many more during that two-hour window—but it was still nice to know there’s more out there than I see on a typical commute.

Some pictures from the exciting life of a civic volunteer. Here’s hoping that my afternoon will help bring some bicycle and pedestrian support for Nashville.

Count sheet

Count sheet

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Why Bike Lanes Are Bad For Drivers’ Expectations

Actually one of the widest bike lanes in Chicago

Actually one of the widest bike lanes in Chicago

Bike lanes are dumb in one major way: they outline the door zone and then tell cyclists to ride right there. But the door zone is not my beef at the moment. No, my beef is how bike lanes set bad expectations for drivers – that the cyclist must ride in the bike lane at all times.

  • Exhibit A: Like an icy slip ‘n slide. Chicago, December 2008.  I am riding outside of the bike lane because the snow plows and  salt trucks  ignored that precious slice of pavement.  A driver in a hooptie hooooooonks as he passes within a foot of me and yells, “Ride in the bike lane, you idiot!”  I throw my hands up in frustration.  Driver flips the middle finger.  I catch up at the red light.  Driver unrolls his window and yells again, “Stay in the bike lane, moron!”  I respond firmly, “I cannot ride in the bike lane because it is FULL OF ICE.  Please be aware of my safety.  Thank you.”  Driver drives off, as drivers do.
  • Exhibit B:  La la la I can’t hear you. Chicago, September 2009.  I am riding two inches outside the bike lane because the entire strip is the door zone.  A driver in a station wagon behind me honks…  Honks…  Hooonks…  Hoooooonks…  Hooooooooooonks.  I ignore him.  He passes me closely, even though he always had the entire opposite lane to pass.  I catch him at the stop sign.  He passes me closely.  I pass him as he’s stopped in traffic.  I feel happily smug.

These are only the most memorable and recent experiences, respectively.  I won’t offer my other exhibits, because it would get repetitive.  You all know the deal.

The problem is that bike lanes set bad expectations that cyclists are wrong if we ride outside the lines.  There are a gazillion reasons why we need to ride outside of bike lanes: car doors, broken glass, turning left, passing slower traffic.  All of this is perfectly legal.

Do the benefits of bike lanes outweigh the bad expectations they set?

Yes.  Without bike lanes, the same drivers would think cyclists don’t belong in the road at all.  At least bike lanes prove to these drivers that we DO belong in the road, even if just a strip. But we can do better. Perhaps sharrows is a good compromise?

[Okay, I edited this post to remove these portions. An attempt at sarcastic humor that obviously failed. No offense intended. I want the focus of this post to be bike lanes, not cyclists v. drivers.  I would love to hear people’s thoughts on bike lanes v. sharrows.  “The biggest problem here is that drivers are dumb. That cannot be helped…I won’t hold my breath waiting for drivers to become smarter, so I’ll try to ignore them.  I bet that’s even more annoying than my mere existence!  Score one for me.“]

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The Bike Commuter Stereotype

Let’s face it: bike commuters are stereotyped as fringe, eccentric, a bit odd.  Even in Chicago where there are plenty of cyclists, I am an anomaly as a bike commuter.

"This is what a bike commuter looks like"

"This is what a bike commuter looks like"

The reaction I get from most people is easy to predict, as I watch their stereotype confront reality.  Usually, they are surprised and slightly impressed.  The average Chicagoan is aware of bike commuters, so that big hurdle is cleared from the start, but people are surprised because I am a fairly quiet and unassuming female – I don’t fit the stereotype. There are always questions.

The most common:

  • Aren’t you scared of cars? You do wear a helmet, I hope?
  • You didn’t ride here in that skirt, did you??
  • But not during winter, right???

Some people are “hip” to the bike commuting “trend.”  Their questions tend to be:

  • Cool, where do you shower and change clothes?
  • You didn’t ride here in that skirt, did you??
  • But not during winter, right???

Once they learn that I ride in skirts and through the winter, they are shocked and confused. I love talking about cycling – obviously!- but even I grow weary of answering these questions.

I want to know from all of you:  What reactions do people have when they learn you are a bike commuter?  What questions do they ask you the most?  Which of your characteristics contribute to the way people react? How about your geographic location?

Finally, assuming this stereotype prevents a lot of people from considering bike commuting, what can be done to revamp our image, short of enlisting Don Draper’s assistance?

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How To: Report Dangerous Drivers

In a thread on The Chainlink, a Chicago bicycling online community, I asked what one should do in the situation I was in last month. Recap: I was riding along on a quiet street, lalala, when a guy in an SUV honked continuously at me, pushed by me so closely that my fingers brushed his truck when I put my arm out for him to back off, forced me to pull off the road and then yelled, “stay off the fucking road.” I got his license plate number and description and called the police station when I got home, which told me to call 311, Chicago’s info line. I followed the prompt to file a police report, but after describing the incident calmly and using the term “assault,” the operator told me that the guy’s behavior was just “ignorance” and there was no police report to file for “ignorance.” I was fuming inside, because I know the law and the meaning of “assault” but decided not to pursue it further for my mental health.

Ethan from the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) answered with their advice on how to handle the situation.

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Your Cycling Experience Is Requested

Each of us is a wealth of information about cycling in our particular cities. Here are a couple of opportunities to share your unique knowledge to benefit the greater cycling community: the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center Image Library and the New York Cycle Club’s Cycling Risk Assessment Study (not limited to New York).

Bike Lane, Madison, WI )from PBIC Image Library)

Bike Lane, Madison, WI (from PBIC Image Library)

Read on for the details.

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Women’s Voices

In Trisha’s Mind the Gender Gap post (which was featured on StreetsBlog) she discussed the shallow way that the media deals with women and cycling. In response, many real women left fantastic comments. I want to highlight their stories and viewpoints here with no filter. That’s something the media could learn – if you want to know more about women, simply ask them!

Melissa M. on her new oma

Melissa M. and her little guy on a new oma

Read on for the goods…

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Hopping Mad

I’m using this picture of my cat Ted in an outfit Trisha bought him to balance the mood of this post. How can one stay mad when Bumble Bee Ted is right there? And I’m using the title “Hopping Mad” because it sounds old fashioned and much nicer than the string of expletives running through my head.

Bumble Bee Ted

Bumble Bee Ted

These people are really starting to get to me.

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An Evening of Stylish Bikes and Advocacy

Trisha’s visit to Chicago was action-packed with bikey fun (our own little Pedalpalooza), including the Active Transportation Alliance membership mixer at Dutch Bike Chicago. The evening was an enjoyable way to connect with like-minded cyclists in a stylish and laid back environment.

kid is to candy store as Trisha is to Dutch bike shop

kid is to candy store as Trisha is to Dutch bike shop

First, we perused the shop. Trisha was especially interested in pawing the fabulous Po Campo bags. They look even better in real life than online. We also visited all of Oma’s Azor cousins, some fine-looking Retrovelos, and the new line of Vive bikes.

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Mind the Gender Gap

Dottie and I make no secret of the fact that the number one mission of our blog is to show that city cycling can be a part of any woman’s everyday life—no special equipment or clothing, or even a special type of bike required (though after a few months of riding, you’ll probably want one — or two!). Over the past six months, we’ve talked about our own obstacles to commuting and given our personal experiences as examples of how women might fit cycling into their lives.

Lately the media has been obsessed with women on bikes—or, more accurately, the women who are NOT on bikes. Apparently, we
Picture 3need more women cyclists to pretty up the place. Why aren’t they riding?!? Is it the helmet head? Are women too scared to share the road with cars? Maybe they are afraid to sweat? The latest to join the discussion is the New York Times’ City Room blog. The article presents research from a professor at Rutgers that says men commute by bike at 3 times the frequency of women, and the percentage is even worse in New York City. Having never cycled in NYC myself, I can’t say whether his description of riding its streets as “like going into battle” is accurate. And I certainly don’t want to discount concerns about safety and fashion, which were issues for me when starting out and two things Dottie and I are trying to help others overcome.

What annoys me is that none of the articles I’ve read on this topic lately go any deeper into why those things present serious obstacles for women but not men, even though men have the same concerns (no one wants to show up for work disheveled and stinky after all). Why bother, when it’s so obvious that men are just much less self-absorbed and a million times braver? It couldn’t be that there are higher expectations for women’s appearances in the workplace, or that the burden of transporting children or household errands like grocery shopping more often falls to them—the first reasons that came to my mind. These are not insurmountable, of course (just ask these cycling superparents, both moms and dads, or the other stylish women bike commuters we know), but they require some thought, negotiation and planning that your average male might not have to overcome in his quest to bicycle commute.

But instead of giving weight to these concerns, or looking into others, these articles stay on the surface. Women are dismissed as frivolous and their absence is mourned not because of the missed opportunity to allow them to discover an activity that can improve their quality of life, but because their presence would improve the scenery. As a girl who likes to look good on her bike, I can’t argue with that statement, but I can argue with it being the number one reason we should get women on bikes—sorry, Treehugger.

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Nashville Goes Green

Last week, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced a “Going Green” initiative for our city. Dean ran on an environmental platform and has said he’s committed to making Nashville the “greenest city in the Southeast”—so far, he’s done a decent job of getting money and resources dedicated to improving the city’s infrastructure and public transportation. I clicked on the link and was a little disappointed to find that most of the things he wanted us to commit to do were things I’d learned in third grade during the good old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” campaign. News flash: Don’t run the water while brushing your teeth!

One item of the pledge was a little more exciting.

Best part of the pledge!

Best part of the pledge.

If you live in Nashville and haven’t signed already, what’s stopping you? Anyone else seeing similar initiatives in your city? I know the South is a bit behind when it comes to the green bandwagon.

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It’s amazing what you can get just by asking…

About three weeks ago, Mr. Dottie and I pulled up to a neighborhood restaurant for brunch and realized there was no place to park our bikes. We had to go over a block and across the street.

Chicago Bike Rack

Chicago Bike Rack

We made our inconvenience known to the restaurant and, upon returning home, we went to the City of Chicago’s website to request installation of a bike rack. Today we got a response – not too shabby!

From: Steven XXX
Date: Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 1:24 PM
Subject: Your recent Chicago bike rack request

The CDOT Bicycle Parking Program has accepted your request for a bike rack at:

2150 W Roscoe

You can track the status of your bike rack request on our website:

Please note: acceptance of your request does not guarantee installation of a bike rack at this location. Bike racks can only be installed in locations that meet rack siting criteria:

Steven XXX
Bike Parking Program Assistant

Let’s see how quickly this happens. I’ll go crazy with this request thing if it works!

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Bike Friendly, Revisited

There was a lot of discussion in the comments on Dottie’s last post about what makes a city bike-friendly. On the heels of that comes The League of American Bicyclist’s 2009 list of rankings of states for bike-friendliness. Unsurprisingly, their rankings line up with the more conventional assessment: Illinois (12) beat the pants off us Tennesseans (43, not an auspicious number).

One of the bike-friendly (i.e., traffic free!) streets I ride down every day

One of the bike-friendly (i.e., traffic free!) streets I ride down every day, back in April

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