Hi Sharon! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from?
I was born in the south. My father was in the military, and I came to New York City before I started kindergarten.
So, you’re a New Yorker.
Absolutely. We lived in a variety of different areas of the city—mostly in Bedford-Stuyvesant—and then moved to Roosevelt Island in the late ‘70s. It was and still is an awesome, awesome community. And at the time, there wasn’t anything on Roosevelt Island, practically. Even the library at one point was operated in someone’s apartment.
I actually lived there in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, too. Back then you’d be more likely to see someone wheeling themselves around on a wheelchair or a gurney than on a bike. Things have changed since then.
Yes. Back then we had two long-term health care facilities; now there’s only one. And there are more people riding bikes now.
So, what do you do for our lil’ non-profit, exactly?
I’m the Outreach Manager, so I have the pleasure of spreading the gospel of Bike New York.
And what is that gospel?
Bike New York emphasizes safe cycling. I always begin with that. And then secondarily, we teach classes, always emphasizing safe cycling. It’s sustainable. We are involved with the city on a variety of different of levels and we think that the urban environment and cycling can co-exist.
How did you get involved with Bike New York in the first place?
I’m what you would call a casual cyclist. A recreational cyclist. One day, my mother said to me,” I want to learn how to ride a bike.” And I was not the one to teach her. So I did a Google search for bike classes, and Bike New York popped up. This was a couple years ago. She learned how to ride a bike in two hours. Then I told my sister, who came with my nephew. He learned how to ride a bike in two hours. Then I came with my boyfriend, who hadn’t ridden a bike in a couple of decades. And he regained his confidence and we now go bike riding in Central Park.
You were spreading the gospel early on.
I was! And then, I was attending a Roosevelt Island Residents’ Association meeting, and I’ll never forget it: I was checking my email on my phone, and it was during the public session, and I heard “Bike New York.” My head popped up and I started clapping. And it was Ken Podziba, Bike New York’s President and CEO. He turned around, looked at me, and said “Oh- somebody knows us.” That was the first time I met Ken. We started talking, and here I am.
What were your first impressions of the staff? Don’t hold back.
I think that my first impression was: “Wow, this is an eclectic group.” Everybody is doing something else after work! It was wonderful to see that people have a variety of outside interests… because so do I. So I felt really comfortable, very much at home right away.
What are your interests?
I love the city. I love people and I love the city. I love the urban environment. I am a strong believer in “It’s the journey, not the destination.” That’s how I view my cycling. I experience what’s around me. I stop often to check out what’s going on. And the bike that I ride is kind of cutesy. No one is intimidated by it. That helps to give me the opportunity to stop and talk with people.
You’re also on the board of Civitas, a community-based planning organization. What are you up to over there?
One of the projects that I’m involved in is a project called “Re-imagining the East River Waterfront.” We’re looking at the esplanade from 59th St. to 125th St. I’m very interested in making the esplanade more accessible to Upper East Siders and East Harlemites, as well as connecting it with the esplanade below 63rd St. We’ve had design competitions and tried different approaches. The esplanade is my baby; I love to bike it!
It sounds like you do more than simply explore and appreciate and the urban environment; you’re interested in improving it.
Absolutely. I take the view that everyone should be engaged on some level. Not everyone can be engaged, and I totally get that. But I prefer to embrace the city. It makes it little bit less overwhelming. The city can be challenging on many different levels.
I’ve noticed that you spend a lot of time reaching out to folks in the outer boroughs. What are the challenges in doing so?
Well, the community groups and associations may not be as strong as what you might have in Manhattan. What they have to work with might be less. One thing I like about Bike New York is that it’s committed to serving and to branching out to the outer boroughs and bringing whatever resources might be needed. We’re very committed and understand those challenges, and we’re committed to putting the boots on the ground, if you will, to bring the gospel of biking.
Let’s talk a bit more about Roosevelt Island, where Bike New York has been quite busy as of late, with year ‘round indoor classes, as well as rides and events during the warmer months. What has the response been like from locals?
It’s just been awesome. People have taken advantage of the classes, and we continue to have more and more support. Which is especially gratifying now, while the community is grieving over the tragic death of Anna Maria Moström, a cyclist and Roosevelt Island resident who died after getting hit by bus a few weeks ago. Roosevelt Island is an idyllic community. I can’t remember a time—and I’ve been here since the ‘70s—when someone has lost their life in this way. But while the community is grieving and trying to manage its shock, it’s also been good to see how Bike New York immediately stepped up and said “look, there are ways that signage can be improved.” We’re also making sure people know that taking our classes helps ensures that they’re aware of safe cycling best practices. It’s been wonderful to see that happen. I think the community has been able to grab onto something positive out of this tragedy.
It’s terribly sad, but you must be proud to be a part of this response. What do you hope for the future for Bike New York? Do you think we’re on the right path?
I think we’re at the beginning! There’s an ascendancy. I think that for the city, we’re really braced to incorporate our philosophy further. I also hope that we will continue to recognize that we are pedestrians more often than we are cyclists. We have to embrace differing opinions and focus on how we are going to be a part of the solution. Understanding different viewpoints is very important, and Bike New York does that well. There’s no question about that.