Want to Join Corporate Minnesota’s Not-So-Secret Society of Commuter Advocates? We’re meeting at Great River Energy on April 19th.My first post on Minneapolize was about the vision for a downtown bike center, where people would be encouraged to commute by bike because they have everything they need in terms of end-of-trip facilities. That idea continues to gain traction, as one facet of what I like to jokingly call “our diabolical plot to normalize transportation cycling.”
Those of us who regularly commute to our jobs by bike get a little thrill out of being seen as the workplace iconoclasts – at least when it comes to matters of transportation. We swagger in each morning with our helmets in hand and messenger bags over our shoulders, hoping this quiet but public display about our lifestyle choice might eventually convince at least some of our coworkers to leave their cars at home and join us for the ride in. It’s a personal form of grassroots bike advocacy that allows us to feel that we’re making an individual contribution to a larger cause of bettering the world through more biking.
Thankfully, the Twin Cities has a growing network of like-minded folks who hold semi-annual conferences under a mainstream-sounding name – the Corporate Bike Forum – which, since 2013, have been hosted by local corporate heavyweights such as Best Buy, Wells Fargo, Ameriprise, and Target Corp. Conceived in 2013 by David Gepner, chair of the Hennepin County Bicycle Advisory Committee, the forums seek to “facilitate networking, share ideas, and help create strategies around getting your co-workers to bike to work.”
The next forum is scheduled for April 19th at 2:00 p.m., and will be hosted by Great River Energy in Maple Grove (more info below). Previous forums have included discussion of some of the more well-known local workplace initiatives, such as (1) the expansion of the Dero ZAP program, (2) the creation of Target’s employee bike center, and (3) the health insurance cost savings QBP realized by offering cash incentives to its employees who bike.
The last forum, held at Target in October 2015, featured a panel discussion on the challenges facing women as bike commuters, led by Brittany Peterson of Target, Jo Olson of Bike.MN, and Pamela Moore of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC). Brittany, Jo, and Pam each shared personal stories of how they became bike commuters, the positives and negatives they encountered in creating a commuter lifestyle, and things they felt would help more women start to see bike commuting as a realistic and attractive option. Forum participants were encouraged to offer their own perspectives on the issue of women-as-bike-commuters, and did so – enthusiastically – about safety concerns; the absence of decent trip-end facilities (i.e., showers and lockers) at many workplaces; the need to provide new female commuters with better information about routes, equipment, and attire; the intimidating quality of some of the male-dominated “bike snob” commuter groups; and a pronounced fear of “looking dumb” as a female bike commuter and not meeting cultural expectations about workplace attire and appearance. Ideas suggested to alleviate some of these problems included holding group ride-ins with a “no-drop” rule, employer-sponsored bike skills classes, and employee-commuter groups making extra effort to offer an environment more welcoming to women.
As a middle-aged male, I realize I’ll probably never fully grasp the subtle cultural and environmental factors that discourage women from biking. Still, we can all agree that too many obstacles remain, and that real action is needed. Implicit in every question, comment, and story I heard from the group that day was a wish that the proverbial “powers that be” – the unseen individuals who make the big decisions in our lives – would simply listen for a moment, and understand that these ideas make sense, and can benefit so many people in so many ways, that tangible action would follow in the foreseeable future. Everything that Brittany, Jo, and Pamela said about the things employers could do to make bike commuting a more appealing choice for women would be easy and inexpensive to implement. Do we just need to get the right people in the room with us? What’s the best way to convince business leaders that they should join our cause, and run with it? These are all crucial questions and ideas that need to be addressed on an employer-by-employer basis. The Corporate Bike Forum, however, can serve as an effective sounding board to brainstorm these ideas first.
Presentations scheduled for the April 19th event at Great River Energy will include “Creating a Workplace Bike Culture: the U of MN Experience” by Steve Sanders; “Duluth, a BFB Hotspot: Best Practices from the North Shore” panel discussion hosted by Shawna MullenEardley, and a tour of Great River’s employee bike facility let by Greg Archer. Registration is available on the Bike.MN website. If you can’t make it this time, but want to be kept in the loop, the group recently opened a Facebook page as a platform for online information exchanges, including announcements about future forums.
Interested in joining the discussion? Do you have some excellent ideas to encourage bike commuting? Or find a support network of folks who could help you to spread these bike-radical ideas into your workplace, and further our evil plan to subvert the car culture? Register for the April 19th event, join the Facebook group, and help us crank forward to that ultimate victory. Maybe the Corporate Bike Forum will grow so large that we won’t be seen as “different” any more.