Friday, December 20, 2013

Bike Advocacy is Sometimes like Selling Vacuum Cleaners Door-to-Door

Me:  "Hi.  I'm Pete with Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.  Do you have any employees that ride their bikes to work?  We're giving out free bike lights to help them be safe on their way to and from work."

Coffee House Manager: "What an awesome idea!  Thank you.  We've got three people that ride to work!"

Carry-out Pizza Place Manager: "All of our employees are rich.  They don't have to ride bikes."

The Lights

And so on… 

Let me back up and explain what was going on.  Like the intro says, I work for Washington Area Bicyclist Association.  One of our sister groups is Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.  I work as the Suburban Outreach Bike Ambassador.  If Santa was a cyclist and Christmas was a cycling holiday, I'd be the elf that brings 2-wheeled happiness to all the good (and bad) girls and boys.  I don't actually give away bicycles.  Rather I bring the joy of CYCLING to people.  

One of my favorite activities is helping people ride safely.  Visibility is a big part of that.  Every year WABA and FABB give away hundreds, if not thousands of sets of flashy lights that make it much easier for people to see.  We give them to everyone, but my real goal is to get them on the handlebars and seat posts of the folks who may not be able to afford a good set of lights on their own.  Going restaurant to restaurant asking if places have employees that ride is a great way to get lights where they need to be.  
Vienna, Virginia

In three hours of walking around the restaurant district of Vienna, Virginia, I don't think I had the same response twice to the introduction at the top of this blog post.  My buddy Alex joined me for an hour of walking around town and he had the same reaction.  There were, however, some common threads:

1) The vast majority of people responded positively and really liked what we were doing.  
2) No-one understood what we were doing after the first introduction.  We had to repeat ourselves at least once every single time we walked into an establishment.  No matter how simple or complex I made the pitch, no-one got it the first time the words left my mouth.  Almost everyone got it by the second delivery.  Two people never did understand the concept of giving away lights to people who ride, even after many attempts to explain.  
3) Coffee house managers were overwhelmingly positive about the idea.
4) Pizza carryout places were universally negative to the idea.
Alex and I: This week's Hot Deals

The best interaction came when I was walking around before Alex joined me.  One coffee house employee tracked me down 5 minutes after I'd left her place of work, handed me a free cup of fancy coffee, shook my hand and thanked me.

The funniest/most negative was an older woman in a completely vacant diner surrounded by restaurants that were packed with customers who told me that she didn't employ "The kind of people who have to ride bikes to work."  The contempt in her voice didn't escape me.  

One pizza delivery place manager yelled to his crew, "What the *expletive* was that all about?" before we'd even got to the door.  Even three attempts, one from Alex, two from me, hadn't been successful at explaining what we were doing.  

The bottom line:  I spent 3 hours walking around Vienna.  Alex was with me helping out for a little over an hour.  We gave out just short of 50 sets of bike lights.  Every set of those lights got into the hands of someone who really needed and wanted them.  Even though I felt like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesperson, wee had positive interactions with over 100 people and really only one or two negative reactions to what we were doing.  Even the establishments that didn't have people who commute by bike got to see that there are people out there that do and that WABA and FABB are out there trying to make their lives a little better.  It was a super positive night!  

Be seen!  Get home safely. :D


Monday, December 16, 2013

FABB/WABA Suburban Holiday Shopping Ride

The best response that I got when I proposed this ride was "Ho Ho NO. I'll follow you to Certain Death, Pete, but not to Tyson's Corner (a fate worse than . . . )."  

I think many people dread crowds and parking problems associated with holiday shopping at the mall the week before Christmas.  The mall can get a bit crazy this time of year.  My goal was to make it fun.  I did this by getting there by bicycle and by bringing  along as many friends as I could.  I've also wanted to share how amazingly easy it is to ride to Tyson's Corner by bicycle.  That was the genesis of the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB) / Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Holiday Shopping Ride.  Both FABB and WABA are all about showing people that it is easy to live by bicycle.

Tyson's Corner Center jumped in immediately as a sponsor.  Mosaic District enthusiastically supported this too.  Freshbikes Mosaic provided both shopping bags and bicycle security services (me with a bunch of U-locks and cables) to make this all possible.  I rode the cargo bike with buckets on the back to help people with transporting their purchases.  In the end, I was the only one filling the buckets with stuff that I'd bought.  It wasn't that others didn't shop.  They brought their own means for carrying their purchases home.  

The route was simple.  Nine of us rode from Vienna, Virginia to Tyson's Corner and completely bypassed the lines of cars waiting to get into the parking garage.  We picked up two more riders along the way.  Bicycle Parking is right next to the mall entrance in spot that had Mall Security and a police officer right next door for added bicycle security.  The outdoor German Market was really nice!  The local artisans and bakeries were the backbone of my shopping for the day.  We got a lot of shopping done before even setting foot in the mall.  We enjoyed two hours of shopping inside and a nice lunch before loading up our purchases and heading south.  

The second stop on our shopping ride is the Mosaic District.  This eclectic group of shops and restaurants is quickly becoming one of my favorite hangouts.  In addition to being home to my favorite local bike shop (Freshbikes) there are many small local shops, MOM's Organic Market and plenty of restaurants, Target and the movie theater make it a great place to be.  It is quite easy to get to by bicycle and has good bike parking in the garages and out on the street.  We spent an hour there shopping and getting coffee before heading back to Vienna.  

What was my favorite reaction after the ride?  "Thanks for organizing and leading the ride, we got a lot of shopping done. We'll be riding to Tysons instead of driving again in the near future."

This was the first of many, many rides of this kind.  Many thanks to Tyson's Corner Center, Mosaic District and Freshbikes for making it possible.  


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nemesis Met and Possibly Vanquished?

From time to time I encounter people who repeatedly drive badly around me.  It happens less often than it used to, but I still have some people who continue to pass too close time and time again.  Reston Limousine Service operates a route that seem to drive badly around me every time I encounter them…. the route that serves Marymount University.  I've never been able to catch up with him to ask the driver give me a break.  Today while riding on Fairfax Drive, their bus passed close enough that the side view mirror brushed my shoulder while I was in the bike lane. 

Luckily it was right near the University, so I knew a stop was coming up soon.  I followed and chased and managed to catch up at the next stop.  I poked my front tire into the door as he was closing it.  He looked up, expecting me to go off on him.  I simply told him that the law is that he pass with at least 2 feet of space… that 3 feet is more polite.  I smiled and told him to have a good afternoon.  He smiled back and apologized. 

Sometimes putting a human face on a cyclist can change how people drive around them.  With luck, this is one of those times.  I'll know more when I encounter this driver again tomorrow.