My Dream for Bicycle Advocacy


Benetton Ad shared on Pinterest

3/23/12 - Dear readers:

I originally wrote this post on March 9th and so far it is our most popular piece ever. It seems to have hit a nerve. Fashion and style can be powerful tools. I hope you'll share your thoughts! Best, Melissa Balmer

My dream is also a challenge for bicycle advocacy here in the U.S. I  write this fully willing to volunteer to roll up my sleeves and help  make it happen (and it is my hope that our Women On Bikes project here  is proof of throwing our hat in the ring). I want bicycle advocacy to  harness the power of fashion and style for our cause - for the bike to  become an easy viable and safe urban transit choice for anyone  interested. And of course I want the power of fashion and style to make almosteveryone interested. I'm completely serious about wanting to double the number  of women and girls riding bikes here in Southern California over the  next five years (want to help make that happen? Click here). Ideally I'd like it to happen in the whole country.

That's what fashion and style can do, and do amazingly well. It can  spark our interest. It can create desire where we didn't know one  existed. It can make us stand up and take notice of something we've  never considered before, or we haven't considered in quite awhile. If we  see enough of this new/old item/concept fashion has decided to focus  its energy on (say a shade of color, a type of handbag, a cut of pant, a  body type, a personality, a car, a type of food, a city, and yes a  bike) featured again and again in glossy magazines and blogs, and then  have this reinforced in advertisements, something clicks in our brains  and we think I really must have pink in my wardrobe this summer! Why haven't I been wearing pink? Think I'm being silly? Consider, if you will, the rise in fashion of cup cake madness in the past decade or so.

Now is the moment. The pump is primed. Fashion responds to what is  going on and brings us a new way to think about how our world is  shifting and changing - and brings a sense of optimism with which to  face these changes.

As gas prices having been rising, as credit has almost disappeared,  as technology has opened our world in amazing ways and the planet has  become smaller, fashion, design and placemaking have been  responding with the rise and celebration of new-urbanism. This is what  I'm pondering as I get ready to meet with Mark Plotz, the Director of  the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference later this week. Placemaking is the theme for this year's conference,  and placemaking will be very much on our minds as Carolyn Szczepanski of  the Alliance for Biking & Walking, Kit Keller of APBP and I host a panel on the topic "Women + Bikes" for the conference (more on that soon, I promise).

The hip young things of today don't want to buy an urban assault  vehicle and move to the suburbs. They are finding places like Portland,  and Seattle, and New York, and yes, Long Beach, desirable because of  their opportunities - one of which is the ability to easily live a  car-light or car-free lifestyle. They embrace living within their means,  fair trade, and bringing back once lost industries to their choice of  living places (more soon on this as well).

But in order for us to double (and really we need to triple and  quadruple) the number of women and girls riding bikes in our country to  seriously combat the effects of sedentary diseases, expensive gas,  traffic congestion, polluted air and more, the bicycle in the urban  environment needs to be safe and convenient. In order to entice myriads  of women and girls to ride their bikes, moving beyond the hipsters, the  early adopters and the trend-setters, getting on a bike needs to become  as easy and safe we feel about getting in a car. It means biking in  heels needs to be okay if that's what works for you.

In many cities this may mean bike share. In most cities it will mean  female-friendly bike infrastructure like separated bike lanes and other  amenities that for years the seasoned vehicular cyclists have touted as  unnecessary. If riding a bike in urban settings is to become ubiquitous  to driving a car little girls and their Moms need to feel welcome and  that their needs are being addressed and matter.

The designers have designed the bikes. Bikes comfortable and easy for  almost everyone to ride now exist in almost all price points. Bike  kitchens where re-built bikes can be bought, or earned, for even less  are popping up all over the country. The fashion and style mavens have  picked up the bike over the past few years (Fendi, Missoni, Kate Spade,  Benneton...the list goes on and on) and have put their own twist on this  wonderful transit tool. The bike is moving from a prop in a fashion  shoot, to a regularly featured "must have" item in the pages and on the  posts of our finest fashion and style outlets, and now they're being  featured in ads (as seen in the new Benetton ad above). The iron is hot.  The stage is set.

It's time to get our game on. It's time to come together as a team  and create a game plan. Here's my dream of a tipping point - five  well-known women + five well-known men on the covers of ten fashion and  style magazines in May of 2013 on bikes for bike month. Ten people who  inspire us with their talent and passion and excellence on the cover of  ten magazines. I'm talking about people like Michelle Obama, Oprah  Winfrey, Gwen Stefani, George Clooney, Mikeal Colville-Andersen (Mr.  Cycle Chic!) and gosh maybe Bruno Mars (didn't he rock the house at the  Grammys?).

Are you with me? Can I count you in? I hope you'll join us and be a valuable part of the conversation and the plan!