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Friday, May 18, 2007

Biking Innkeeper: Interview with Amanda Eichstaedt

Image of weather vane at Bear Valley Inn in Olema, California
The president of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) board of directors, Amanda Eichstaedt has extensive experience with cycling advocacy, bike education, and bike planning in the Bay Area. As a transportation coordinator for the city of Palo Alto, California, Eichstaedt directed the city's Safe Routes to Schools, Transportation Demand Management (TDM), and bicycle education programs.

Prior to her work with the city, Eichstaedt worked as general manager of Palo Alto Bicycles and helped start the Palo Alto Bikestation at the city's Caltrain station. A League Cycling Instructor (LCI), Eichstaedt has also served on numerous transporation agency committees and advisory boards. These days you can find Amanda, her husband Ken, and their two dogs along with six chickens in the bucolic West Marin town of Olema, where she owns and manages the Bear Valley Inn. Bicyclists who ride to the inn receive a 15 percent discount, but cyclists arriving by cars or transit are also welcome.

In the midst of National Bike Month, Eichstaedt agreed to respond to some questions on safety, advocacy, and the League of American Bicyclists.

Bike Commute Tips: Many women are hesitant to commute by bike, due to concerns about personal safety. On my bike commuting tips site, I advise they improve their skills and confidence on a bike as the best method of addressing these concerns. Riding too timidly invites trouble, in my view. What additional suggestions would you have for prospective bike commuters who may happen to be female?

Amanda Eichstaedt: In addition to that advice, I would say to make a commitment to bicycle commute for at least a month. Get into the habit of doing it. Get your gear and clothing organized and how you will carry your essential items. Make it a habit.

Once you get the day to day stuff worked out, it becomes much easier to hop on the bike vs. taking another mode. Make sure that your bicycle fits you. Many bikes are designed by men, for men and then sold to women by men. Not that men aren't great, but they are often shaped differently with different proportions and you need to ensure that you bicycle fits you. A better fitted bike will reduce neck strain, help eliminate knee problems, and you will have much better control.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. So, go shopping! Get some great shorts to wear to keep you comfy (and riding regularly will really make the sore butt thing vanish). Wear gloves, helmet and eye protection so you don't sustain injury to hands, head or eye. Get yourself educated in a Bike Ed (LAB) course. What you will learn in these courses will completely transform the way that you interact with others on the road. Some things may seem counter intuitive, but follow the advice of the LCI and you will have far fewer conflicts on the road. It is truly amazing.

Bike Commute Tips: Bike commuting is fun, healthy, and eco-friendly. It's also safe. An American is 40-times more likely to die in a car crash than while in a bike accident. And wearing a helmet, using lights, staying sober, and practicing smart street skills can further reduce the mortality risks of bicycling. Yet many people cite safety concerns as a deterrent to taking up bicycling or bike commuting. Why do you think safety concerns about bicycling loom so large? Do bike advocates contribute to this exaggerated fear by stressing the need for safety improvement? Should we be more active promoting the "fun" of bicycling?

Eichstaedt: The world is full of dangers. Some perceived, some very real. Transporting ourselves is risky. Automobile travel is very risky and doesn't really burn calories, get you fresh air or give you the sense of your community that bicycling does. And it does pollute the air.

I think that if you look at the statistics and realize that 50 percent of bicycle crashes are solo falls (the bicyclists loses control and falls over or crashes) and that you can learn better bicycle handling skills and street skills through Bike Ed that can help you minimize crashes, you are half way there. There are also many things that cyclists can do to reduce the likelihood of bike/auto or bike/pedestrian crashes. By following the laws and having your wits about you it is a lot less dangerous than one thinks.

I don't think that not talking about safety is the answer or that talking about safety issues scares people away. I think it is the message and how things are communicated. People need to understand the risks that they take all the time, every day. What they eat, how they move about, what they do for fun and then take responsibility for themselves.

Being on a road on a bicycle and being passed by large trucks revving their engines is scary, but not necessarily unsafe. If the drivers of these vehicles can see you and recognize you and you are riding in a predictable manner and the driver is not impaired they will most likely pass you by without incident. It's all how you think about it. When I feel scared and start to talk myself out of riding I think that "a tree could fall on me today" and I know that I'll feel much better about my trip if I ride my bike rather than drive.

Bike Commute Tips: You have served on the League of American Bicyclists board for four years. Are we making progress? It seems in some areas and in certain cities there are more people bicycling. Yet nationally we see fewer children bicycling, declining physical activity and growing obesity, and continued sprawl development that isn't conducive to bike commuting. What signs of hope do you see?

Eichstaedt:I got involved with the League of American Bicyclists because of the education program (Bike Ed). It is such a valuable program, but such a hard sell. Try telling a bunch of adults that they should take a class to learn how to ride their bike. Many adults learned how to "ride" their bikes when they were kids, why take a course now?

These same adults are often motorists and know how to drive motor vehicles. Once we can get folks to realize the value of Bike Ed, and I believe it is starting to happen with programs like the Bay Area Bicycle Education group and the SFBC Street Skills courses.

The League of American Bicyclists has been administering the Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) program and I think that is really starting to kick some communities into gear. Elected officials become involved and learn about the value of bicycling, because communities are either awarded the designation (bronze, silver, gold or platinum) or they are not awarded the designation. This is a great way to get things going in terms of measuring "where" a community is in terms of things that help make it a good place to bicycle. The program looks at infrastructure, education, enforcement, and encouragement, and overall programs like comprehensive plans and bike plans.

The other programs of the LAB that are valuable and tie well into the BFC program are the National Bike Summit, which is held annually in Washington, DC and where cyclists from all over the US come to lobby their elected officials and get to know one another and share ideas and best practices. The Club insurance program that allows organized groups that are members of LAB to insure their rides and events under an insurance policy is another LAB program that flies below the radar. There are also club conference calls and many resources available to these groups.

Bike Ed, the Summit, and BFC are the strongest programs of the LAB and work together well. The concept of how the bicycle fits in with the topic of global warming is "heating" up and our executive director has been giving testimony on Capitol Hill regarding the value of bicycling and the BFC program as a viable solution for helping reduce GHG emissions. The LAB has also been at the forefront in monitoring legislation in many states that either helps or hinders bicycling. Advocating for the rights of cyclists to use the roads is a major issue for LAB and for our membership and we take it very seriously.

Bike Commute Tips: On my bike commuting tips site and blog I always encourage bicyclists to get involved in advocacy to improve the cycling environment in their community. What is the case for supporting LAB? Do you see hopeful signs at the national level that transportation policy may be embracing bicycling as an energy saving, healthy, and cost-effective transportation alternative?

Eichstaedt: LAB has been around for 128 years and has seen the paving of the roads, the development of the automobile, and the decline of cycling. We are still around and cycling seems to be coming back. Representing a group of individualistic folks on the national level is no small charge. The League has fostered the development of clubs and advocacy organizations nationally and there is a strong network of coalitions all over the country that help cyclists work locally to ensure that their needs are met.

LAB is the umbrella organization that works alongside groups like the Thunderhead Alliance (the advocacy training and networking organization) and the Bikes Belong Coalition (the industry group that supports advocacy) and IMBA (the International Mountain Biking Association), and brings all these efforts together nationally once a year at the National Bike Summit and is working to provide communities with a way to measure their successes and strive to improve with the BFC program. LAB is also the only organization that trains and certifies instructors to teach bicycle education programs.

My goal as president is to work with our existing board and staff to bring the LAB back into prominence with cyclists throughout the country. We need feedback on how to do this and we need cyclists to join and to tell us what else they would like for us to do for them. I hope that people will look into what LAB is doing and if they have any questions or want to talk about it, that they will give me a call.

Image: Weather vane at the Bear Valley Inn, Olema, CA.
Visit: League of American Bicyclists
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips

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