A Streetsblog Interview with C.I.C.L.E.’s Liz Elliott

11_25_08_elliott.jpgCyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.) reached a milestone earlier this month when it appointed Liz Elliott as its first executive director.  While C.I.C.L.E. shares the same goal as other bicycle advocacy groups, they seek to bring about change by helping as many people as possible get out of their cars and onto bikes by teaching bike safety, programming Bike Week Pasadena, participating in Park(ing) Day, and by hosting its own wildly successful series of bike rides known as "Urban Expeditions."

Streetsblog conducted an over e-mail interview with Liz last week.

Streetsblog: First off, congratulations on the new gig.  It must be exciting.   I think the first thing people would like to know is what changes, if any, will people notice with CICLE?  Will its focus change at all as a result of your hiring?

Liz Elliott: Thank you, it is indeed exciting. For the last several years C.I.C.L.E. has been a labor of love-powered by a few dedicated volunteers. But as C.I.C.L.E. began to grow and increase its scope, it was clear that we needed a dedicated staff member on board. Well that day is here. Now C.I.C.L.E. is my job! While it's just a part time position, it still is having a tremendous impact on the organization's growth and development.

As a transportation focused bicycle advocacy organization, we've committed ourselves to using Education and Encouragement programming as a primary method to achieve our mission-which is essentially to get more people swapping out their cars for their bikes (at least part of the time). That trajectory won't change much over the next year or so, but do expect to see noticeable growth with our existing programs. Since I've come on board as director, we've already increased our workshop count from one a month to 3-4 per month. And as we continue to build, C.I.C.L.E. will begin to travel and engage more Los Angeles communities too.

One thing that I'd like to note about C.I.C.L.E.'s education program, is that it doesn't just focus upon bicycle safety-our goals are much broader than that. While promoting safe and effective riding style is very important and rests at the core of our curriculum, introducing people to smart solutions that help get them riding is an equally important component. As we continue to expand our education program, expect to see new workshops such as "The Bicyclist Lifestyle Workshop", "Bikes & Transit: Expanding your Mobility", Trailer Building Workshops, and more. These workshops offer much more than safe riding techniques, they teach fun and exciting solutions that inspire more Los Angelenos to start bicycling, and help the existing cyclist to keep at it. Some people think C.I.C.L.E. only works with new cyclists, but the truth is, we work with a lot of current cyclists too.

Streetsblog: Obviously you're very familar with the terrain out there.  When Streetsblog interviewed Eric Knutzen a couple of months ago, we asked him, "If you could give one piece of advice to a new rider what would it be?"  I'm curious to see if your answer is the same as his...

Liz Elliott: There's no doubt that your route plays a key role in creating an enjoyable experience that begs to be repeated. We always highlight the merits of less congested, gentler LA streets in our presentations and workshops, and we've hosted our Back Roads LA (http://www.cicle.org/cicle_content/pivot/entry.php?id=698 ) routes listing as a resource to help people find those routes. However, I'd hate to be limited to one piece of advice because it's like offering a single puzzle piece, and it may not be the puzzle piece they need at that time. My one piece of advice will definitely vary from person to person. For example, some new riders come to us with very limited bike handling abilities, and they're simply not ready to begin crafting routes yet. These new riders need to boost their skills and confidence on the bike before they can get out there and hit the streets. This is why we really try to assess an individual's abilities, personal barriers, and even personality type, when we're working with them. We also talk openly about issues regarding class, ethnicity, gender, age, health, etc. We take all factors into consideration, without judgment, and then we base our advice upon a more personalized and accurate picture. That's why we keep our classes small, so that we can address each student on a personal level.

Streetsblog: Seeing where Los Angeles County is now, what do you think the first thing the city and/or county should do to make things safer for everyone?

Liz Elliott: I'd like to see Los Angeles take a very bold step towards creating a city environment that's inviting to bicyclists of all ages and abilities. I'd really love to see Los Angeles look to other cities, such as Berlin, London and Copenhagen, and begin to aggressively incorporate speed reduction, or traffic calming, as part of its approach to increasing the rate of bicycling.

Because C.I.C.L.E. works in bicycle education, I get the wonderful opportunity to view the city from a beginning bicyclist's perspective on a regular basis. And what I have found is that most new cyclists are very intimidated about mixing with high-speed auto traffic. Even within a bike lane placed on a multi-lane arterial that supports an overall speed of 35 mph or higher, most new bicyclists are very reluctant to ride in that bike lane due to the high auto traffic speeds. In my opinion, traffic speeds need to be addressed if we are to be successful in greatly increasing the rate of bicycling. We need to stop prioritizing the speed of auto traffic at the expense of all other road users. Ideally, Los Angeles would have a comprehensive network of well-engineered bicycle and pedestrian priority streets, and on those streets, auto traffic would be limited to around 20 mph. I think Enrique Penalosa sums it up perfectly when he advocates for a city built for people instead of cars. "A city that works for its most vulnerable citizens-the children, the elderly, the disabled, the poor-tends to work well for everyone else."

Streetsblog: So you have a lot of experience biking around LA County, do you have any favorite stories or rides you want to share with riders?

Liz Elliott:
While this isn't exactly about me biking around town, but I do have this one very recent story that I love. We had two students show up at our "Learn to Ride" class a few weeks ago, each with a goal to become bike commuters. What was so inspiring is that neither of them really believed that they could learn to ride a bike--they just had this "crazy" dream. Lisa's boyfriend had tried to teach her on his bike, and just gave up. Ray's friends took him out for about 20 minutes and came to the conclusion that he was just hopeless. So when they started pedaling after only about an hour into the class, it was a huge celebration. This is our favorite class, and we always get emotional when they take off on their own. So much work has gone into getting them to that moment, and when they take off, you stand by like a proud parent filled with joy. Afterward, they were so excited and wanted to know what bikes they should buy. Now they've already advanced into our bike handling workshops and are becoming competent cyclists, and soon-to-be bike commuters. This is what we do, and it's my favorite story.

Streetsblog: Lastly, as more and more people are getting on their bikes, more and more people are going to want to get involved in the bike movement.  Any advice for the burgeoning bike activist?  And how should someone volunteer with CICLE if they're interested?

Liz Elliott: Obviously, it makes sense to get informed-understand the challenges, objectives, and solutions. There are many great resources for information, including this one, Streetsblog. But more importantly, I feel that it's important to get outside of yourself. Bicycling should be an accessible and viable mode of transportation for everyone. Everyone includes children, the elderly, those that may not have a high level of fitness, etc.  So whether you're working directly with someone to help get them bike commuting for the first time, or you're engaging with city government to advocate for a more complete bicycle infrastructure, it's important to keep these people's needs in mind as we work to get more people bicycling. In C.I.C.L.E.'s education efforts, we make sure that we're giving people the information that serves them in that moment. When it comes to infrastructure, ideally, that same principle would apply.  We're working to shift a diverse, and largely, non-cycling public to start bicycling for transportation, maybe for the first time. We need to be sure that the bicycle amenities that we lobby for not only accommodate the experienced cyclist, but also serve the beginner, the senior, the physically challenged, kids, etc.  I think it's really important to challenge ourselves as activists, and continually ask the question, "what do these people need?"  I believe that this is an essential ingredient when it comes to creating change, whether it's on an individual or a community level.

Volunteering for C.I.C.L.E? We have many volunteer opportunities available, and our potential to create change in this vast land that is called Los Angeles is only limited to our capacity. And people are what give us this capacity. So if you feel moved or swayed by our message, give us a call or shoot us an email. Come on board, become a ride leader for Urban Expeditions (http://www.cicle.org/cicle_content/pivot/entry.php?id=1603) rides, get involved with our Bikes in the City workshops  (http://www.cicle.org/bike_now/ed_program_page.php), or help out with our continuing outreach efforts. Operators are standing by... 323.478.0060 :: info@CICLE.org.