Sharing the Road with Elly Blue
January 12, 2011
I haven’t been riding my bike of late. I’ve been walking to work, taking advantage of a few extra minutes to catch up with my sister in L.A. or my dear friend in Berkeley. I’m one of those annoying people disturbing the peace of a morning walk with my cell phone. Sorry.
I’m also sorry to neglect my lovely bicycle, slumped dejectedly in the garage with a pitifully flat tire. I miss riding. So last night I read a little zine called “Sharing the Road with Boys: thoughts and stories about being a woman on a bike in Portland Oregon,” by a local bike advocacy superstar.
I picked up the pocket-sized blue book at this fall’s Bikestravaganza grand finale in Portland, the culmination of a cross-country state-of-the-cyclist survey on the part of one Elly Blue and one Joe Biel . During last summer’s self-termed DIY bike summit roadshow, the duo spent two months touring 23 cities and holding community Q & As, to find out what it’s like to cycle in the rest of the country.
Not so great, as it turns out, but getting better. And even in bike-happy Portland, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
A year ago, Elly published her take on 2009, “My Year as a Woman in a City of Bikes.”
…this past year as a blog writer and editor covering the bike world I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the parallel between two systems where ingrained entitlement leads people to not simply be unaware of their power but to exercise it at the expense of others.
That post subsequently developed into the first of a four-part series called Taking the Lane, a look at the intersection of feminism and cycling, one that seems full of opportunity for a collective shift in consciousness . On any given day, cyclists experience the discrimination and hypocrisy of a car-dominated culture. On any given day, women experience the discrimination and hypocrisy of a male-dominated culture. Perhaps the more we ride together, the better able we are to work together to challenge discrimination of all kinds.
Sharing the Road with Boys is insightful, articulate, challenging, fun. In “Part 1: The Problem,” Elly gives examples of the disparate treatment given to men and women on bikes, whether explicit (hateful comments and threats from drivers, condescension in bike shops) or more subtle (advocacy groups scrambling to find a token woman for the board, the cyclocross attendee who assumes Elly is there to watch her boyfriend race.) In “Part 2: Solutions,” she describes the ways in which she and others have sought to create a cycling culture that fosters greater respect, improves communication, and encourages play. Part 3 offers some thought-provoking statistics.
Over at the Oregonian, when bike-commute columnist Joseph Rose linked to Elly’s 2010 post, he wrote: “…on and off bikes, gender relations are a tricky dance. Same as it was in 1910, it is, in some ways, in 2010. “
Really? One hundred years and we’re still inching along? Maybe this year, we’ll take better dance lessons. Here are Elly’s predictions for 2011: “The year ahead in bikes.”
I’m inclined to believe such a forecast, coming from someone so utterly ambitious and devoted to community empowerment. In the short time that she has lived in Portland, Elly has made an inspiring career of her interests and beliefs. She coordinated the 8th annual Carfree Cities Conference in 2008, and helped found Umbrella, a carfree advocacy resource.
Last year, she and a partner founded the Women Leaders in Active Transportation Fund, which awards individual grants to women working to make Portland’s streets more “vibrant, safe, and community-oriented.” (If you need a jolt of positivity, visit Bike Economics and have a look at the blogroll of bike-oriented businesses run by women.)
She blogs at Grist and continues to post on BikePortland.org, culling useful and inspiring bike tidbits from the presses in the Monday Roundup. Of note this week:
“In Baltimore, a study has found that, per dollar spent, building bicycle infrastructure creates twice as many jobs as building roads.
“A Montana woman became “legendary” among hospital staff by carrying out her plan to ride her bicycle to the hospital when she went into labor.”
Elly is fond of quoting Susan B Anthony, who in 1896 said, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”
In more ways than one, the bike continues to be a symbol of freedom, particularly of the economic variety. A commenter on “The year ahead in bikes” wrote:
It will also be a (another) year of less affluence, making cost-effective bicycling even more appealing. And gas prices continue to go up; the long anticipated “post-Peak” rundown begins. The future is brighter than ever for bicycling for transportation.