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'Bike Czar' Nicole Freedman Gets Boston Pedaling

The alternative transit movement gets its (wo)man in city hall.

There’s no denying that oil is on its way out, but the United States has yet to kick its car addiction. In 2009, there were 254,212,610 registered vehicles on U.S. highways. There is, however, a better way to go about your day-to-day commute, and it’s a mode of transport that’s been around since the early 1800s.

To find out how cities are getting people back on the bicycle, GOOD chatted with the director of bike programs for the city of Boston, Nicole Freedman. As the unofficial "bike czar," of a city that’s been on the "least bike-friendly" list three years running, she has her work cut out for her.

GOOD: How did you get involved in biking? What was your first phenomenal bike experience?

Nicole Freedman: I started cycling after running competitively for many years. One of my goals was to run Division 1, and I ran [cross-country] for Stanford only to find out that I was really mediocre. I quit running my senior year and joined the Stanford cycling team. I vowed not to race since I didn’t want to lose the joy of riding. The coach talked me into doing my first race, [and] after that, I was completely hooked.

GOOD: Why should cities want more drivers to switch to bikes?

Freedman: Ultimately promoting [the reduction of] vehicle traffic creates a high quality of life. People never rave about how they got to sit in their car. People want to be outside, to walk, to bicycle and enjoy the environment. Cycling is a key component of creating livable, healthy, and vibrant cities.

GOOD:What’s your mission as Boston’s ‘Bike Czar?’

Freedman: [As] director of bicycle programs, the goal is to transform Boston into a world-class bicycling city. In 2007, when the mayor started the program and hired me, Boston had been three times rated the worst cycling city in the country. We did not have a single mile of bike lane. Since then, we have made tremendous strides. [Last month] we installed our 50th mile of bike lane…Boston is now one of the only cities in the country with a bike-share system. We also have installed over 1,700 new bike parking spaces.

GOOD: What's your take on the importance of biking as opposed to driving?

Freedman: Cycling is critical in so many ways… Every time someone drives they are contributing to climate change and obesity; go by bike and you tackle both of these issues head on. The average first year cyclist loses 13 pounds. It is hard to beat that for health impact. In addition to heath and sustainability, there is real economic impact to bike programs. From 2007-2010 Boston added nearly 200 bike-related jobs in the city—despite the recession. The mayor has recently proclaimed that the “car is no longer king.” We are working hard to live up to this every day.

GOOD: What are you doing to promote biking in Boston?

Freedman: One of the elements we are most proud of is making bicycling relevant to everyone in the city. We have strived to make Boston the equity leader in cycling. As such, our community bike programs have brought cycling right to the neighborhoods. We have provided intensive on-the-bike classes to nearly 5,000 youth, donated 900-plus refurbished bikes to low-income residents, and set up mobile bike-repair stations with free repairs at over 60 farmers markets, primarily in low income neighborhoods the last two seasons.

GOOD: What does a city need to do to be considered 'bike friendly'?

Freedman: Ultimately, a city needs high ridership. Keys to getting [that] include a network of high-quality bicycle facilities (paths and lanes), bicycle racks, bike share, a major citywide bike ride or Cyclovia, community bike programs. In Europe and other countries, pricing policy is a major factor—it is very expensive to drive, whether due to the cost of gas, cost of parking, cost to get a license, cost to purchase a car, congestion charges, etc. Certainly the high cost of driving has encouraged people to cycle.

GOOD: What is your timeline for converting Boston into a bike-topia?

Freedman: We work as if our timeline is yesterday!

GOOD: What's the best thing about biking?

Freedman: Cycling is the best part of my day, everyday.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Global Jet.

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