Andrea Learned

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Bikes ARE Climate Action

Riders enjoying the SFBikes/FordGoBike event during the Global Climate Action Summit, September 2018.

I do believe the moment has come. With the Global Climate Action Summit (#GCAS2018) just finished and Climate Week NYC up next week, discussion of bikes AS climate action should be at an all-time high. If my own part in trying to nudge, poke, prod and amplify that conversation has contributed to any buzz, all the better.

However, there’s this: On September 14, the Summit’s last day, Ivan Penn wrote a great New York Times piece, calling out the disconnect between, among other things, the at-the-ready electric shuttle buses and bike share bikes at the event and the number of hulking Chevy Suburbans at the curbs near Moscone Center, waiting for high profile delegates.


Now, let me go back and walk through this event with a #bikes4climate, social capital leveraging, opportunity lens:

  1. I’ve been writing and tweeting about this, sharing links about the potential for getting more people on bikes as TRUE #cities4climate action for a while now. I’ve been building what I call “social capital” with a great community of Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections for some time. So, my platform was ready. Note: my Tweeting style/approach tends to be one of naming and faming, and calling out research and successful examples that exist – more than the dreamy “one day” pieces on future tech. I might occasionally say “argh” to a negative bit of news, but I aim to cheer the whole pursuit forward, whatever smidgeons of dots can be connected.
  2. As well, I’ve been writing about sustainability, climate action and leadership for a while, so I have existing relationships with publications like GreenBiz. If I get an idea for a piece, or have a cause I’d love to share with their readers, I run it by them. Often, they are interested. I have proven myself to be a trustworthy and informative writer, so editors at a variety of publications tend to at least consider my pitches. (My point: you, too, can build this credibility.)
  3. Driven by my frustration at not seeing solid climate action leadership “uptake” of the carbon reduction opportunity in bikes (and eBikes), I wrote Global climate action, meet the bike industry – now, collaborate, which published in GreenBiz just before I got on a flight to San Francisco last week. (An aside: I made no attempt to be a delegate, because as most delegates themselves know, the real connecting happens outside the security gates and in the coffee shops.)
  4. Because I have long been writing and contributing on the topic, my friend Lloyd Alter of Treehugger then picked up my piece and expanded on it from his even longer term historical perspective.
  5. At the same time, and unbeknownst to me, long-time bike advocacy friend, Melissa Balmer, had also been compelled to write about why we need to embrace the bike as climate action.
  6. Even before I was on-the-ground in San Francisco, I’d been following the #GCAS2018 Twitter stream and highlighting connections /posing pointed questions about city climate action goals and transportation emphasis. Bikes were included in a few sessions, it turns out, but the topics getting the most love tended to be a tad sexier (and bigger ticket), like electric vehicles. (Please recall that that excitement still didn’t lend itself to conference delegates using the electric shuttle vans, per Penn’s story).
  7. I gained about 100 Twitter followers last week by emphasizing the opportunity in this one thing, and so, along the way, also identified an even greater community of folks who want to share about bikes as climate action. (In other words, there is already a platform of passionate individuals -who know how to use Twitter – pumped to build further #bikes4climate momentum.)
  8. Finally, on that single day I was in San Francisco, I rode with the fabulously well-planned San Francisco Bicycle Coalition “pedal power for climate action” event on lovely FordGoBike bikes (the ones that were readily available and even free ALL DAY on the 13th to anyone, including summit delegates). It seemed to be mainly #bikes4climate choir members, which was wonderful –  as they are my people. Still, this is evidence of a huge missed opportunity to expand the biking choir into climate action leadership. I tried for months (starting in March) to convince various bike/mobility and city/sustainability folks about the potential for getting climate action leaders/influencers actually on bikes during this event. (My thinking: Anyone who DID participate in such an event would surely re-introduce themselves to that bike-riding joy – and perhaps be more inclined to bring it to their city – the next time they had discussions about transportation infrastructure.)

A postscript: watching Twitter today, I came across this fabulous, humorous but INFORMATIVE video from The Urbanist about the ebb and flow of city biking efforts in London. Watch and LEARN, city leaders.

I closed my aforementioned GreenBiz piece with this:

What if a conversation about the opportunity of #bikes4climate was on every agenda, with panels of high-level leaders from both sectors swapping wisdom and finding collaboration points? The expertise, history and innovation foundation for such work is there if you look for it, with all stakeholders not quite realizing they’ve remained in their own corners.

Climate action leaders, please introduce yourselves to bike and mobility industry leaders. We have the citizen interest and the pedal power to help reach Paris Agreement targets.

As so many of my bike advocacy friends point out, it’s about convincing more people to bike even a few of their two mile or less short trips. THIS will get the pedals of change going, for real, and with no well-dressed, not-been-on-a-bike-since-they-were-12, climate action leader photo opportunity involved.

#Bikes4Climate is my cause. Corporations should be jumping to sponsor efforts around this and seeing the bounty of potential in including bikes (getting employees to choose bikes more often, attracting talent by nudging their city’s to develop safe infrastructure etc.) as part of their Paris Agreement climate action commitments and goals. There is no lose, in this win-win-win climate action solution.

I’d argue that city leaders simply cannot say they are among #cities4climate without committing to #bikes4climate for their citizens.

Are you in? My work is helping your city or corporation see the opportunity, build the social capital and leverage its #Bikes4Climate leadership for the greater climate action cause.

(Photo credit: SFBikes photographer/will add their name soon!)