Role Models on Wheels

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus

There were no bikes to be bought, new or used, where we lived during World War II. I didn’t get a two-wheeler until I was 11, two years after the war was over. For me, riding a bike was never something I could do without thinking. I worried about every car — and, in Philadelphia, there were plenty — and every pothole in the road — ditto. I never got very good at it.

I had a Honda 150 motorcycle when I was in my 30s.  It was a gas-saving measure, got more than 75 miles to the gallon, and sounded like a sewing machine.

By that time I was living in the country and felt somewhat safer on two wheels. I did, that is, until a woman in a station wagon, turned in her seat and yelling at her kids in the wayback, came across the road straight at me. If I’d had more skill or more power I might have been able to evade her. As it was, my only option was to head for the ditch at the side of the road, where I landed with the bike as the filling in a sandwich, my right leg underneath it, and the rest of me on top.

The woman, someone I knew, never saw me and I never told her what happened.

Somehow I didn’t break anything. I hauled the bike out of the ditch, got back on it and went to my meeting. That’s where the pain hit me. Later, the doctor looked at my ankle and said, “You’re going to wish you’d broken this.” I’d torn two ligaments on the outside of my ankle bone. I was on crutches for six months.

All that joy of biking, plus the fact that the topography where I live looks like a graph of the Dow Jones Average when the stock market is at its craziest, makes me the wrong person to boost riding a bicycle as a way to reduce your carbon footprint, but that’s exactly what I’m doing here.

I’m also cross-posting an article from Grist, which has become one of my favorite blogs on climate and energy. This one is by Ashley Braun and its entitled

Three of our favorite politicians on two wheels

While oil continues to gush in the Gulf of Mexico and the future of federal climate and energy legislation looks dim, there remains one relatively easy solution for those interested in saving the planet: riding your bike. And it’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who think so.

Here are a few of our favorite elected officials who are walking — nay, cycling! — the talk by taking their bikes right to the streets. Did we miss any notable politicians who commute by bike? We’d especially like tips on any who are female, racially diverse, and/or not a Democrat. Tell us in the comments!

Mayor Mike McGinn, Seattle, Wash.

Seattle’s upstart new mayor managed to oust the city’s previous green rockstar politician, Greg Nickels. with his daily bicycle-commuting, livable streets-promoting, populist charms. He recently unveiled a decidedly un-car-centric transportation initiative called “Walk. Bike. Ride.” It offers detailed improvements (within the current budget) for those getting around Seattle by bike. Take a ride with McGinn as he cycles to city hall.

[Video is at Grist web site]

Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver, Canada

Like McGinn, Robertson regularly bikes to work, as well as to press conferences, and he just opened another successful dedicated bike lane in Vancouver. Back in 2008, when he was still stumping for the mayorship, Robertson gave this rousing speech to a group of two-wheelers during Critical Mass, in which he called himself “a hard-core cyclist.”

[More video at Grist]

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)

Representing cyclist-friendly Portland, Ore., Rep. Blumenauer is chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus, an enthusiastic promoter of bike-curiousity, and a bike commuter of 14 years, which includes his tenure on Capitol Hill. “I have never had to look for a parking space in Washington, D.C. I’ve never been stuck in traffic, ever,” he told NPR in 2008. “These are the approaches that are going to help us reduce the carbon footprint, enrich people’s lives, strengthen the economy, and I think we’ll just be better off.”

And a couple of honorable mentions go to the following bike-friendly officials who may or may not bike themselves, but who are out to break the cycle of auto-dependency in their own cities.

Mayor John Hickenlooper, Denver, Colo.

He helped usher in the first city-wide bike-sharing program in the United States.

“Bike sharing is a viable transportation option to help improve the overall health of Americans and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Hickenlooper at the launch of Denver’s program. “Let’s start a two-wheel revolution. Let’s make every day Bike-to-Somewhere Day.”

Mayor Ralph Becker, Salt Lake City, Utah

This Utah mayor is way more excited about bike lanes than Salt Lake City’s plans for a shiny new light rail project, and he’s proving it by adding 38 miles of new bike lanes in 2009 and more to come.

“The valley itself is relatively flat. We’ve got wide streets. We have a relatively good climate … and an enormous opportunity to achieve being one of the most bikeable cities in the country,” he declared in April.

Your community is probably ready to facilitate biking (if it already has, how about letting us know in the Comments?). Maybe all it takes is a little role modeling, like what Grist has given us.

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2 Responses to “Role Models on Wheels”

  1. Good to see more cities getting into bike commuting. I bike commute most days to work in downtown Des Moines. I take a variety of routes including dedicated bike lanes on major through streets, bucolic tree-lined boulevards, dedicated bike trails (currently flooded, its been a wet year), and a final mile in the artificial canyons of downtown. The round trip is 14 miles and is both environmentally sound and good for my attitude and waistline (sort of).

    One key piece of bicycle infrastructure, not mentioned above is that all buses are set up to carry bikes. Thus, even if rain is predicted in the afternoon, I ride to work with the confidence that I won’t have to ride home in a downpour.

    Another key to a successful bike commute are the many safe and considerate car drivers. 70,000 people commute into downtown each day, but I rarely have a problem. Iowan’s are good people.

    Having grown up on a farm, I am still getting used to living in the “big city”. Bike commuting makes my life here better.

  2. It’s always good to hear about cycling enthusiasts.  I commute daily to work by bicycle and am super lucky to have my job be about bicycle advocacy, education, safety and health.  It’s good to see more people taking to two wheels.

    In Holyoke MA where I work we’ve been getting a community bike shop and weekly bike ride going. Some of our goals are to get cars and drivers to be more aware and also to provide opportunities to youth who wouldn’t be able to afford a bicycle to build and earn one.  

    There are great initiatives going on out there.  Keep posting them

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