On Wednesday, lovely little Bellingham, WA captured my heart. The 70,000 person green, hilly NW town already has built up an enviable bicycle mode share of six percent. Are they satisfied? Of course not. Their dedication to green sustainable living is deep and sincere, and they know they can make their town even better, safer, more livable, cleaner, and greener. The City’s major employer, Western Washington University, certainly sets a great example, with an 80% bike/walk/transit mode share, while the City is rapidly transforming many of its streets with bike lanes, is on the verge of adding its first bike boulevard, and is engaging residents in shifting trips in partnership with a regional Smart Trips program. Adding to the package is a focus on green development, local food, low waste, recycling, and waste reduction.
With three speeches in a day, plus a lunch with university leaders and dinner with Mayor Dan Pike, renowned advocate Ellen Barton, and bike shop owner Eric Moe of Kulshan Cycles, it was a whirlwind. The 30 highly knowledgeable city staff I met with first thing peppered me with questions about bike boulevard design and alignment, project prioritization, and funding. After a too-short bike ride to the WWU, I was the featured speaker during sustainability week festivities. Sustainability Coordinator Seth kicked off the proceedings with an announcement that someone had parked their Hummer in the bus zone and would they kindly move it, before going onto statistics – WWU has doubled its bike parking and sold 14,000 new bus passes. Then Bob, the director of ReSources, a 30 year old environmental organization, introduced me using three numbers: 20 – the amount of years I’ve been pushing bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities, 1 – the cost of 1 mile of urban freeway equaling the $50-$60 million Portland has invested in 300 miles of bikeways, and 20 – how many pounds I shed as a young woman when I started using the bicycle for transportation.
Hundreds of eager students, community members, and leaders laughed and smiled at both presentations. The evening was the greatest delight for me, though, because it was the first time I read book sections aloud to accompany the slides. Checking in later, I heard that the Steel Bridge story (Chapter 13) moved a 60-year-old man to tears. A younger woman commented she was so inspired by the Tour de Ladd (Chapter 35), she was going to redouble their efforts to get kids to bike to her kids’ school. And many noted how interesting it was to learn all the challenges we have to overcome in our work empowering people and transforming communities, one pedal stroke at a time.