Saddle Up, D.C.!

November 30, 2012

Bicyclists measure their performance in revolutions per minute. So does that make them revolutionary? It sure seems like it at BicycleSPACE, the Mount Vernon Square shop that’s launched an advocacy wing called the Assembly.

“We won’t stop until D.C. is the best city for cycling, period,” owner Phil Koopman proclaimed at the group’s kickoff meeting Nov. 14. And they won’t look like the typical bike boosters either, said Koopman, who’s trying to build a broader constituency for cycling by promoting a fun approach to policy change.

No spandex was on display at the event, which featured funny videos, a talk-show-style interview with Jonathon Kass (from D.C. Council member Tommy Wells’ office) and an audience-participation segment called “What Rings Your Bell?” The crowd of about 30 folks split into small groups to discuss the issues and brainstorm solutions.

I found myself eavesdropping on Nicole Donnelly, a Southwest resident who already has one bike advocacy project under her belt. Annoyed by motorists making U-turns through the dedicated bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, she helped organize a BicycleSPACE-backed protest last month. Cyclists rode back and forth on the street covered in signs, handed out safety info and promoted a petition to get something done about the problem. Flash forward to this week: Mayor Vincent Gray issued an emergency ruling that the turns — which have caused nearly every accident on that street in the past two years — are illegal.

For her next challenge, Donnelly has a different target in mind: “My latest issue is unsafe cyclists: ninjas, salmons, unsafe passers.” Maybe they’d behave better with more appealing bike accommodations?

Autumn Saxton-Ross, who works for D.C.’s Department of Health, suggested to Donnelly that they emphasize the greater good when asking for lanes and other facilities. “Some people couldn’t care less about biking but want their kids to have a safe walk to school. We need to wrap it all together,” Saxton-Ross said, noting that the department is “finally getting more involved in promoting active transportation.” (One proposal being considered: changing the city’s driving test to include questions about bikes.)

After the groups took turns sharing their thoughts, there was a vast list of ideas taped to the wall. Suggested projects included cleaning up trails, creating funny viral videos to highlight problem areas and making their presence known by holding bike-lane-only group rides during rush hour. My favorite? Putting stickers that say “I parked in a bike lane” on offending vehicles.

“None of these are things we don’t want to do,” said Koopman, who’d like to try to tackle at least one project a month going forward. “The focus isn’t decided by us, but by the people who want to go out and do stuff.”

And what they want to do is bike.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · November 30, 2012