They say “don’t read the comments” when you are somehow featured in the media or otherwise online (as I was after surviving a hit-and-run while Traveling at the Speed of Bike two weeks ago tomorrow). I’m glad I did, however, because there was such an outpouring of support from many people, including an incredible amount from both female and male cyclists (which I appreciated), many of whom shared my blog post with cycling groups across Georgia. However, one comment keeps sticking with me. Someone said I was simply “an activist forcing herself into the street.” As if being an activist is a dirty word. As if I would not leap at the opportunity to ride on better infrastructure, if it existed locally, to get where I need to go.
This keeps running through my mind, and frankly, is upsetting to me. I am a mother who uses a bike for transportation to do my writing research, to run errands, to support local businesses, to participate in civic activities, to improve my health, to reduce my environmental impacts, to model sustainable actions, and to help other women and girls (who are underrepresented in our shared public spaces) build the skills to do so as well. No one, including me, ever intends to become an activist. We get involved when we see something that could be better and realize that doing nothing no longer feels like a responsible option. We get involved because lives are on the line.
Here’s a post of mine from August 19, 2017, that was targeted toward parents of younger children in my city and beyond. It may or may not resonate with you. It may or may not matter.
You Are Needed (published August 19, 2017)
For parents of young children aching to take some positive action right now in our screwed-up world — If you truly want to make a difference, the best way to do that is locally*. If you told me 22 years ago when I moved here with a baby that I not only wouldn’t be able to ride a bike in protected, separated access (as is Best Practices and recommended by NACTO) to the supermarket, park, or city hall a generation later but not even in another 20 years (based on the current transportation plan update), I would never have moved here. (See Stay in the Streets for why riding a bike is a political, environmental, social, and artistic form of activism. For more, see my new book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike.)
I tried. I started the Sustainability Commission and we passed the Complete Streets Policy. I served on the very first Comprehensive Land Use Plan steering committee and we helped bake bike-friendliness, walkability, and publicly-usable greenspace into what was then the newest city in the USA’s very DNA. I rode and met with so many leaders and consultants I can’t even count. My children and I rode to three different schools day after day when hardly anyone else did (where they were made to wait at the end of the day until every carpool and bus left), and to a community center one mile from our home where I had to make individual arrangements year-after-year for my daughters to leave camp there via bike (with me!) because riding a bike was a “special circumstance.” I’ve documented the economic impact of one little bike rack on a business and our city’s tax rolls. I’ve taken my life in my hands (see chapter 3 in my book — Pedaling as Fast as I Can, and chapter 6 — Noodle Lady), and I’ve documented and shared what it was like to be called an asshole on social media by one of your own because I was riding legally and safely in the only way possible on the only road to my neighborhood (see the Epilogue in my book). In short, I’ve done everything I can. But it hasn’t been enough.
Your city is still missing the point about designing a residential, business, education, and leisure environment with safe access for all, with either divided support for this simple principle or action that compromises outcomes and thus serves as mere lipstick-on-a-pig. Your newborn will see no change unless you (or people you encourage) get involved. The plan right now does not account for your child (see photo of Pointy the Bike Lane above — the city thinks that’s just fine). There is no plan for a safe, cohesive, connected network. There is no Dunwoody Woodline in the next twenty years. Note: Kids don’t wait — they grow up. My baby from when I moved here in 1995 moves into her new apartment 3,000 miles away next week. My job is just about done here.
If you want to create a safer and more livable city for all, you are needed. Consider running for office. Get involved in bike/ped advocacy groups. Don’t be afraid to continually strive to make things better. And know that you are not alone.
(If you don’t live in my city, I assure you that you are needed in yours as well.)
* I know you are ridiculously busy. I was, too. When I started the Sustainability Commission, I said I could not go to meetings at night due to family commitments, that the only way I could go is if they were at 7:30 AM, after I got my daughters to school and I had to leave at 9 AM sharp to go to work. I served as chair of that commission for a year (until the mayor and two city councilors laughed in the faces of a roomful of children, and I decided to spend my nonrenewable resource of time helping communities-in-need start gardens instead), and it is now eight years later. The meetings are still at 7:30 AM. The point: you can create your own reality, as I did. Don’t decide you can’t be involved because the norm of evening meetings (or meetings at all) doesn’t fit your schedule. Anything is possible.