Interview with Martha Roskowski

Martha_website.jpg

Note: This blog will be excerpted in part for the upcoming "The Surprising Promise of Bicycling in America" book. We're crowdsourcing thru January 2, 2018 to make sure that can happen. We could use your support! Perks start at just $3: https://igg.me/at/surprisingpromiseofbicycling

Martha Roskowski is former V.P. of Local Innovation for PeopleForBikes, and heads up their Green Lane Project, which recently evolved into the Big Jump Project. She also assists on broader strategic efforts and leadership for PFB.

Melissa Balmer: What was bicycle advocacy like in the early days?

Martha Roskowski: I started in the biking world in 1990, coordinating BikeWeek for the City of Boulder. I became the Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado in 1994. The bike advocacy mix at the time was mostly guys with a handful of women. The first Thunderhead Gathering was the same. Generally, the men were welcoming and the women were comfortable in working with them. There were, of course, always a few men that overstepped the boundaries, either through sexism or lack of awareness, but the women were generally bold enough to slap it down. I've been lucky to work with strong women at several points in my career. Elissa Margolin, the Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists, championed my hiring to run the America Bikes campaign, and proved a smart and supportive strategist and collaborator.

I grew up in a family where we were all expected to contribute and achieve, regardless of gender. All of us kids (three boys and two girls) had regular rotating chores of setting the table, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms and mowing the lawn. We were all expected to go to college and have careers. My mother had worked as a food inspector at a time when she was regularly training men who were paid more than her and promoted over her. Her stories were seen as history, not something her daughters would face. I was taught that I could do and be anything I wanted to be.

I must admit being fairly uninvolved in women's issues for much of my career. My upbringing gave me confidence that I would be treated fairly, And for the most part, I have been. I'm determined enough and bold enough that I can hold my ground in most conversations. I've worked in the bike world for nearly 28 years and most sectors are still male-dominated. My strategy, for the most part, has been to fit in with the guys and downplay my gender.

The 2016 election rocked my world. Our country elected a president whose behavior and pronouncements regarding women were totally unacceptable to me. It made me realize that I'd been coasting on the coattails of a lot of other women for a long time, and that things I took for granted were now under attack.  It marked a turning point for me. I gathered up my daughter and marched with a million other women in Washington DC in January, 2017. I write letters and call my members of congress. And I'm more sensitive to sexism, subtle and not-so-subtle. And I feel more responsible for speaking up and helping other women succeed.

Most of the sexism I've encountered was fairly trivial. The worst was probably when I worked in Washington DC, running the America Bikes campaign. We'd had weekly meetings of the allies - the various groups working for more balanced transportation systems, and the men in blue shirts would sit at one end of the table and pontificate and generally dominate the conversation. The women would get a word or two in edgewise, but the men always seconded their male colleague's suggestions, even if one of the women had made the suggestion first. After one of these meetings, one of the women said ""what are we, chopped liver?" and hence was born the Chopped Liver club, which would retire for martinis at the Mayflower Hotel at regular intervals.

MB: What are you most excited about now for women in bike advocacy?

MR: Right now, I'm loving the whole change in bike advocacy, from the identity politics of strong bike riders (mostly male) advocating for their right to ride, to the broader movement for safer streets and more livable communities. It's a shift from the strong and fearless taking the lane to a whole cohort of other people who want to ride safely and comfortably, and sometimes slowly. It includes women, families and older people. Women are stepping up to support places to ride for all ages and abilities, whether it's through traditional advocacy groups or the whole cadre of women who are now leading city transportation departments. Through our work with the Better Bike Share Partnership, we're seeing a diverse arry of community leaders using bikes and bike share as a tool to improve their neighborhoods. It's shifting from bikes as the end, to bikes as a means to achieve broader goals, and its expanding our movement in very positive ways. 

MB: What's missing? What are men in bike advocacy and even the bike industry not understanding about the power of better engaging women in bike leadership?

MR: The U.S. bike industry is still dominated by white men. It seems that the bike industry is figuring out that women are a potential market for bikes, but a lot of the marketing and product development for women is still being led by men. While there are certainly women who are super-tough and can talk technical specs and hang with the boys on bike rides, a lot of women aren't as aggressive in their riding or their clothing and bike choices. And that's a perfectly valid approach to bicycling. There's an interesting new wave of start-up companies run by women, creating clothing and other gear for women that embraces this style.

A few years ago, I attended one of PeopleForBikes's Congressional Fly-ins. It was an all-women event, with female leaders from various sectors of the bike industry. These are smart women who are successful and comfortable working in a male-dominated industry. Several said that they don't generally participate in women's only events, and they attended this one with some trepidation. But they loved the gathering. They felt empowered and engaged. It wasn't a gripe session at all, it was a bunch of strong and successful women marching through the halls of the Capital and working together for change.

MB: If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect leadership retreat for women in biking and walking advocacy what would it include?

MR: I'd love talks about leadership and change management. I'm not interested in bitch sessions about how horrible men are because they aren't. I want to focus on how we elevate women's voices and women's issues in the bike world. I want to learn more about team-building and communication, and how we help women find the courage to step up and lead. 

Learn more about Martha here.

Interview with Kit Keller

F2DB8A8C-93D4-419D-97B2-B477D8572015_edited-2.jpg

Above: At the Cycling Without Age program at the Lasata Senior Living Campus in Cedarburg, WI volunteers train as rickshaw pilots to offer bike rides so  that residents can enjoy the community and experience the outdoors. Ole Kassow of Copenhagen, Denmark launched the program and David Tice helped bring it to Cedarburg. Tice is show with Kit Keller in the image above during her pilot training.

Note: This blog will be excerpted in part for the upcoming "The Surprising Promise of Bicycling in America" book. We're crowdsourcing thru January 2, 2018 to make sure that can happen. We could use your support! Perks start at just $3: https://igg.me/at/surprisingpromiseofbicycling

Kit Keller's passion for bicycling began when her older brother Russell Keller served as captain of the winning team for the very first Little 500 at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1951, a few years before she was born. However, Kit’s parents wouldn't allow her to ride her bike from the family farm in Indiana to school or to visit friends; they felt it was too dangerous.

Her professional career in bike advocacy began in 1990 when Linda Tracy, a project manager at the Bicycle Federation of America in Washington, DC, invited Kit to apply to coordinate a Mountain Bikes on Public Land project as a consultant with the Bicycle Federation of America (BFA). Kit won the project, and the resulting guidebook about this new "user group" was utilized in all 50 states.

Since that time she has worked on a myriad of groundbreaking national biking and walking advocacy projects including co-managing the logistics on the ISTEA conferences in 1992-1993, coordinating the Pro Walk Pro Bike Conference in Portland in 1994, and serving as Executive Director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals from 2006 to 2015. Kit is now retired and among her many volunteer projects she's an advisor on the Pedal Love Council.

Melissa Balmer: What was it like in the early days of bike advocacy for women? Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place only started tracking the male/female ratio for the last conference in 2016 in Vancouver and it's now 50/50 - but it certainly wasn't that when I visited Chattanooga in 2010, or even in Long Beach in 2012 was it? 

Kit Keller: In 1990, which was my first Pro Bike conference, I recall very few women. Perhaps women may have made up 10% of the audience. At the Pro Bike 1992 conference in Montreal, a meeting was convened to discuss forming a professional organization that would eventually become the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. I don’t recall many women in that meeting. When I asked why that was, it seemed the gentlemen believed very few women were interested in the field. Happily, this condition changed rapidly. 

MB: What are you excited about now for women in bike advocacy?

KK: First off, more women are bicycling and many are advocating for exciting new facilities like separated bike lanes. Younger people don’t accept that the car is always the way to go so they’re driving more transportation options along with new technologies. That's what thrills me about the next generation of bicycle advocacy.

Things were very different when I began bike commuting in DC in 1989 at age 35. Back then, most people, and particularly women, thought I was crazy. I remember a block party in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1992 where a neighbor chided me for suggesting she might like to try commuting by bike. "No way," she said, explaining she had to get her children ready for the day, drop them off at daycare and school, race to the dry cleaners before work and then after work pick up her kids and get to the grocery store before heading home to make dinner, get the kids in bed, and then do housework before collapsing after an extremely exhausting day. Today we see women and men and children and families coast to coast in cities big and small making these kinds of trips by bike and LOVING it.

MB: What's missing? What are men in bike advocacy and even the bike industry not understanding about the power and opportunity of better engaging women in bike leadership?

KK: Women truly understand what systems need to change in order to encourage more people to bike. Women are already expanding the market for bicycles and bike-related products, both as buyers and sellers. It’s important to engage more people, including children, in developing  exciting new designs and technologies.

Globally, electric bikes are revolutionizing the idea of who bicycles where for what reason. North America is finally catching on to e-bikes, just as we copied the success of Paris' bikeshare transit system Vélib'. How wonderful that today bikeshare can literally be for everyone thanks to adaptive bicycles and out-of-the-box thinking about tools and technology. 

Of course products need to be lovely too because part of the magic of bicycling for all is being able to imagine yourself outside having fun the moment you first see that new bike or helmet or bag or lights or trailer. Super-athlete bikes still have a niche, but most people in the marketplace won't buy them.

Let’s find out how to combine the power of every human spirit to help us share our love of bicycling with everyone? I love the idea of asking “the five whys”. We can start there. 

Learn more about Kit Keller here.

 

Interview with Martha Roskowski

Martha_website.jpg

Note: This blog will be excerpted in part for the upcoming "The Surprising Promise of Bicycling in America" book. We're crowdsourcing thru January 2, 2018 to make sure that can happen. We could use your support! Perks start at just $3: https://igg.me/at/surprisingpromiseofbicycling

Martha Roskowski is former V.P. of Local Innovation for PeopleForBikes, and headed up their Green Lane Project, which recently evolved into the Big Jump Project. She also assisted on broader strategic efforts and leadership for PFB. She left PeopleForBikes in late 2017 to explore new opportunities, with a new project on parking in the works.

Melissa Balmer: What was bicycle advocacy like in the early days?

Martha Roskowski: I started in the biking world in 1990, coordinating BikeWeek for the City of Boulder. I became the Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado in 1994. The bike advocacy mix at the time was mostly guys with a handful of women. The first Thunderhead Gathering was the same. Generally, the men were welcoming and the women were comfortable in working with them. There were, of course, always a few men that overstepped the boundaries, either through sexism or lack of awareness, but the women were generally bold enough to slap it down. I've been lucky to work with strong women at several points in my career. Elissa Margolin, the Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists, championed my hiring to run the America Bikes campaign, and proved a smart and supportive strategist and collaborator.

I grew up in a family where we were all expected to contribute and achieve, regardless of gender. All of us kids (three boys and two girls) had regular rotating chores of setting the table, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms and mowing the lawn. We were all expected to go to college and have careers. My mother had worked as a food inspector at a time when she was regularly training men who were paid more than her and promoted over her. Her stories were seen as history, not something her daughters would face. I was taught that I could do and be anything I wanted to be.

I must admit being fairly uninvolved in women's issues for much of my career. My upbringing gave me confidence that I would be treated fairly, And for the most part, I have been. I'm determined enough and bold enough that I can hold my ground in most conversations. I've worked in the bike world for nearly 28 years and most sectors are still male-dominated. My strategy, for the most part, has been to fit in with the guys and downplay my gender.

The 2016 election rocked my world. Our country elected a president whose behavior and pronouncements regarding women were totally unacceptable to me. It made me realize that I'd been coasting on the coattails of a lot of other women for a long time, and that things I took for granted were now under attack.  It marked a turning point for me. I gathered up my daughter and marched with a million other women in Washington DC in January, 2017. I write letters and call my members of congress. And I'm more sensitive to sexism, subtle and not-so-subtle. And I feel more responsible for speaking up and helping other women succeed.

Most of the sexism I've encountered was fairly trivial. The worst was probably when I worked in Washington DC, running the America Bikes campaign. We'd had weekly meetings of the allies - the various groups working for more balanced transportation systems, and the men in blue shirts would sit at one end of the table and pontificate and generally dominate the conversation. The women would get a word or two in edgewise, but the men always seconded their male colleague's suggestions, even if one of the women had made the suggestion first. After one of these meetings, one of the women said ""what are we, chopped liver?" and hence was born the Chopped Liver club, which would retire for martinis at the Mayflower Hotel at regular intervals.

MB: What are you most excited about now for women in bike advocacy?

MR: Right now, I'm loving the whole change in bike advocacy, from the identity politics of strong bike riders (mostly male) advocating for their right to ride, to the broader movement for safer streets and more livable communities. It's a shift from the strong and fearless taking the lane to a whole cohort of other people who want to ride safely and comfortably, and sometimes slowly. It includes women, families and older people. Women are stepping up to support places to ride for all ages and abilities, whether it's through traditional advocacy groups or the whole cadre of women who are now leading city transportation departments. Through our work with the Better Bike Share Partnership, we're seeing a diverse arry of community leaders using bikes and bike share as a tool to improve their neighborhoods. It's shifting from bikes as the end, to bikes as a means to achieve broader goals, and its expanding our movement in very positive ways. 

MB: What's missing? What are men in bike advocacy and even the bike industry not understanding about the power of better engaging women in bike leadership?

MR: The U.S. bike industry is still dominated by white men. It seems that the bike industry is figuring out that women are a potential market for bikes, but a lot of the marketing and product development for women is still being led by men. While there are certainly women who are super-tough and can talk technical specs and hang with the boys on bike rides, a lot of women aren't as aggressive in their riding or their clothing and bike choices. And that's a perfectly valid approach to bicycling. There's an interesting new wave of start-up companies run by women, creating clothing and other gear for women that embraces this style.

A few years ago, I attended one of PeopleForBikes's Congressional Fly-ins. It was an all-women event, with female leaders from various sectors of the bike industry. These are smart women who are successful and comfortable working in a male-dominated industry. Several said that they don't generally participate in women's only events, and they attended this one with some trepidation. But they loved the gathering. They felt empowered and engaged. It wasn't a gripe session at all, it was a bunch of strong and successful women marching through the halls of the Capital and working together for change.

MB: If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect leadership retreat for women in biking and walking advocacy what would it include?

MR: I'd love talks about leadership and change management. I'm not interested in bitch sessions about how horrible men are because they aren't. I want to focus on how we elevate women's voices and women's issues in the bike world. I want to learn more about team-building and communication, and how we help women find the courage to step up and lead. 

Learn more about Martha here, and PeopleForBikes here.