Martha Rowskowski

#3 Reason Bicycling Will Contine to Grow - The Increase of Women in Bike Advocacy Leadership

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Note: This post is from the upcoming book we're collaborating on with author Jay Walljasper "The Surprising Promise of Bicycling in America." We're fundraising to complete the book and publish it in early spring 2018. If you believe this story deserves to be told please support our campaign. Perks start at just $15: http://www.pedallove.org/surprising-promise-of-bicycling-book/

Above: In 2016 Barb Chamberlain (left), then the Executive Director of Washington Bikes, and Elizabeth Kiker, the Executive Director of Cascade Bicycle Club, successfully merged their two organizations to become the largest state-wide bike advocacy organization in the nation.  One organization brought strengths that complemented each other. The merger increased overall capacity, helping accomplish the mission of growing bicycling for all statewide through effective policy advocacy and successful programs like the Major Taylor Project that empowers youth from diverse communities through bicycling. Image courtesy of Cascade Bicycle Club.

3)  The Increase of Women in Bike Advocacy Leadership

The most recent comprehensive data we have on women riding bikes in the U.S. is from the 2009  National Household Travel Survey which reported women only make 29% of all bike trips. The latest survey was completed in 2016, however, an update on women biking has not yet been released.  What we can track, however, is the exponential growth of women in bike advocacy leadership.

Sadly, two of the most talented women on the national bike advocacy leadership stage lost their lives tragically young. Susie Stephens, the co-founder of the Alliance for Biking and Walking and its first Executive Director was killed while walking in a crosswalk in 2002 at just 36, and Deb Hubsmith, Founder and first Executive Director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership died in 2015 from leukemia at 45.

Fortunately, there has been a growing array of very talented women involved in bike advocacy from the get-go, but in the early days, those women could certainly feel a bit, well, rare.

Lawyer Kit Keller began her professional career in bike advocacy in 1990 when Linda Tracy invited her to apply to work on a Mountain Bikes on Public Lands project as a consultant for the Bicycle Federation of America. Keller won the project, and the handbook that resulted from it about this new "user group" was used in all 50 states.

1990 was also the first  “Pro Walk/Pro Bike” conference for biking and walking professionals and advocates. Keller thinks women may have made up 10% of the audience. 2016 was the first year that the Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place conference collected demographic data on their attendees and presenters. For attendees, the breakdown was 42% male, 46% female, and 12% other. For presenters, it was 45% male, 50% female, and 5% other.

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Above: Originally from Chicago, now in Brooklyn NY, Maria Boustead is the Founder/Designer of Po Campo. She produces the fashion-forward bike-friendly bags to make life-by-bike much easier. This year she became a member of the League of American Bicyclists Board and is eager to share her industry contacts to help the League broaden its reach with people who are often left out of bicycle-related conversations. She understands well the growth market of the casual female bicyclist. Photo by Amy Luther.

Martha Roskowski, former V.P. of Local Innovation for People for Bikes, also began her professional bike advocacy career in 1990 running BikeWeek in her hometown of Boulder Colorado. In 1994 she became the Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado and was then tapped to run the national America Bikes campaign which is where she recalls running into the most challenging sexism of her career.

“We had weekly meetings of the bicycling allies 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?’ Hence was born the Chopped Liver club, which would retire for martinis at the Mayflower Hotel at regular intervals.”

The League of American Bicyclists, the oldest bike advocacy organization in the U.S. (founded in 1880) has had two female Executive Directors, Cosette Simon in the late 1990’s, and Elisa Margolin in the early 2000’s.  Women have also had key roles on their board. Karen Jenkins is the current President of the Board of Directors, with Gail Copus Spann the Vice Chair. 

“Studies of cycling in Europe clearly show that when a critical mass of women ride bicycles the numbers of children and seniors on bikes dramatically increases.  In other words, women ride bicycles when they know it is safe.  More women on bikes increases the overall numbers of all people on bikes, which contributes to communities that are safer and healthier,” says Jenkins.

Remember: This post is from the upcoming book we're collaborating on with author Jay Walljasper "The Surprising Promise of Bicycling in America." If you believe this story deserves to be told please support our fundraising efforts. Perks start at just $15: http://www.pedallove.org/surprising-promise-of-bicycling-book/