Interview with Kit Keller

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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.