Over the past week I had the good fortune to attend and present at three amazing events in Long Beach. My week started last Friday with the Alliance for Biking and Walking Leadership Retreat. 120 bicycle advocates from across the country and Canada came together on the historic Queen Mary to learn from each other and build our movement. On Monday the retreat wrapped up and many of us headed into downtown Long Beach to check into the biggest walking and biking conference around, Pro Walk Pro Bike. And finally, on Thursday I attended the first ever Women’s Cycling Summit immediately following Pro Walk Pro Bike. Max Hunter, our Membership and Volunteer Director joined me for the leadership retreat and Bonnie Wehmann, the Lead Instructor for our Bike Safety Education program, joined me for the Women’s Cycling Summit. Throughout this full week of amazing bicycling events a few themes emerged. One was the pressing need to get more women bicycling in this country. In all three gatherings this issue was at the top of people’s minds. I heard many people say that in order to make their communities truly bicycle-friendly they need more women on bikes and all kinds of women – old and young, large and small, of all races, income levels and abilities.
I was honored and inspired to take a leadership role in moving these conversations forward at both our leadership retreat and Pro Walk Pro Bike. At the Alliance leadership retreat I co-facilitated a Women’s Caucus meeting with Brighid O’Keene from the Alliance and Jackie Douglas from Livable Streets in Boston. 40 amazing women leaders of our bicycling movement came together to talk specifically about how to get more women into leadership. We know that 1 in 4 bicycle trips are made by women across the U.S. That number needs to increase and having more visible women at the forefront of the bicycle advocacy movement is one part of making that happen. At Pro Walk Pro Bike I led a visioning session on how to get more women biking alongside some amazing women including: Caroline Szczepanski, communications director for the League of American Bicyclists; Kit Keller, director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals; Barb Chamberlin director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington; and Elly Blue, blogger extraordinaire and change agent from Portland. We presented briefly on the bicycling gender divide took the whole group through a thought experiment to put themselves into the shoes of women as they navigate a host of challenges. We then spent the bulk of our session with our 80 participants working in small groups to come up with concrete action steps we can all take to address the real world challenges facing women as they consider bicycling. Finally each participant made one commitment to an action step they would take in the next 30 days when they return to their community to make it a place where more women will be able to bike. There are many reasons why more women don’t bike in our country. One of them is that trips taken by women are typically far more complex than trips taken by men. While there are many exceptions to this, it is still the case that women do the majority of errands and shuttle children and other family members far more than men do. This means that while a man has a simple work to home commute most women have complex trips with multiple stops and children, dogs, grocery bags, dry cleaning and other unwieldy objects to carry. What does this mean for us as advocates? It means that we need to work a lot harder to make our communities bicycle-friendly for women. I like to think of women as an indicator species. When I see a lot of women biking in a community, as I do in Berkeley and parts of Oakland, I know that we are getting somewhere. However, we still have a long way to go in the East Bay. Alameda County overall has a little less than a third of trips made by women. We must challenge ourselves to change this to make our region a place where everyone is comfortable traveling by bike. And wrapping up this incredible week was the Women’s Cycling Summit. What a buzz of energy at this first ever event in Long Beach! Just looking around the room at the hundred plus women gathered was inspiring. There were presentations on social justice, family biking, getting more teen girls to ride and much more. One thing that really stood out to me was that this group was far more racially and income diverse than the previous two events. The Alliance leadership retreat and Pro Walk Pro Bike were both overwhelmingly white. One reason for this was that some of the sponsorship funds were used to provide scholarships and travel funds to participants who could not otherwise attend. This is just one example of the extra effort we must all make if we are going to broaden the movement. A second theme for all these gatherings was funding for biking and walking. Across the county advocates are organizing to make the best of a bad situation with our new 2-year federal transportation bill MAP-21. With the help of the Alliance and Advocacy Advance leaders have been identified for each state to make sure that no states opt out of their Transportation Alternatives funding, now that there is that option. I presented on our Measure B1 campaign. Our fellow advocates were amazed at the 11-plus percent bike/ped allocation we have won in our transportation plan up at the ballot this November. There is nothing like this across the country in terms of the portion of money going to bike/ped project or the sheer amount of money at stake. All our colleagues around the country are watching us and when we win we will give our colleagues in other states and countries the ammunition they need to push forward their own measures. So we are not just fighting to make Alameda county a bicycling paradise, we are also leading the way for the whole country. Max, Bonnie and I are all coming back to the East Bay inspired and energized from our time in Long Beach learning from our colleagues around the county. We look forward to taking this knowledge and putting it to work to grow and broaden our membership, educate more people on safe biking, win our Measure B1 campaign and much more. We are so grateful to all our members for the support to be able to attend these gatherings. It is because of your support that we are able to do this. Thank you! Renee Rivera, Executive DirectorFile attachment: CA_bikewalk2012.jpg pwpb1_(350x253).jpg