A year and a half ago, I stood before almost 500 of our peers at the National Pro-Walk/Bike Conference, in Chattanooga, TN, and told the story of the making of Joyride. It wasn’t just the Portland story I was trying to tell, it was the story of our country, of our movement away from auto-dominance and the hundreds of communities taking their first steps with a bike plan or trail or safe routes to school program. It’s the story of the four years I spent living and breathing the US DOT Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned report, delicately bridging the gap between trail advocates (led by our friends at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy) and hard-nosed railroad lawyers and engineers determined to protect their turf. The resulting report opened the door to hundreds of miles of trails on or adjacent to active railway lines.
The incredible pressure faced by the folks designing Portland’s Steel Bridge Riverwalk when they had but 48 hours to finish the project with 10 years of work on the line. Staff overcoming mindboggling regulatory hurdles to be allowed to float a portion of the Eastbank Esplanade in the Willamette River. Shepherding San Francisco’s shared lane marking study through layers and layers of analysis and bureaucracy. Coming together with the country’s most progressive large cities to form the Cities for Cycling Project and develop the groundbreaking NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Positive hope and energy in places like my hometown Dallas, TX as we worked to expand the Katy Trail onto downtown streets.
My goal: make these stories come to life, use them as inspiration, share the lessons learned in translating words into action, taking those hard first steps, keeping up the momentum, and overcoming the seemingly endless stream of obstacles thrown in our paths. I wanted to get beyond our typical audience to include health care officials, environmentalists, casual and fitness riders, bike racers, even mainstream America. And I wanted to tell these stories with humor and grace.
The two-year writing/editing/publishing process gave way to a year and a half of travel, speeches, training sessions, bike rides, meetings with mayors, and publicity in more than 60 cities in 15 U.S. States and three Canadian provinces. So many highlights, like being presented the key to Columbia, SC by their charismatic Mayor Steve Benjamin. Delivering a TEDx talk in Portland, and using the skills gained to improve my presentation skills. Experiencing the fabulous new Indianapolis Cultural Trail, Dunsmuir and Hornby cycle tracks in Vancouver, BC, and strategizing with Calgary’s City Council as they moved toward an aggressive new cycling strategy. New York City Transportation Commissioner Jeannette Sadik-Khan launching the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide at the National Bike Summit, followed up by USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood embracing it wholeheartedly and encouraging the cities of America to use it. The adorable school kids in Nampa ID and huge community bike rides in Tucson, AZ.
In every community, I fed hungrily off the community’s energy, hope and excitement. In many cases, the community then engaged us to do more.
A funny thing happened along the way. Well two, actually. Funny but good kinds of things.
The first was getting re-married, the second was finding myself pregnant, about a decade after my last pregnancy (my kids are 13 and 9). That means I’m a “woman of advanced maternal age (44).” My kids and husband could not be more excited, of course.
Suddenly though, the trips became agonizing on my health. I won’t bore you with the list of ailments. You’ve heard the expression, “listen to your body”? My body is screaming loud and clear, “Stay put. No pressurizing airplane trips. Exercise and eat right. Take care of yourself.”
And so last week, I stood, a bit choked up, before an audience in Long Beach, CA. Having been up all night sick, it had sunk in that it was time to call it quits. Appropriately, next to me was my old friend and inspiration, the hilarious Charlie Gandy, who had led Long Beach’s swift transformation into one of the nation’s leading bicycle cities (almost matching their hubristic City declaration of being “America’s most bicycle friendly city,” a statement etched into the side of City Hall.) Together, Charlie and I had hiked through the brushy bayous of Pasadena, TX, searching for potential trail alignments in the early part of my consulting career, eons ago.
“Girl, the last thing I expected was to see you pregnant!” he commented. Me too, Charlie.
And so, as this wondrous joy ride comes to a close, I say thanks to all the communities, agencies and groups who hosted me. I hope y’all keep spreading the Joyride story of change and hope. It’s simple really: Portland wasn’t always this bicycling mecca. We made it this way, and it wasn’t easy. You too, wherever you are, can do the same. Wherever you are, that’s where you start.
My publisher promised a second edition and e-version a couple months ago, but it got delayed. The second edition had updates and more photos and the addition of keys to summarize the key take-aways in inspiring people and transforming communities, one pedal stroke at a time. And so, I give you these keys now.
Enjoy the ride!