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A few weeks ago, my friend and Editor-in-Chief of FIT Columbus Magazine (Chelsea Castle) reached out and asked if I wanted to write a piece on bicycling for the magazine and while I did, I took the opportunity in a different direction that I feel is a necessary direction;  beginning to dissect driving behavior and why we drive the way we do.  I’ve been borderline obsessed with driving behaviors and the disruption of routines; anonymity and assumed entitlement when it comes to the driving culture to where I feel if I can construct this topic in the right way, this could make for a thought-provoking TED Talk which I plan on trying.

Anyways…  here’s the beginning:

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When was the last time you were caught in a light, misty summer rain and loved every minute of it?  How about one of those Southwest-style sunsets that burst hues of orange, purple and pink, making it physically impossible to do anything but stop and be in it? Those are just two personal experiences I’ve had when riding my bike. The particular summer night when I was caught in the light rain, I smiled the whole time and never felt more alive. Those sunsets I’ve experienced, I literally lost my breath and had to pull my bike over because I couldn’t not appreciate what was happening.

Riding a bike has changed my life. From a health perspective, incorporating my bike as an everyday mode of transport, exercise has become as routine as brushing my teeth. The best thing is that it’s become so integrated, I don’t see it as exercise but as a vehicle to get me to my destination. We think we need high-intensity workouts to keep us in shape, when studies have shown that incorporating bicycle commuting into your daily life improves mental health, lowers risk for cardiovascular disease and can actually increase physical performance as much as specific training programs What if you switched out two errands per month using your bike instead of your car?  Try it.   

I was asked to write a guest piece on bicycle etiquette and safety, but I feel compelled to begin a bigger story; I advocate and fight like hell for safer streets in Columbus. But what does that mean? It’s simple: we need to design cities for people, not cars. For decades, the scales have been tipped in favor of car culture; five-lane-wide streets, one-way roads and very little urban beautification. When you have wide streets with nothing of interest to look at, you get in and get out as quickly as possible.  We drive based upon the design of our streets. Think about how fast you can drive on Broad Street then think about how fast you can drive on Gay Street.

When we combine streets designed for speeding cars with human beings going three to four times slower by way of walking or biking, the clash begins. Why? Why is there such hostility to the point of violence? Bikes are legally considered vehicles; bikers should be following the same rules. Most of us do. Some of us don’t, and as a bicycle advocate constantly fighting for safer streets, it pisses me off when I see unsafe behavior. But there’s a flip side to that coin; drivers are just as unlawful, sometimes more. Driving has become so commonplace and such a “thoughtless” task that we’ve become lazy and fat behind the wheel; corners are cut because we consider ourselves better than average drivers. 

What’s it going to take for us all to play nice in the sandbox? I wish I had the answer, but no matter which way you slice it, you’re always going to have the haters who can’t, or won’t, get along. What I want everyone who reads this to know is that when you see me riding my bike, I’m a twin sister and a daughter, a breathing human being and NOT a “cyclist” or a “pedestrian.” Maybe when we start to see each other as human beings instead of these polarizing, sterile identities, the curtain of animosity will be lifted away—forcing us to reintroduce empathy and acknowledge the individual trying to get to her destination safely, instead of just an object slowing us down.

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I recently had the great opportunity to blog for one of my favorite organizations: Project for Public Spaces.  If you’re not familiar, you should be.  Project for Public Spaces is a non-profit dedicated to create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities.  There are some cities doing wonderful projects that are putting life back into under-utilized streets.  While I love reading blog postings on this site, I was always frustrated because we’ve been doing some pretty cool things here and more people should about them.  So, here it is.

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I am one of the “zealous nuts.” I live in Columbus, Ohio and I think about Placemaking and Streets as Places all the time. You can easily catch me out in the neighborhood observing street-life behavior, or taking photos of things like benches (without backs) placed randomly on isolated and ridiculously over-sized slabs of concrete void of life and asking the question, “…Why?”

I don’t remember exactly when this passion (mixed with mild-obsession) began with wanting to re-create a city prioritizing people instead of autos. I’m sure the birth of it began while living in San Francisco in the late 90s/early 2000s. I had no need to own a car; I biked, bused, walked everywhere, and everywhere you went, people were around. Life was constantly happening in the streets. I remember I experienced my first diagonal crosswalk on New Montgomery Street and I thought it was the coolest concept, but also such an “A-HA!” moment: Convenience.

I moved back to Columbus in 2002 and quickly realized I wasn’t in “convenience, multi-modal-land” anymore. I bought a used car. My car did its job for a good six years. During that time, I would attempt to bike to certain destinations, but quickly learned first-hand how unfriendly our streets were. I also realized that when I was living in San Francisco, I used my bike as a mode of transportation – not merely as a recreational item when I merely felt like it. I didn’t fully grasp this until I moved back to Columbus and experienced how much harder it was. You see, in a city as dense as San Francisco, with its various integrated modes and speeds, drivers always have to be aware and drive more cautiously. In Columbus during that time, you rarely saw a person walking or biking; cars were the dominant mode and like the majority of cities and towns across the U.S., streets were designed to seduce you to speed. I’m all for being seduced but not while biking on an arterial road that I have to “share” with cars going 40 mph.

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As it turns out, history ALWAYS finds a way to repeat itself. Adult onesies are hotter than before, video arcades are the “in” place to hang out, and also revitalization – yes, revitalization – to resuscitate a space that’s lost its vigor, is having a comeback in a major way. In the past ten years, we’ve seen a boom in Downtown Revitalization Projects that are attracting people to once again move in instead of out. Columbus is one of those cities and we’ve made incredible strides in the past ten years. We have an amazing urban park in the center of our downtown that fills with life and concerts and various organized sports during the spring, summer, and fall months. We have a riverfront that has been transformed into a destination (and is currently being expanded) for residents and tourists with a cityscape view that’ll take your breath away. And in 2014 our downtown living soared from 4,000 residents to 7,000. People are coming back and I’ve loved watching our downtown find its heartbeat again.

So, where do I come in? Well, I love Columbus but one thing has constantly nagged me about this city:  One of the most repetitive adjectives I hear when people describe Columbus is, “potential” – including myself. “Columbus has such potential if only…” I want to stop being an awesome city IF and start being an awesome city that IS, and that means DOING. So, with a little talent, hustle, and guts, I’ve been DOING.

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The concept of Placemaking here in Columbus is only about four years new. One of the “primer” projects that opened up people’s eyes and minds to the possibilities of what could be was a 2013 project called CBUS FOTO. This collective engagement project organized through Columbus’ Center for Architecture and Design, and led by the vision of Michael and Sarah Bongiorno with a group of talented young designers, asked citizens of Columbus to photograph empty, overlooked spaces and buildings in the city and come up with creative ways on how to fill them. The hope was to inspire citizens to understand that we are surrounded by under-utilized public spaces. These “overlooked” public spaces that we walk through every day and bike past everyday are blank canvasses awaiting rejuvenation. The value of this ephemeral project activated people’s imagination to see public spaces differently, as more than meets the eye.

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2014 was a very fulfilling year for me as two of my passion projects were launched to the people of Columbus:  The Columbus Parklet Project and Open Streets Columbus. Our team piloted Columbus’ first parklet for one month in September, 2014 with the help of nine business supporters. The public and nearby businesses embraced the 4th St Parklet and in 2015, we plan on implementing two more. Fred Kent said it best, “when you give people an interesting place to gather, they’ll gather.”

I fell in love with parklets years ago. I remember when I was flying to San Francisco, one of my “to-do’s” was to “hangout” in a parklet. Let that marinate in your brains for a minute.I’m headed to another city and one of my destinations is a parking space. But, I was drawn to them and I knew people in Columbus would be drawn to them too. They were unique and exciting and I loved that people filled up the space in front of a business instead of one car.Life was added.  The Columbus Parklet Project creates small yet powerful actions that will continue to show people that streets have a “double-duty” responsibility – that they are necessary for getting us from point A to point B, AND they can be places.

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Another team I led was Open Streets Columbus. After three years of work and meetings and a lot of “no’s,” Columbus finally launched its first Open Streets event in September of 2014. We closed 0.8 miles of downtown streets and it became an urban playground for people of all ages (and wages). We’ve become submissive to the ‘Arrogance of Space.’ The Danish-coined term simply implies that there’s just too much space allocated to cars and drivers, and not enough for anything or anybody else. We’ve been told for so long that roads are made only to be driven on and outdated, myopic street design proves this. Open Streets initiatives turn the outdated thinking upside-down and gives the space back, allowing people to explore, connect, and realize on their own that equitable street design can happen.

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We had roughly 600 people come out and explore their city streets, free of all obstructions. It doesn’t sound like much but it was a great success, especially for a city that has a long way to go when it comes to bike/ped friendliness. The people who came out absolutely fell in love with Open Streets Columbus and in 2015, we’re planning to grow from one to two events. We are confident that with repetition and time, Open Streets Columbus will grow into a sustaining, thriving initiative every neighborhood embraces.

Years in the making and worth every moment.

I guess I wanted to write this blog for a couple reasons. I wanted to share some of our small successes here in Columbus because I’m proud of them and we’ve only just begun. I was tired of reading article after article about cities that are thriving, partially in part due to the presence of creative Placemaking projects and Columbus not being listed. Well, we now stand out, too, and I hope that can be an inspiration for other cities like ours. Lastly, Columbus has given me the support to take these risks. I say it’s a risk because for many people, especially decision-makers, as this is still uncharted territory. But, I believe these risks (and others) must be taken by everyone in order to not be a city that’s “status-quo.” I refuse to live in a city that’s “status-quo,” and I’m ‘all in’ to stand up to make the changes I want to see. We still have quite a ways to go but I think Columbus, and smaller and larger cities, are embracing the efforts of humanizing our streets again.

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This Saturday,  the 2nd Annual ‘OWBS’ will take place at the awesome Strongwater Food & Spirits event space.  Two years ago, I was at a bike advocate conference in Long Beach.  At this conference we held a ‘Women’s Forum’ discussing ways in which we can engage more women in the U.S. and Canada to ride bikes.  Currently, women commuting on bikes only make up just over 25%.  Some women feel intimidated b/c they rarely see others ‘like them’ riding.  Some may want to ride but they aren’t sure where or how to begin.  Some want to be educated more.  Some fear of being harrassed.  This list can go on.  So, during this ‘Women’s Forum’ in Long Beach, we all started to shout out our goals once we’d return to our home base.  My pledge, ‘I will organize the first statewide ‘Ohio Women’s Bicycling Summit’ in 2013!’  With some help from co-organizers Jeannie and Mimi, we made this happen.  Over 70 women from around Ohio (and two from Indiana) and nine presenters attended and presented at the ‘Ohio Women’s Bicycling Summit.’

In my opinion, it was very well received.  We got great feedback to where this Saturdays’ Summit, all of the topics are based upon what the attendees wanted to hear more about or become more educated in.  I worked extremely hard of the financial sponsors for this years Summit.  We have over 14 sponsors who believe in our mission and understand that when more women ride, the ripple effect of kids, families as a whole, happens.  This Summit does not exclude men.  Men are more than welcome to join us (we have a gentleman speaker) this Saturday, however, it is women-specific.  Why?  Because there is still a disparity out there.  There are still many women who better identify when hearing similar experiences…from a woman instead of a man.  You don’t hear very often men being sexually harrassed while riding their bike or that some women have unfortunately been the victim of men actually driving by and touching them and slapping them.  These are two examples I’ve just recentlly heard.

This past Saturday, myself and fellow bicycle enthusiast Marjorie Shavers were asked to speak at Bike Indy’s Summit.  Our topic:  Engaging Women.  We had a wonderful discussion and what I really appreciated was how many men stayed and were actively involved in this particular topic.  Men from the bike shop world to engineers to husbands and fathers.  They understand the importance of having more women be seen riding bikes and what that says about your city.

Do I want more people to ride, collectively?  Heck yes!  I know what riding a bike does to one’s life.  Do I want a platform for women to come together to hear about best practices, hear stories, meet others with similar situations – absolutely.  Women empower one another.  There’s a ripple effect that happens when women build upon each other’s strengths and experiences.  If you’re interested in joining us at the 2nd Annual ‘Ohio Women’s Bicycling Summit,’ you can register here: http://bikecleveland.memberlodge.org/events.  Consider biking has partnered with BikeCleveland this year for our registration so don’t get confused with the link 🙂  Thank you, BikeCleveland!

Quick details:  2nd Annual ‘OWBS’ Saturday, May 3; on-sitre registration and mingle 8am-9am.  Summit begins 9a-5p with post-celebratory libations to be had.

Location:  Strongwater Food & Spirits event space.  401 W. Town St. Columbus, Ohio  Find us on Facebook at:  facebook.com/ohiowomensbicyclingsummit

Summit details on topics and speaker bios can be found on the Facebook page as well as: http://www.considerbiking.org

Here a couple pics from last year’s Summit:

lisa and tammyThese two ladies:  Lisa Hinson and Tammy Krings are the Webster definition of ‘badass.’  Two incredible business women whom have taken a leading role in creating a female groundswell for one of the nations biggest Cancer Rides: Pelatonia.

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A great shot from behind as the first two speakers, Lisa and Tammy set the stage.

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I was thrilled when Marjorie accepted a speaker position for our first ‘OWBS.’  She was very nervous since she had just become re-aquainted with bicycling however, I felt that Marjorie embodies what the future face of bicycling should look like.  Now, she’s a beast to help engage more women to ride!  SO PROUD!

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An ariel shot of most of the folks from the Summit.  Some were still eating, some had to leave back to their jobs, but this is a pretty great shot!

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Lindsay Sherman of Trek will be giving a much more indepth and hands-on workshop that you can choose from at this year’s Summit.  We thought she had enough time last year.  We were definitely wrong.  Trial and error, right?  The attendees loved it.  She’ll have a great session this year and we’re excited she’s coming back!

Lastly, I wanted to post a snippet of all of our sponsors.  I’m so grateful at how excited and supportive ALL of these businesses have been.

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Yesterday, while waiting at a bus stop in German Village, I, as I usually do, watched interactions between cars and pedestrians.  At this four-way stop, I observed how unsafe and how NON-functional this intersection is for pedestrians.

Design should always be about US – the end user.  How we use it, it is comfortable, is it uncomfortable, is it functional for everyone.

We’ve given complete control and power over to autos.  Even as pedestrians, when we have the lit ‘walk’ sign and someone is about to cross in a crosswalk and a car approaches- getting ready to potentially turn right, they inch their way into the crosswalk. The pedestrian hesitates and then once they see the car stop (in the crosswalk) the pedestrians gives the ‘thank you for allowing me to cross’ gesture.  They should never have to ‘thank’ the driver for allowing them to cross during a lit ‘walk’ as this time is deemed PEDESTRIAN CROSSING.  But, we’ve allowed this and we need to start taking it back.

I watch so many pedestrians be inconvenienced while crossing in a designated crosswalk b/c a driver has stopped beyond the ‘stop bar’ and into the crosswalk, or, the street has been designed for cars to excessively speed.  Pedestrians stay silent and remain inconvenienced.  There’s such an overwhelming dominance of letting cars overpower our streets and our safe places to cross that I’ve even been honked at, while crossing in a crosswalk.  I’m sure someone reading has as well.

The three photos below show poor and unsafe design for pedestrians at a four-way stop in German Village.  The first image.  Take note of where the stop sign has been placed, the stop bar for where cars are ‘suppose’ to stop and the crossing ramp.  The stop bar should be IN FRONT of the stop sign a few feet so that FIRST, the car stops and yields to pedestrians and second, the pedestrian has safe space to cross the street.  This is unsafe and poorly designed.  It also creates confusion on the pedestrian end.  The pedestrian waiting to cross should always have the right-of-way.  This image gives the perception that since the stop bar is ahead of the pedestrian ramp that the car has the right-of-way.  Wrong.  And as you can see with the car stopped here, it’s completely overtaken the pedestrian crossing space.

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Image two:  This is the stop sign looking west from that four-way stop.  Notice the stop bar that’s INSIDE the space where pedestrians cross.  This is an easy collision between a driver and pedestrian.  I’m sure the stop sign is placed where it currently is due to the lack of sight from the right side however, all cars must stop here.  The stop sign and the stop bar can be placed back a few feet to create safe crossing for the pedestrians.

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This third image is just plain lazy and dangerous.

Instead of the stop sign having its own pole, it’s slapped on the utility pole.  Look at the placement of the stop bar.  The utility pole is encroaching the ramp of where pedestrians are diverted to cross.  I cross this portion of the four-way stop, ALL the time and I’m angered by it.  It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.  Again, this kind of poor design is not functional for strollers, people walking their dogs, etc.  This.  Is. Dangerous.  It also puts forth the perception that cars are first, pedestrians are second.  Wrong.

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This is just one four-way stop intersection.  I’m bringing this to light to show that design must be usable, SAFE, and functional for ALL users of the road.  Think about other places in your neighborhood that have been designed based up creating comfort FIRST for the driver and THEN for the human being.

Fish swim.  Birds fly.  People walk.  We are ALL pedestrians before we are drivers.  We MUST be more vocal when it comes to safe spaces to walk and cross.  The images below are just a few images of how many cars stop INSIDE crosswalk, potentially creating unsafe and dangerous space, in the space that’s ‘suppose’ to be safe for us to cross.  This is a BIG reason why so many ppl cross at mid-block (its safer).

Next time you’re crossing at a crosswalk, take note of where cars are stopping, and if they are in YOUR pedestrian ‘safe’ space, educate them!  Next time you’re driving, I hope you properly stop and provide safe distance for pedestrians to cross.  And take a look at where other cars are stopping.

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The pedestrian is IN THE ROAD crossing!

 

 

 

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This past Wednesday, ten more girls graduated from my ‘Girls in Gear’ program.  To date, three ‘Girls in Gear’ program cycles have taken place and 20 girls have gone through the program.  The latest program was held at the Vaughn-Hairston YMCA in the village of Urbancrest outside of Grove City.  James Lewis and Becky Brown were such incredible hosts that I couldn’t have asked for a better facility.  I absolutely love being hosted by the YMCA.  The staff always treat me graciously and they have some of the best volunteers!  THANK YOU!

This cycle was the biggest group I’ve had which was a great learning lesson.  This cycle, the girls also worked in ‘Girls in Gear’ Workbooks I created.  After each session, not only do the girls fill out what they learned in their workbooks, I also ask them questions that get them to think about themselves in a positive manner as well each other.

‘Girls in Gear’ has changed my life.  I love seeing these girls on a weekly basis and them running up to me to give me a hug.  They have such simple needs that I feel so overly happy that I’m able to fullfill – at least for a small chunk of time.  No matter what socio-economic background you’re from, all young girls need to be empowered.  All young girls need to feel confident in themselves and have that sense of self-reliance.  Resources are limited in under-served neighborhoods.  And, it’s usually the under-served neighborhoods that have the wide, fast streets – disconnecting neighbors from one another and the pleasntry of enjoying one’s neighborhood.

In these neighborhoods, kids at the age of nine think it’s ‘normal’ to walk in litter-filled streets, see prostitutes on the corners, and gun casings on the ground.  It’s ‘normal’ for a school’s playground to close down because comdoms and used syringes were found.  It’s ‘NORMAL!’  Would this be ‘normal’ in Bexley?  A lot of these girls have gone through more than what a lot of adults have gone through.  They are resiliant.  They may be rough around the edges but once you’ve chipped away, they are smooshy and gracious and humble.  I remember over the summer when ‘Girls in Gear’ was held at the Gladden Community House, I brought in helmets for the girls for our road riding sessions.  Once our sessions were finished, I said, ‘keep them.’  I remember one girl saying, ‘really  we can keep these?’  They were thrilled at having these fun (and chic) helmets that during the other ‘skill-building’ sessions of the program, the girls would wear their helmets.  Simple pleasures.

I keep in touch with a handful of the girls through the ‘Girls in Gear’ facebook page.  I always want to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing.  I’m also working towards getting a handful of them to ride in 2014 Mayor’s Twilight Ride.  I think they would absolutely love it.  I want them to know that I have invested in them.

‘Girls in Gear’ Cycle 3 (c3) had a great addition.  Mike Foley of WCBE, Columbus’ local NPR Station heard me present at Pecha Kucha Columbus about ‘Girls in Gear.’  He reached out to do a story on the program.  This past Wednesday, it was aired on ‘Morning Edition.’  It was so incredible to hear how elegant and bright these young girls were, speaking to Mike.

I really look forward to watching ‘Girls in Gear’ blossom into a program that can take place anywhere.  Girls need to feel good about getting their hands dirty.  They need to feel good about their bodies and understand healthy decision-making through nutrtion.  Girls need to feel confident in hearing their voices and hearing their thoughts out loud.  Girls need to feel self-reliant when navigating their neighborhoods and streets and not feel the need to rely on anyone else.

I want to thank:  Mimi Webb (Trek Bicycle), Kelly Martyn (formerly of Green Bean Delivery), Anna Hanley (Roll), Emily Burnett (Paradise Garage), Amanda Golden-Blevins (ACP  Visioning + Planning), and Abby Kravitz (MKSK Design Firm).  ‘Girls in Gear’ wouldn’t be what it is without the trust of these professional women.  Thank you.

Enjoy some photos from GiG C3 at Vaugh-Hairston YMCA

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The ‘Girls in Gear’ Workbook
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Showing that they know hand-signals

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Workbook time!

GiG C3 22They LOVED their Road Riding Sessions!

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Kelly is teaching the girls basic Nutrition Education.  The girls got to sample all types of fruits and vegetables and if you can see the papers on the table, Kelly made vegetable-colored diagrams which explain the benefits of colors for fruits and vegetables!

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I.  Love.  This.
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Emily is teaching the ‘why’ behind gears and shifting

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Anna is assisting the girls as they change flat tires and learn how to properly inflate tires.

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Teamwork is beautiful!

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Constant smiles with teaching this rambunctious crew.

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Amanda is prepping the girls prior to the neighborhood walk-audit.

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Taking our neighborhood walk-audit.  The village of Urbancrest has no sidewalks.  Mike Foley of Columbus’ NPR joined and recorded this session.

GiG C3 6Everyone discussing what they observed during the walk-audit.  Elements that were positive, negative; what’s need improved, etc.

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A brand new neighborhood!  Schools, sidewalks, markets.  I’d live there!GiG C3 11

Abby is holding up one of the great examples from the ‘urban design’ neighborhood re-design.GiG C3 10

Sidewalks, and bike lanes, and tetherball, Oh, My!GiG C3 9Creativity + STEM-Based learning = SOLID GOLD

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The girls LOVED Mimi.  Who doesn’t.

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Ten more young leaders!  Hundreds more go!

 

 

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The weather for our ride was perfect, the evening of our Halloween Ride.  And to make it complete, my pals from Paradise Garage let me use their awesome Surly to which we strapped a wireless amp to the front and we jammed to music through the streets of Columbus.  Below are just a few of the incredible images that the amazing Jennifer Grimm took of our evening.  Our costume theme was simple:  black skirts and fun, crazy tights!  The girls had a blast and now I’m hooked on having music on every ride 🙂

Keep riding and be safe.

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A handful of months ago, I was on the bus and my phone rings.  It’s my friend Ruth.  Here’s a summary of that convo:

Ruth:  Hey, what are you doing Oct.11th?

Me:   Volunteering for you, for Tedx.

Ruth:  How would like to be on the other side – speaking?

Me:  Don’t tease me.

Ruth:  I’m not.

Long story short, I spoke at this year’s 5 year anniversary TEDx Columbus on Oct. 11th.  My talk was exactly the subject line of this post.  Women and families are going to be the determining factor in how cities can really gauge if they are thriving bike-friendly cities.  If cities really want to know how bike-friendly they, they need to quit with the surveys and get out onto the corners and start counting how many women are riding bikes.  

Thank you, Ruth for believing in me to speak about my passion.  TEDx has been successfully accomplished.  Next:  TED Talk 🙂

Be safe and keep riding

Enjoy.

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