In celebration of our March Member Drive, we’re highlighting the stories of the Bicycle Coalition’s members. One of our longtime members, John Boyle, is also a staff member at the Bicycle Coalition. John tells the story of how he got involved, how he made the transition from member to staff, and why he thinks the Bicycle Coalition’s mission is worthy of support.
How did you get involved with the Bicycle Coalition?
When I was growing up in NJ during the 1970s and early 1980s, the bicycle meant freedom to go to the store, to bike to school, or to go on a long trip on roads that I probably would never try to attempt to ride today (such as the causeway to Long Beach Island). In the late 1980s, I moved to Delaware and began biking to work at the DuPont Glasgow site. One day I strolled into Performance Bicycle Shop on Main St in Newark and found a Bicycle Coalition brochure. It was 1991 and the brochure highlighted one of the greatest early victories, getting bike access on SEPTA trains. I quickly mailed in my membership application, got a $5 bike permit by mail from SEPTA, and took the train and rode along the River Drives.
I moved to the City in 1993 in a 3rd floor walk up of one of those big West Germantown homes for $400 a month. I dropped in for volunteer night and was immediately sucked into Bicycle Coalition of the Delaware Valley politics [Editor’s note: the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia was formerly named the Bicycle Coalition of the Delaware Valley]. I remained a volunteer primarily working on getting rid of the SEPTA, PATCO and NJ Transit Bike Permits, and I joined the board in 1997. I was eventually hired as a contractor in 2001 to create a regional bike map along with the cartographer Steve Spindler. Later I worked on the Bicycle Education and Enhancement Program and became a full time employee in 2004.
What is your role with the Bicycle Coalition now?
I am the Research Director. I maintain and analyze data such as Census and bike counts, and I keep up to date with current bikeway design standards and infrastructure being installed in peer cities. I also work with our Suburban Planner Leonard Bonarek on the Circuit Trails in New Jersey. In New Jersey, we partner with Tri-State Transportation Campaign, NJ Conservation Foundation, Rails to Trails and the NJ Bike Walk Coalition and advocate for Circuit Trails and implementation of Complete Streets.
In your view, what is the biggest accomplishment of the Bicycle Coalition?
That use to be an easy question, if you asked me 10 years ago I would say it was the Spruce and Pine bike lanes because taking out a traffic lane in Center City was taboo back then. But I think that on the regional level it has to be the TIGER Grant that awarded $23 million dollars to the region.
What Bicycle Coalition project are you personally most excited about?
The Ben Franklin Bridge Ramp. Access to the bridge became an issue after 9/11 when the bridge walkway was closed. The campaign to keep the walkway open led to the campaign to build the ADA accessible ramp which was always an aspiration for the Bicycle Coalition. And now, it’s finally happening.
What have you learned in your career with the Coalition?
That bicycle advocacy is a long slog. There are issues from the 1990s that still have not been resolved. But when you see a piece of infrastructure that you brought to the table and was built, it makes up for all the aggravation and frustration over perceived lack of progress.
What is your favorite thing about working with the Bicycle Coalition team?
The quality of the employees that followed me. The executive staff at the Bicycle Coalition is mostly led by women and they have created a positive working environment. I have had many other jobs in my life and none of them compare to working at the Bicycle Coalition.
Why do you think it’s important to be a Bicycle Coalition member?
Because there is no other advocacy organization that totally shares our interest. We are often the only voice in the room pointing out that “bikes can help solve this problem!” Bicycling has a positive impact on the environment, transportation congestion, and public health, but it is often overlooked as being a part of the policy solution.
Even though transportation accounts for a huge portion of the carbon emissions humans put out, contributing to air pollution and a warming planet, human modes of transport are often the simplest and most cost-effective way to reduce pollutants and greenhouse gases, but frequently aren’t raised as a large scale solution. Some health care professionals see bicycles as a dangerous liability instead of a tool for cardiovascular health. Traffic safety advocates often focus on seat belts and motor-vehicle oriented technology to reduce deaths instead of making it safer to walk or bike. Bike lanes are perceived to increase congestion because some believe that taking a small piece of road space is a precursor to gridlock. We fight these false perceptions and bring our well-researched perspective that bike infrastructure is a solution in the aforementioned arenas.
We need someone to mind the store, a watchdog to make sure that we continue to move forward and ensure that modest gains are not lost to indifference or political pressure.
Want to join John and 3,000+ others in the region showing support for safer streets, connected trails, and better bicycling? Become a member today! There are perks to joining before March 31st, including donor thank-you gifts and a bike giveaway!