There is ample evidence that cycling can have profound impacts on cities by improving health, the environment, equity, and the economy. But most cities, especially in the U.S., are still not very bicycle friendly. BYCS, an organization started in bike-positive Amsterdam, is working to empower cities around the world to tackle their biking challenges and get more people moving on two wheels. One of their growing initiatives is the Bicycle Mayor Program.
A “Bicycle Mayor” position is voluntary, and it’s up to a community to decide how to “elect” one, but once part of the program a city’s Bicycle Mayor can tap into support from BYCS and its network of other Bicycle Mayors around the world. Bicycle Mayors act as a bridge between established advocacy groups, the public, local government, and business in order to identify solutions that are unique to their place and population. In Cape Town, South Africa, for instance, the Bicycle Mayor is teaching disadvantaged women and girls to ride bikes so they have better access to education and jobs. One of India’s six Bicycle Mayors is working on bike-to-work issues.
BYCS’s goal is to have 200 Bicycle Mayors around the world by the end of the year, and they are hoping many of those new positions will be in the U.S. So far, we only have one: Tiffany Mannion in Keene, N.H. We caught up with Mannion to learn more about the program and what she’s been up to since she took the position in 2017.
How did you become Bicycle Mayor of Keene?
The Bicycle Mayor project came into my attention through a friend who was Bicycle Mayor of Sydney. I thought it would be an awesome idea to bring to the U.S. I contacted BYCS and was able to talk with some folks locally who thought the concept had potential. I asked for letters of recommendation from five different partners and was able to move the idea into reality.
Why do cities need Bicycle Mayors?
Most cities, perhaps especially in the U.S., have many different partners who work to promote issues of people-powered transportation. I continue to see the idea of Bicycle Mayors as a great conduits; folks who could be positioned to coordinate and provide global momentum to a local scale. If we had the interest in positioning leaders in two-wheeled transportation across our country, we could change the world.
What can a Bicycle Mayor accomplish that other advocacy groups can’t do?
I see Bicycle Mayors as unique conduits the cycling community. They can connect and bridge gaps in the local scene in a unique way. They can leverage the momentum of the work that currently exists in a community and help push it further. They can perhaps see both in the trenches and in the trends, and help support the way our cities are changing with more people riding more often. A Bicycle Mayor can unify the collective voices in the community and empower a two-wheel difference.
What have you been able to accomplish in Keene as Bicycle Mayor?
Ultimately, I found the greatest opportunity to make a difference has come from supporting bicycling education. Helping folks of all ages to get out there and ride safe and often.
Keene is a small city; what are its bicycle challenges?
Keene has an awesome network of trails, and is largely a beautiful place to ride. Folks are generally very considerate on the roadways. I think that one of the two problems we face is simply on Main Street. The street was designed for vehicles, and it is a challenging bicycle ride. I’d like to see some inclusive redesign ideas in time. The other focused opportunity supports Bicycle Friendly Businesses in the city. Supporting bicycle commuters is a brilliant way to encourage more folks to change their daily habits and share the possibility of two-wheel travel.
What are some of the biggest hurdles and solutions to increasing bike transportation in U.S. communities?
The biggest challenge to bike transportation in the U.S. is simply knowledge. Folks on two wheels need to develop a confident fluency in their ride, knowing where and how they are most strong on the roadways. And folks in motorized vehicles need to develop their sense of safety and consideration. We are all trying to get somewhere. Safe. I think that if we can increase the education of our next generation of drivers, and support folks who drive for a living, and help our young folks with early bicycle education efforts, we can nurture the idea that we can take two wheels anywhere into the future.
Do you know if there are any other U.S. cities that might get a Bicycle Mayor?
I have heard that there are several cities who are looking into the idea, New York being the most recent. I understand there are four others lined up currently who may be joining the conversation. I can’t wait.
How can other cities get a Bicycle Mayor?
Simply contact BYCS in Amsterdam. They are wonderfully helpful in sharing their vision and program. Gather letters of support and a vision for your tenure, and we can start to connect the dots across this great country.
May is National Bike Month. What are you doing to celebrate?
I’ll be working with the City of Keene to bring “Safe Routes to School” programming to the Keene Middle School. I’ll also be able teaching several other schools safe walking and bicycling curriculum through the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire. I will also be taking groups for two different rides, one to see four covered bridges in our local community, all on the National Register of Historic Places, and another that will go from Concord, Mass., to Boston and back. The community also has rallied and put together many other rides and opportunities to connect in different ways.
If you’re interested in getting a Bicycle Mayor in your city, visit https://bycs.org/our-work/bicycle-mayors/#join.