Average Austin Cyclist
Cyclists to city leaders: We need more city leaders on bikes; we need morebikers at the polls
It’s always good to see city leaders paying attention to the cycling community — always. It’s even better when the cyclists stand up, so to speak, and tell the city leaders exactly how many we are, how strong we can be and how important we are to the future of this city.
That’s why I showed up on my bike at City Hall on Friday afternoon for the 16th annual Political Pedal, a chance for City Council candidates to talk to the cycling community about how much they love us (and of course, they all say they do) and what they’re going to do for the us if they get elected on May 12.
The speeches at City Hall were short and sweet; the novelty ride between City Hall and Uncle Billy’s Brew-and-Que on Barton Springs was even shorter, no doubt to allow the novices among the candidates and council members to make their way comfortably. It was more of a hearty handshake than a ride, though at an electoral event, that’s not entirely unexpected either. However, the gathering at Billy’s was a great way to network with the candidates and speak with them one on one — a good way to fill in the gaps, since the speeches were a bit short on specifics.
Frankly, I would have been happier had more than about 50 people been there. Let’s just say the conversation bucket wasn’t as full as I would have hoped it would be.
But I have to give credit where it’s due on this one: A few of the candidates clearly cycle all the time, and a few of the ones who don’t gave it the ol' college try. Incumbent Sheryl Cole rented her bike, while incumbents Chris Riley and Bill Spelman pedaled their own.
Candidate John Duffy clearly is a bicycle enthusiast, riding his bike everywhere and, according to him, has “been hit by plenty of cars.” He’d like to see car-free zones, centered around elementary schools.
Dom Chavez, another candidate, is trying to teach his 6-year-old son how to ride, but he can’t do so in his own neighborhood because there aren’t any safe sidewalks or bike lanes.
Tina Cannon rented an electric bike for the ride “from a local small business, because I’m a small business supporter,” she said, adding that she sold her Cannondale about five years ago when life got in the way of regular riding.
(For a greater look at all the candidates and their positions on bike issues, check out the LBV’s questionnaire here.)
It would have been even cooler to see the mayor or the police chief out there with us, but they couldn’t make it. Didn’t see Mike Martinez, either, though he’s already gathered an endorsement from the League of Bicycling Voters and reportedly had a conflict.
“I’d like to see more city of Austin employees on bikes,” said Meredith Watters, a city employee who showed up at the rally and rode with the group.
The challenge is that those of us who are responsible and engaged are largely trying to get these city leaders to do things that would benefit those who don’t show up to rallies like this: Funding bikeways, sponsoring motorist education projects, a commitment to never building another roadway without a bike and pedestrian lane.
The city leaders need to know that there’s an entire community of cyclists out there who didn’t turn up on Friday — maybe they had jobs to attend, maybe they had family issues, maybe they didn’t hear about it in time.
They need to know about the thousands of Austinites who use their bikes as their primary transportation and not just for fun. There are people who ride every single day, in the freezing rain and sleet or sweltering hot weather, lugging backpacks and saddlebags and really, truly, living their lives on their bicycles, while the rest of the city cruises in their air conditioned vehicles.
Elected officials govern everyone — not just those who vote and not just those who turn up at rallies. I feel a responsibility to remind them that just because only 50 of us showed up Friday, we speak for tens of thousands. And their lives are worth protecting, even if they have long since given up on being politically engaged.
I love that we have some people on our City Council who ride in earnest and truly know the road environment. They understand what a contribution cyclists are making to the environment, to the economy, to relieving traffic congestion and to the collective health of our city every time they choose the bike pedal over the gas pedal. They are aware of the knowledge gaps that motorists have, such as why we occasionally get out of bike lanes and how we have road rights, too.
Props to the LBV, Mellow Johnny’s and the Austin Cycling Association for putting this together each year, as well as Bike Texas and Please Be Kind to Cyclists for supporting the cause. Small or large, it’s important to remind our electeds that avid cyclists are out there and at least some of us are paying attention.
We need more city leaders on bikes. And we need more bikes at the polls. Now is as good a time as any to make that happen.