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Dear AG Gancarski of Folio Weekly

May 17, 2012

Dear Mr. Gancarski,

Regarding your article about the Mayor’s Bike and Bike Month (May 15, 2012) , I’d like to first say that I completely understand your stance on the dangers of bike riding in this city. I understand the cynicism toward the whole idea of encouraging growth in the bike culture here. I understand your having given up riding bikes after such an accident from a careless Jacksonville driver. Your thoughts are very typical. We’ve all felt like this at one point or another about the lack of respect from motorists toward our fellow man.

And secondly, I must explain, the reason I’m making this letter to you so public is because I’d like to clarify to everyone why the bike community chose to give the Mayor a bike. Besides, your sentiments about us were pretty public, eh? ;-)

When I lived in St. Augustine, I used to ride my bike all over the place. Though I didn’t notice any bike community, and my bike at the time would have been considered pretty nerdy by the standards of my current friends, I loved what bike riding provided for me – a way to get to know, and be outwardly friendly to my neighbors. I lived in Lincolnville, along with another young lady while attending college. Our consistency in riding bikes through that neighborhood, waving and smiling at neighbors along the way, helped establish us as a part of their community. We were never bothered, never given a cold look, never treated uncomfortably in any way.

You don’t get the same effect when using a car in that scenario.

I moved to Jacksonville in 2008 and very quickly understood it to be incredibly unfriendly toward bicyclists. So I just stopped riding altogether. End of story… well, for a little while any way.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through chemo, radiation, massive weight loss when I already couldn’t afford it, weakness, 2 surgeries to remove the breasts and replace them with fake ones, no usage of my chest muscles, little usage of my arms, blah blah blah… I was unable to ride my bike for about a year or so. After I got better, I wanted to ride again, despite the fact that Jacksonville’s motorists are notoriously hateful toward cyclists and pedestrians, despite the lack of infrastructure, despite the lack of enforcement from the law. I said, “Screw it!”. I really wanted to ride around on my bike! I guess I felt that because I beat cancer, I could face anything with a hell of a lot more courage than ever I’d known before the cancer – even Duval drivers.

My friend, Koula, was getting into riding bikes too and was also becoming friends with the longest standing bike advocate in the city, Matt Uhrig of BikeJax. He told her that this is the third most dangerous city in the nation for peds and bikes and that he’s involved with the City of Jacksonville’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). She relayed this information to me and I said, “Let’s do it!”. I wanted to get involved so that I could try and figure out why it is Jacksonville is so uniquely stupid regarding the acceptance of alternate modes of transportation. And I wanted to see what needed to be done to change that.

Along the way, I met a whole slew of individuals hungry for change, participating in the BPAC meetings and creating our own meetings (or brainstorms as we like to call them), and thus our little coalition was born.

The idea of giving a bike to the mayor was the brainchild of one of our founding members, Goliath Flores. Though he envisioned something quite different than how the event actually turned out, the essence of the idea remained the same – get a high profile, well-liked, public official on a bike… and get the public to see them on that bike. Do you see where we were going with this? We wanted not just cyclists to gather around a bunch of other cyclists during a cycling event, we wanted all types of people to see and acknowledge that there are a lot of cyclists in this city and that anyone could be a cyclist. That includes people that they personally know. People that they personally care about. And not just a cool mayor on a cool bike (which, by the way, isn’t a fixed gear, contrary to popular belief). Everyone knows and cares about someone who rides a bike.

We are striving to ignite a spark in the minds of those otherwise car-centric citizens that cyclists and pedestrians are not obstacles in their way, they’re people. Drive safe around neighborhoods. Drive safe around school bus stops and school zones. Drive safe around areas where cyclists and pedestrians are known to be out and about. Drive safe around humans. It’s as simple as that.

We may not all be cyclists, but we’re all pedestrians at some point, our flesh exposed to the rigors of heavy traffic more often than what’s comfortable for anyone. In the New England area, motorists usually give cyclists three feet of clearance… not honk at them, buzz them, throw trash at them, or flat out strike them. They stop when they see that a pedestrian needs to cross the road at a crosswalk… not speed past them, only adding to the wall of other cars blocking that pedestrian from the other side of the road. They understand what a sharrow is… not look at a sharrow marking pasted down on the pavement and think, “Oh, is that what I’m supposed to do to cyclists? Flatten them with my car?”. That’s the mentality we’re dealing with here in Jacksonville, and it’s incredibly unusual because I’ve experienced so many other metropolitan areas of the country, and pedestrians and cyclists, for the most part, are seen as people. Not obstacles.

By getting the mayor on a bike, and the mayor graciously accepting this in a very public way, we’ve managed to get that image circulating throughout the city. It is in the hopes that image might stick with the average Duval motorist.

Maybe they might start to understand that biking is a way of life for so many folks. For all kinds of folks, really: be it those who do it to build strength and endurance; those who do it to lose weight after having been diagnosed with diabetes, the number one most costly heath problem in the US today; those who cruise the beaches; those who do it to socialize; those who want to save money on gas; those who have no other means of transport; those who understand the logic of using a bike over a car if you’re only going a couple miles or so; or those who simply enjoy riding bikes.

Maybe they might start to understand that fatal car accidents are one of the most difficult deaths for you and your loved ones to get over because they are always unexpected. Such a death will always linger in our minds with questions, guilt, and remorse: What could have been done differently so that person may have lived?

Maybe they might start to understand that times are changing, gas prices will not ever go down significantly and will only rise, and more and more people all over the country, all over the world, are choosing bikes over cars.

If nothing else, we hope that more people here in Jacksonville might start to understand that… well… cyclists are people. Give ‘em a brake, will ya?

The current mentality regarding cyclists stems from a complete lack of education about cyclist and pedestrian rights here in Florida. It is not a wonder that the top four most dangerous cities in the nation for bikes and peds are all located in Florida: 1) Orlando 2) Tampa 3) Jacksonville 4) Miami.

One step toward change was getting everyone to see our mayor on a bike – a mayor who serves in the third most dangerous city in the nation for bikes. Our next step is public education.

Thank you for your thoughts and thank you for writing that article. I hope this addresses some of your concerns about our intentions as a group of rag tag, underground, cyclist advocates, who sometimes like to go about advocacy guerilla style. We’re sincerely trying our best.

And we do hope you’ll consider riding your bike again. If you do, please contact me and I will happily help guide you to resources that will show you how to ride safely, and show you just how huge this bike community really is.

Do consider it.

Warmly,

Jennifer Kubicki

Co-Founder, Director, the Jacksonville Bicycle Coalition

jaxbikecoalition@gmail.com

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. maggie permalink
    May 17, 2012 5:34 PM

    I LOVE IT!

  2. May 22, 2012 2:32 AM

    I think the article in Folio is a simple reminder of the state of journalism today. It is a signal of what gives journalists a reputation of being lazy sensationalists…whatever gets them more viewership, I guess.

    Of all the things wrong with bicycling in this city, Mr. Gancarski decided to point out a pothole. I feel sorry for the young lady who unwillingly and unsuccessfully tackled the said pothole but there are a bigger things messed up for people on bicycles — things that are not easily seen from the comfort of one’s cushioned office-chair — things one overlooks while deciding to select which article would require the least footwork — things that are not fixed with reflectors and headlights alone.

    Of course, if we are to talk about things that need to be fixed, we might start with fixing journalism first…only to have a venue to discover the appropriate broken-ness of said things. I wish fixing journalism were as easy as repairing an indented skull.

    I feel bad for Mr Gancarski’s past accident. Having come close to something that traumatic, I can estimate the reasons for pessimism, and I can see where the desire to assign blame arises. However, pointing fingers does not get one far. One has to open up their palm and join hands to begin to achieve something that improves commuting for everyone, people in cars, people on foot, and people on bikes. We have joined hands and planted a seed with the bicycle for Mayor Brown. One could water that seed or one could take a dump on it…either action is not an indication of the nature of the planted seed.

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  1. Recap on Jacksonville’s Bike Month in May « The Jacksonville Bicycle Coalition

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