Seattle to the World: Spokespeople

Linking People Through Neighborhoods Along Secure Bike Routes

The Story:
When you think of your average city cyclist, it's probably images of athletic, spandex-clad commuters -- not children, casual errand-runners or senior citizens -- that come to mind. But a local bike advocacy group, Spokespeople, is working to change that. By organizing bite-sized bike trips from one neighborhood to the next, the groups hopes to turn everyone, both young and old, into an avid cyclist by providing the space and the confidence to eventually hit the streets solo.

Spokespeople targets people who founder Cathy Tuttle refers to as “reluctant cyclists,” those who have bikes or want to bike but for whatever reason don’t. As it has grown, these outings have attracted a wide range of participants, numbering between 10 and 40 riders, with riders ranging in age from 7 to 84 years old. The goal of these rides is to get people out of their cars and onto their bikes for various reasons: environmental concerns, health benefits, community knowledge, or the pure enjoyment of biking.

After returning to Seattle after a year in Sweden in 2007, Tuttle and her family decided to continue living the car-free lifestyle they enjoyed in Europe. The family took to the streets with their bikes, and soon enough they were riding 50 miles a day or more.

However, when the time came for the kids to go back to school, Tuttle realized there was no safe biking route from their home in Wallingford to Roosevelt High School. This is where the idea for Spokespeople took root: she realized that since there were multiple planned neighborhoods around the city, there should be a way to safely access them by bicycle.

In March 2008, Tuttle launched Spokespeople with a community bike ride to explore Wallingford. These rides have continued since then and are held on the first Saturday of every month, beginning at the Wallingford Playground and lasting anywhere from one to three miles. Cyclists will venture in and around surrounding neighborhoods -- Phinney Ridge, Ballard, Fremont -- on preplanned routes that are designed to be the safest and most enjoyable (translation: not too hilly) for any experience level.

“It is a really simple, but radical idea, and it will create a wonderful opportunity for people to gather together every month in a free, healthy, sustainable city event,” Cathy explains.

Although this may sound similar to events like Critical Mass, the rides that Spokespeople organize are radically different. Prior to departure, participants receive a rundown of the rules of the road with an emphasis on rider safety. By giving riders an overview of hand signals, general information on how to maneuver in a sea of vehicles, and an opportunity to purchase low-cost helmets, Spokespeople events make sure that participants feel more at ease behind the handlebars by the time they hit the streets.

Now, Spokespeople wants to build on its progress. Ultimately, as Cathy writes, “Wouldn't it be great if urban neighborhoods all over Seattle rode at the same time? We could meet! We could slow down. Then we could really start to make a difference in the way city roads are used.”

Why it's Worldchanging:
Sure, we all know about the many benefits of bicycling. But what sets Spokespeople apart from the rest of the crowd is the fact that they provide a means to break old habits and attitudes that stand in the way of living a bright green lifestyle. By targeting "reluctant riders" and organizing group rides, Spokespeople sets the bar to show that anyone, regardless of age, can safely take up bicycling and enjoy the added benefits of pedal power. And participating in any of these community bike rides is sure to leave you with a better understanding of how your own community really can be a 20 minute neighborhood.

Photo/Image Credit: Spokespeople

This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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