Kit Keller

Kit Keller, Executive Director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) chatted with us recently about her organization’s presence at Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place, the vital role that women have played (and continue to play) in the bicycle movement, and how walking and bicycling advocates can make the most of the new federal transportation bill.  Kit shares what’s special about this year’s conference and the exciting things to expect from the National Women’s Bike Summit immediately following it.

 

Do you think this Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place will be different than past conferences?

This is an exciting year for the conference. By adding in Placemaking, it emphasizes the importance of walking and biking to livability and good community planning. All too often, we see very over-engineered dead space facilities where there’s no sense of place and no people because there’s no destination. To integrate Placemaking into the conversation about biking and walking is brilliant.

Locating the conference in Long Beach is also interesting, because they really work on being innovative in this area. To have the leadership in the city be so visibly supportive before, during, and presumably after the conference is wholesome and hopefully will inspire more cities to become engaged in walking and biking issues. Long Beach’s mission to be the most bicycle friendly city in America is pretty exciting and is a great example. Go Long Beach!  By envisioning our goals, we can make stuff happen. Hopefully we’re entering into a period of the Olympics of walking and biking for city governments.

What will the APBP be doing at Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place?

The APBP views the conference as akin to our own conference, in that we make it a point to hold our annual meetings at Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place. We provide the opportunity for members to get together at booths and we hold our in-person board meetings there. We will also be presenting the APBP Lifetime Achievements Awards, the Professional of the Year Private and Public Sector Awards, and Young Professional of the Year Award. In addition, we will present our board candidates, as we will be having our board member election following the conference. We have eight candidates running for four board positions—and five of those candidates are women. I think this reflects the growing interest of women in our field.

Why is women’s bicycling such a hot topic?

It’s a hot topic everywhere, it seems. At conferences like the National Bike Summit, people want to talk about getting the number of women riders up. Women currently are about 24% of the ridership compared to men. The conversation got started a couple of years ago with a survey APBP did on women’s cycling that grew out of the International Scan on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility. We saw so many more women cycling in the cities that we visited outside of North America than in the U.S., so we set out to figure out why that was. We imagined our survey would only be answered by a few hundred women but it went viral and we got 13,000 responses.

Women are changing the landscape of bicycling advocacy / Photo: Sustainable Flatbush via Flickr

What we learned is that women are very worried about safety issues on the roadway, and that many of the facilities that are suitable for a more recreational or more assertive and experienced rider aren’t inviting to new riders or riders carrying children with them who are just looking to have a pleasant ride to work or other destinations. So the conversation is one you see not only in professional and advocacy circles, but you see it in the industry as well. Older male cyclists are becoming a diminishing part of the market. The bike industry needs to be seeking new markets, and women’s cycling is quite natural.

At Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place, we’re excited about a visioning session on doubling the number of women who ride bikes. The session will be small group discussions exploring how to break down the barriers that cause women to not ride, or not ride as much as their male counterparts. We will utilize real world scenarios in order to look at some of those issues. The aim is to offer new perspectives to people so they can take action in their own communities in an effort to double the number of women riding. The National Women’s Bike Summit will directly follow Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place on Thursday, September 13th, and we’re thrilled that it will be presented by APBP and the League of American Bicyclists. Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place is very supportive and has offered space for that discussion to happen.

The keynote speaker for the summit on Thursday is Leah Missbach Day, co-founder of World Bicycle Relief, an organization that has captured the imagination of a lot of people to empower women and girls in developing countries. The WBR works at getting these women bicycles to help them get to school to get an education, and to work toward improving their lives.

We’re going to do six break-out sessions with a variety of facilitators and speakers on health, recreation, racing, women who have children who cycle, and women who are running programs to encourage more women to cycle.

Can you talk about the impact that women have had on the active transportation movement over the long term? 

Women are very concerned about the health of their families and children, and their broader communities so it seems natural to me that more women would be coming into the planning and engineering field seeking to build a career around making communities more walkable and bicycle-friendly. I think just from the sheer amount of women who have received APBP awards in recent years, it really indicates the growing importance of the role of women in our field.

What can planners and engineers do to make the most of MAP-21, the current federal transportation law?

It seems to be a point of collaboration across people working in public health, safety, sustainability, Placemaking, and all types of professions that resonate with complete streets. APBP has been working closely with the National Complete Streets Coalition. We’re taking MAP-21 and utilizing all possible avenues for funding bicycling and walking, not just through the transportation alternatives aspect, but also through all of the other transportation funding. Obviously, Congress was not thinking about Placemaking when they created the opportunity for states to opt out of spending federal money on bicycle and pedestrian projects. The most important thing that professionals in our field can do right now is to work with their states’ Departments of Transportation to make sure that they don’t opt out.  Since available funding is going to drop under MAP-21, our job is to make sure every penny that is available gets utilized effectively.

What can planners, engineers, and advocates do to improve the next transportation bill?

We need to start ourselves, and take our policy makers on bike rides or walks through our communities to show them what was funded, and what else needs to be funded. We have to show them how people are walking and biking to school, work, the library, and the grocery, and to socialize. People are utilizing the facilities that have been put in place, whether they’re trails, cycle tracks, or protected bike lanes, and policy makers need to see that. Get them out to see that people who are too young or old to drive, if they can get around a community and if the community is safe for them, then it’s likely to be safe for people of all ages. The young and the old (their children and their parents) count on being able to walk and bike for transportation and for health.

 

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Pro Walk/Pro Bike®: Pro Place is North America’s premier walking and bicycling conference, which occurs biannually. The next conference will occur in Pittsburgh, PA in September 2014.  Join more than 1,000 planners, engineers, elected officials, health professionals, and advocates to gain the insights of national experts in the field, learn about practical solutions to getting bike and pedestrian infrastructure built, and meet peers from across the country.