An Interview with C.I.C.L.E.’s New Managing Director Vanessa Gray

C.I.C.L.E.'s new Managing Director Vanessa Gray. Photo: Vanessa Gray

C.I.C.L.E.’s new Managing Director Vanessa Gray. Photo: Vanessa Gray

Vanessa Gray is the new head of Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange, best known as “C.I.C.L.E.” Dan Dabek, the last to steer the C.I.C.L.E. team, recently departed for the East Coast, where his partner is pursuing higher education. Streetsblog L.A. wishes Dabek a teary-eyed farewell, and welcomes Gray to her new gig.

Streetsblog: First off, just in case someone is reading this who isn’t already familiar with C.I.C.L.E., tell us briefly what it is.

Vanessa Gray: Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.) is a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, working to promote the bicycle as a viable, healthy, and sustainable transportation choice.

We believe that our cities can be places that support an overall high quality of life–where people can enjoy clean air, calm and friendly streets, and closely-connected and diverse communities.

We envision our streets as vibrant, welcoming spaces that safely accommodate all road users and prioritize the safe passage of people–on bike, on foot, by wheelchair, by bus, and/or by train.

Tell us about yourself. What’s your background? Where are you from?

I was brought up in the military through the Air Force. We would move every 2 to 4 years. I’ve lived in places such as Libya, Tripoli, Okinawa, Japan and traveled through Guam and Wake Island. I usually tell people I’m from the near the last base where my father retired, Vandenberg Air Force Base in Northern Santa Barbara County. However, I can say I actually grew up on bases in Africa and Asia.

Prior to joining C.I.C.L.E. as its Managing Director, I worked as a Senior Communications Specialist with SEIU, as a Communications Deputy for an L.A. City Councilwoman, and a Manager at Beverly Hills Pavilions. Last October, I coordinated Safe Routes to Schools’ Walk to School Day at Micheltorena Elementary School.

How did you get interested in bicycling?

At college in Virginia, I had a used Fiat to get around, but it would break down every other week. I spent all my meager work study money trying to keep that crummy car running. Finally, it broke down again and I told my mechanic Tony (yes, that was his name) don’t fix it again. I instead took my work study check to the nearest bike shop and bought a hybrid bike. It was my main transportation through college and beyond. During the summers, I would ride to 3 different lifeguarding jobs. I was in the best shape of my life.

After I graduated, one of my employers gave me a used car and I started driving again. When that car broke down, I bought another car with my savings from my jobs. While on my way to a work meeting I saw a collision between two cars. A truck ran a red light and collided into another car during a rain storm. I stopped to see if the driver of the car needed any help. While I was standing between two parallel parked cars, another car crashed between the two cars where I was standing. I don’t remember the collision, but I remember being in the hospital a week with a broken ribs, broken leg, and a concussion.

From that collision I learned that drivers aren’t punished for running red lights or reckless driving. I also had an epiphany during my recovery that whoever designed our streets, they designed them not to keep people safe, but to move traffic fast.

I bought a road bike in 2006 and started to ride around Silver Lake. Then I ventured out to nearby cities and joined recreational rides with groups I met online. I began volunteering for L.A. Wheelmen, C.I.C.L.E., and L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, as a way to meet other like-minded people, have fun, and help make our streets safer for bicyclists and walkers.

What kind of bike do you ride? How many bikes do you have?

I have three bikes. I mostly ride around on my 86 Bridgestone Mixte–my grocery getter. Also known as my Traders bike, because it has a basket, bags and racks on it. I have a 2006 Trek 2200 road bike, which I’m currently selling, and a custom Rivendell Mixte.

What’s your impression of how bicycling has changed and is changing in Southern California? What do you think bicycling will look like in the future?

When I first began cycling in Southern California, there weren’t many bike lanes. Now they have them in formerly inhospitable-to-bicyclists cities, like Glendale. I stopped riding through there because I felt it was dangerous to anyone outside a car. Recently I rode through Glendale, to visit a friend in hospice, and saw bike lanes on Glenoaks!

With more buffered bike lanes like those on Colorado and the advent of the protected bike lane on South Figueroa we’ll have safer streets, and biking will become viable transportation for more people.

What current C.I.C.L.E. programs and projects are you most eager to continue?

All of them! I’m inspired by watching people learn to ride a bike for the first time in our Learn to Ride classes.

Riders at C.I.C.L.E.'s 2009 Tweed Ride. Photo: CICLEorg Flickr

Riders at C.I.C.L.E.’s 2009 Tweed Ride. Photo: CICLEorg Flickr

It’s a joy to see a family ride bikes together, with a hundred others, on our creative and fun Metro-sponsored group rides.

I can’t help but to be excited seeing hundreds bicyclists in the streets of Santa Monica during our Tour da Arts Ride, organized by Santa Monica Museum of Art.

I want to continue with our uniquely-themed New Belgium Brewery sponsored rides, and our social Tweed rides.

And I definitely want to continue the city of Pasadena’s Bike Week in May; it’s the only time there’s bike fun every day of the week.

These are some of the programs I’m eager to continue.

What new directions would you like to have C.I.C.L.E. expand into?

When I went to a neighborhood meeting for proposed bike lanes, it dawned on me that the most vociferously opposed to bike lanes were the older residents. I thought, “How can I get them on bikes?” People may not always be able to drive as they age, but they can bike, maybe not on two wheels but on three.

I’d like to expand our Learn to Ride classes, with one specifically for seniors who don’t know how to ride, or who have balance issues, on two-wheeled bikes, and include trikes.

This is a question that Streetsblog L.A. editor Damien Newton usually asks all our interviewees. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about Southern California streets and transportation, what would it be?

I would have calmer streets with Copenhagen-styled protected bike lanes, lots of shade trees, and more people walking or riding bikes, of course.

What C.I.C.L.E. events are coming up?

Lots to choose from, see all upcoming events on our website event page.

If readers are interested in getting involved with C.I.C.L.E., what should they do?

Go to our website and sign up through our volunteer page.

Anything else you’d like to let our readers know about you or C.I.C.L.E.?

You can also find us on: Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.

Thanks, Vanessa! See you in the bike lane!