Stephanie Weir’s back-story doesn’t completely fit with her current story: bicycle advocacy. Born and raised in Lake Orion, Mich., not far from the Motor City of Detroit, her grandfather was proudly employed by General Motors Corp. They were a GM family.
Still, it was during those formative years growing up in the small Michigan village when the organizer for St. Paul Women on Bikes first discovered the freedom of traveling by two wheels.
However, it wasn’t until she moved to Minneapolis in 2005 that she said she discovered bicycling could be more than simply a recreational pursuit — it was an important mode of transportation. Not long after adopting the cycling lifestyle, she began to get involved with advocacy and promoting better infrastructure, first in Minneapolis and then in St. Paul. Now working with St. Paul Women on Bikes, she hopes to open up opportunities for more people by promoting increased safety and a better footing for cycling.
Ahead of her presentation at the Winter Cycling Congress, an international meeting of the minds being held in the Twin Cities this week, Weir, 33, talked about the strides she is hoping for in local infrastructure and the positive impact bicycling can have on the Twin Cities.
On getting involved
I’ve always been really interested in community engagement and community organizing and building grass roots power to inspire systematic changes. A big part of Women on Bikes is about bringing people who haven’t traditionally been a part of the bicycle advocacy efforts to the table to get their voices in the mix. The reason I’m interested in bicycling and transportation in particular is more to do with community development. Bicycling and active transportation enhances the vitality of our streets and helps make a community great. In cities across the country, I think bicycles have the potential to really drive street-level retail and economic development.
On the barriers that women face using bikes as transport
When you look at the numbers, one of the big statistics that is cited is that 24 percent of bicycle trips are taken by women, so the majority, especially commuter-type trips, are taken by men. In terms of why that’s the case, there’s been some research and anecdotal evidence. One reason that is cited is that women are more risk-averse, and riding in places that lack bike infrastructure is often perceived as risky. Also, when you look at travel behavior, women often take more complicated trips. Men tend to go to and from work, while women tend to stop at the grocery store, stop at the drugstore, and stop to pick up the kids, so doing that by bike is definitely more difficult.
On the future of biking in the Twin Cities
Obviously, St. Paul and Minneapolis are very different cities, but I think some of the connections between the two cities is a great place for potential improvements. St. Paul just passed a bike plan in 2015 that will more than double the number of bike lanes, trails and other infrastructure in the city. Another huge thing St. Paul is working on improving is downtown where there are very few bike lanes. Right now, the city is in the midst of creating the downtown loop to ensure there are safe ways to get around and into and out of downtown. The city is committed to doing some things right away, which is really great.
On normalizing biking
The idea that it is your neighbor or your daughter or some other community member who rides their bike is really important, especially with distracted and dangerous driving on the rise, as we are all in a hurry to get places. It’s pretty easy to get angry at the slow bicyclist in front of you, but that’s your neighbor or someone you care about. It’s important to preserve people’s choices to decide how they get where they want to go. We aren’t saying that cars are evil or that everyone has to give up their cars, it’s more about creating more choices.
On the growing support for biking in the Twin Cities
There are tons of different organizations around; some are more focused on Minneapolis or St. Paul, there are regional and statewide organizations, and definitely a healthy group of bike and transportation-focused groups out there, including nonprofits, larger membership organizations and funders. It’s an exciting place to be because so much is happening and so much is changing, and it’s really fun to be a part of that change.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer from Minneapolis.