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Riding Smart

news22222People Power teams up with UC Santa Cruz students for bike commuting workshop series

With severe drought conditions plaguing California, the recent patter of raindrops should have been a welcomed sound to the citizens of Santa Cruz County. But when one has recently committed to trek to work or school each day via bicycle, a morning downpour can be the cause of a rising dread and the subsequent decision to drive. That is, unless one has acquired the knowledge and gear necessary to transform a gloomy bike trip in the rain from a dismal chore to an energizing joyride.

“It can be really hard for folks to learn how to ride a bike for their daily commute,” says Amelia Conlen, director of local nonprofit People Power. “I got into biking through friends telling me what I should wear, what kind of bags to get, and what to do when it rains. If you don’t have a person like that, it can be daunting to do something entirely new without much support.”

With this in mind, Conlen teamed up with two student interns from UC Santa Cruz’s Impact Designs: Engineering and Sustainability through Student Service (IDEASS) program to launch a bicycle commuting workshop series throughout the county.

Conlen and her team hope to recruit 10 local businesses to host workshops during lunch hours from March to July, and will conduct community workshops at the People Power office once a month, with the first public workshop to be held on March 17 from 6-7 p.m.

The workshops are geared toward cyclists at all skill levels—from skittish beginners to confident vets—and will be tailored to the locations of the businesses that choose to participate.

“For example if we’re doing a business workshop in Watsonville, we will provide the safest routes and bike parking in that area,” says Melissa Ott, UCSC student and IDEASS intern with People Power. “We’re going to really work to make it unique for each business, and for each audience.”

The workshop series was realized after People Power received a grant from the UCSC Carbon Fund, which finances projects and research that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Carbon Fund is made possible through a voluntary $3 student fee each quarter, which adds up to about $115,000 per year. A portion of these funds goes to support community projects in Santa Cruz County.

In November 2013, the Carbon Fund was bombarded with 40 grant proposals, but in the end, decided to make the commuter workshops a reality.

“Ultimately the committee believed it is important to support this bike education program because of the huge potential for widespread education, [which] leads to action, [which] leads to greenhouse gas reductions,” writes Elissa Martinez, student facilitator of the Carbon Fund, in an email to GT.

According to the Santa Cruz County May 2012 Bike and Pedestrian Count Report, bicycle ridership in Santa Cruz County has seen an overall rise since 2003, with an increase of 3 percent from 2010 to 2012. The report also states that of the commuters observed at various locations in the county during the survey, 2.7 percent were riding bikes, compared to 3.7 percent of pedestrians traveling on foot and 93.6 percent by motor vehicle.

The increase in bike ridership within the county comes in part from the efforts of local governmental organizations such as the Santa Cruz County Department of Public Works and Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC). These two groups join together to author the Santa Cruz County Bicycle Plan, which outlines ways to improve the county’s infrastructure in order to make it safer and easier to traverse on two wheels.

One of the most anticipated projects outlined in the Santa Cruz County Bicycle Plan and developed by the SCCRTC is the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST). Once completed, this bike and pedestrian path will hug the county’s coastline and span from Davenport to the Pajaro Valley.

Although the MBSST is still in the developing phases, the SCCRTC allocated $5.3 million in December 2013 to begin construction on portions of the pedestrian and bike trail—from Natural Bridges Drive to the Santa Cruz Wharf, in Watsonville connecting Lee Road to the slough trail system, and on East Cliff Drive from Fifth to Seventh avenues.

“It goes through the densest part of our county and alongside many schools and businesses, so it’s going to be huge in terms of bike commuting,” says Conlen. “It is going to make a huge difference in terms of who feels comfortable being on the road on their bikes.”

In addition to providing businesses and the public with vital information about bike commuting, whether it be safety tips, equipment advice, or simply how to carry all of one’s stuff, Conlen hopes to impart her passion for biking, which she sees as an elegant solution to an assortment of issues.

“We have big problems relating to traffic, air quality, and obesity,” says Conlen, “and biking—even if it’s just once a week to go to the store—is such a simple thing that we can do that collectively makes huge change. I think there are a lot of great reasons to get excited about it and I am hoping to share that.” 

For more information, visit peoplepowersc.org.

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