When Can You Ride Your Bike Up a Ladder?

This post was originally published on streets.mn, Friday March 7, 2014

Photo courtesy of streets.mn

Photo courtesy of streets.mn

When it’s a ladder of opportunity.

President Obama has talked a lot about ladders of opportunity, especially in the last year. Growing the middle class and easing access to economic security across racial and gender lines is a major aspect of his platform.

Tuesday morning, speaking at the 2014 National Bike Summit in Washington D.C., Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx cited data from the League of American Bicyclist’s report of last year that nearly a third of bike trips are made by people earning less than $30,000 annually. The average family making $50,000 or less per year spends 28% of its budget on housing…and a staggering 30% on transportation.

For many Americans, bicycles represent a crucial key to opportunity. Lower income workers are disproportionately likely to work off-peak shifts, times when access to public transportation is often limited or non-existent. For these individuals, cycling doesn’t represent a weekend hobby, complete with kit and cleats. It’s part of their livelihood.

As Sec. Foxx said on Tuesday, “This isn’t just an issue of recreation; it’s an issue of equality, bringing people together, expanding the middle class and helping people who are trying to get into the middle class. It’s an issue of making sure, when someone’s only or best option to get to work is a bike, that they have an option to ride it. When the President talks about ladders of opportunity, that’s what he’s talking about. Sometimes that ladder can be a bike path to a new job or a new school.”

Sec. Foxx urged the League, Summit attendees, and other bicycle advocates to get behind President Obama’s $302 billion transportation proposal, which was announced last week in St. Paul at the newly remodeled Union Depot. The proposal follows on the heels of a bill introduced by Rep. Albio Sires’ (NJ-D) in January. The New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act of 2014 would set aside $11 million in loan funding from the existing $1 billion Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program (already funded) for cycling and pedestrian related infrastructure improvements. The bill further requires that 25% of the funds be spent in “low income” communities.

I live near University, Frogtown, and downtown St. Paul. Even during this particularly and incredibly brutal Minnesota winter, I see people on bikes on a regular basis. Some of them are on fat bikes, or bikes with studded tires, fully kitted out with panniers and Vibram booties. But a lot of them are on beat-up old bikes. Sometimes they’re on the sidewalk. And the most specialized gear they’ve got might, might, be a pair of ski goggles.

Walker Angell recently wrote a fine post on streets.mn about why bicycle commuting might be hitting a hard ceiling in the Twin Cities Metro. It’s a great post. I agree with 99.9% of it. But it’s important to remember there are folks out there for whom bike commuting isn’t a stylish trend or environmentally sound option that will help millennials Save the World. It’s the only mode of transportation they’ve got to get to work, and it can be a long climb.

Taking the Training Wheels Off My Bike Advocacy

Let me just say it up front: I’ve never had a blog. I have no idea what I’m doing.

But I have a passion for writing, and a passion for making the world a better place. I’ve dabbled in homesteading, local food, recycling, alternative energy, minimalism, home schooling (oh so briefly!), community organizing, and a variety of other ventures, dubious and otherwise. Some panned out. Some didn’t.

It seems after falling and picking myself back up a few times, I’ve landed on wheels.

I love my bike(s). I only started riding a few short years ago, if you don’t count the countless miles I put in as a child in semi-rural Idaho. Since I started back up, I just can’t get enough. I’ve gone from zero bikes to three, no, make that four bikes in four short years. I’ve gotten my children on bikes. I’ve done multi-day weekend road rides with my husband. I’ve deluded myself into believe I could restore a vintage bike.

I’ve pushed myself, learned about myself, and enjoyed myself.

Recently, I was asked to become a Spokeswoman for St. Paul Women On Bikes. As I was researching bike advocacy and cycling infrastructure, I realized that bicycles are an answer to a lot of the questions I have about the direction of our society and how we might help steer it to a better, more sustainable place, a place where I’d like my children to live their lives. Maybe even my grandchildren and their grandchildren.

  • Environmental: bikes don’t emit smog, consume gasoline, or require nearly as much energy or resources to actually build as cars.
  • Health: exercise is good for you! Health care costs are out of control, obesity rates are ridiculous, last I checked, I think the life expectancy in America had actually dropped. America, and much of the Westernized World needs to get off its collective butt and move. Moving on two wheels (or three, if that’s your thing) is liberating and fun.
  • Sustainable cities: A recently post on the blog <re/code> pointed out that the economic recovery can be measured by your local traffic congestion. More jobs = more people on the roads trying to get to those jobs. I don’t know about where you live, but around here, here being America, we don’t really have the funds to support the upkeep of our transportation infrastructure. Cities are growing denser and will continue to do so. Congestion will grow apace.

I recently read something that struck me profoundly: Ideas don’t need to be new. They need to be heard.

Then I read something else that really knocked me over the head: If you want to succeed, you must be willing to look foolish.

So back to my original point. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve been dithering for months over how to launch a “successful” blog. The only way to get going was to go.

So this blog will grow bit by bit as I learn, and maybe I’ll wobble, fall down, and look a bit foolish from time to time. But I want to add my voice to the chorus. My ideas and beliefs may not be wholly original, but I believe they need to be heard.

And the internet is one of the loudest places I know.