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Women Bike: BAC Representation
In 2012, Women Bike spoke with Cathy DeLuca about her research in the underrepresentation of women on Bicycle Advisory Committee in California. DeLuca’s research showed that while women represent one half of the population in California, they comprise on 19% of members on Bicycle Advisory Committees and 27% on Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees.
At the League, we believe that in order to equally address bike use among diverse users, you must do your best to include diverse voices at the table. Groups focused on local transportation issues like Bicycle Advisory Councils help to ensure the needs of bike riders remain at the forefront of local politicians’ minds. I was thrilled when nearby Bicycle Friendly Community Arlington, VA, appointed Gillian Burgess as chair. She joined existing vice-chair and long time community bike advocate Megan Jones, creating the first women led Arlington BAC.
I spoke with Burgess and Jones about their path to getting involved in the Arlington BAC and their recommendations on how women in other communities can get involved.
Burgess and her husband both have of a deep love of bike riding. They made the decision to make Arlington home based largely on its bike culture. Having bike commuted and trained for triathlons after the birth of her first son, it was noticing how uncomfortable riding in the drops of her road bike was that she discovered she was pregnant with her second child. She switched to her upright hybrid, and looked for information on how to continue riding through her pregnancy. Not finding a lot of information for women here in the US, she turned to European sources for information. It was through her research she discovered the burgeoning family bike movement happening in the US, Kidical Mass. Meeting Megan Odett who ran the DC chapter of Kidical Mass, and connecting with other families biking in the area inspired her to lead her first family ride. She led the Arlington Fun Ride while she was 9 months pregnant with their second child Rider, and with their 2 year old daughter Sydney in a child’s seat. Next spring she started the Arlington Chapter of Kidical Mass.
Her advocacy work in family biking led her to volunteering as vice chair of the multimodal transportation and student safety committee for Arlington Public Schools. One of her duties as vice chair required her to speak at an Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee. She saw that while Arlington is recognized nationally for planning and transportation, the work to make biking and walking to school was patchwork. She realized her voice as a parent and family biker was valuable to conversations at the BAC, and decided to become more involved.
She credits her passion for civic engagement to her mother. Burgess’s mother was involved in local government. Her mother taught her that what keeps some people out of conversations is this need to feel invited, but her mother encouraged her to just show up. Because most people don't’ show up, so when you do you tend to get heard.
Jones was inspired to become involved in the BAC by her husband, who serves as the President of the Board of Washington Area Bicyclists Association. She attended an Arlington BAC meeting with him, and looked around and saw no women. She believes that you don’t have to understand everything that is going on. Sometimes new people shy away from becoming involved because they don’t have a strong background in urban planning or engineering. She kept asking questions, and made the decision to keep showing up to meetings. She believes it helps the cause when the county board sees new faces at the meetings, proving that bicycling isn’t just a fringe issue of a few dedicated citizens.
Jones rediscovered biking in college. When she and her husband moved to Arlington they noticed all the new bike lanes and trail systems going in. She started biking for exercise and recreation and eventually tried biking to work. She became a daily commuter, got a lighter bike, and realized she could bike for groceries or even camping. Jones became interested in racing as is part of a local all women’s team Sticky Fingers. Jones often combines her love of racing with advocacy. Sticky Fingers recently sponsored a showing of the film Half the Road which raised money for Washington Area Bicyclists Association program Women and Bicycles. She is also the creator of the Hains Point 100, where for the past two years she has ridden the Hains Point loop for 100 miles in December. The Hains Point 100 is a fun event that encourages cyclists of all abilities to come out and ride a few laps with her or to just cheer her on to raise money for Women and Bicycles. Jones enjoys raising money for an organization that encourages a safe space for women to get involved in cycling and ask questions that often times serves as barriers to participation. She describes her approach to getting involved in advocacy, racing, and later the BAC as having a willingness to tap into “one part mimic and one part hutzpah.”
Bicycle Advisory Committees have become an important political force in our cities ensuring bicyclists needs are getting the proper consideration of local elected officials. Many cities are in to process of just creating committees like these to help address the recent swell of interest in bicycling across America. Sometimes these committees are appointed by city council members to ensure equal representation across districts, but often its just about who shows up. To find out more about the role that bicycling is taking in local political conversations about transportation planning, contact your representative and request to be considered for any current or future positions on a BAC. Having women involved in these important political conversations is critical to ensure an equitably designed future.