#INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
SPECIAL FEATURE TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S WEEK
Andrea Learned is an avid city cyclist, with over twenty years of experience, both on a bike and working in strategic communications and media relations. In 2018 Andrea Learned joined the board of the “Global Call For Climate Action” to contribute her expertise to global air pollution challenges. Andrea is passionate about e-bikes and e-cargo bikes for individual and commercial uses, and now focuses her work solely on that topic.
She is an author and blogger, widely published on sustainability, social media engagement and leadership. Andrea uses Twitter as her primary tool of engagement and initiated #bikes4climate to create awareness on climate change and cycling as a “Solution Not Pollution.” Inspired by her own positive experiences, it has become her mission to help get more people on bikes for short trips.
How has cycling benefited you as a person?
I have been able to drive and worry about parking so much less in the 25 years I’ve been mainly biking. I find joy, no matter the weather, in the quiet and beauty of riding into downtown Seattle. And, I have no need to pay for a health club membership (just to name a few). I am a happier human, more connected to the natural world and neighborhoods I cycle through.
Why do people leave cycling on reaching adulthood and what makes them come back at a certain stage of life?
I suspect that people think “bikes are for kids”. In the U.S. especially, the driver’s license has been a sign of becoming adult, and we seem to then assume the next and last phase of our mobility is in a huge steel box. I never got too connected to driving in high school, and then my go-to in college was walking. Interestingly, I still visit my campus regularly because my parents now live in that town, so I rent a bike or ride one of theirs (the eBike has changed my 85-year old dad’s life!). It is such a great way to get around that I wish I’d been using a bike when I was in school there.
I think it takes one-on-one conversations to convert adults back to the idea of the freedom of a bike. That’s what people like you and I are doing. Taking time to remind and support those we see who might be curious. I’m seeing a return to bike happen when people finally get frustrated enough that they see they are not saving any time by driving in traffic congestion.
Those of us who love and understand the power of bikes as adults need to be vocal about the freedom it brings us, and have resources ready to share with anyone who seems somewhat interested.
In your view, why a ‘bicycle’ still perceived as a poor man’s vehicle? (in some nations)
Well, in the U.S., we’ve created this culture that bigger/more expensive is somehow “sexy.” And, even when some folks start to ride, they might first get into it for the fancy, very expensive road cycling (not urban transportation) mode – which is again accessible only for wealthy folks. I feel the tide shifting here, though, because experiencing traffic congestion is not so sexy. As well, the younger generations in the U.S. have not been so attached to driving and are showing the rest of us how mobility can be done. The urban cities with great transit and bike infrastructure are the ones attracting the talent today.
How women can become a catalytic agent in seeding cycling culture in the family/society?
Especially with regard to women who are moms, they talk with one another. If one women starts riding a bike, her neighbors and friends will ask her about it. One-by-one, women will convert. They need to see and talk with a trusted source. That’s why programs like the global Bicycle Mayors effort are so powerful. Women on the ground all over the world are seeing bikes and cargo bikes as a great way to carry packages and haul their kids around. If we give them a way to have a louder collective voice, we’d change the world. We may be on the way to doing that… (full disclosure: I’m on the Board of the Global Call for Climate Action which supports BYCS, which runs the Bicycle Mayors initiative)
How cities can benefit by focusing on cycling infrastructure?
In the long run, the city will run better and be safer for all people (walkers, bikers and those who continue to drive) with less air pollution. To me it seems an obvious move, but this car-centric world is hard to counter. I appreciate that there are great urban planners, engineers and bike/walk advocates on Twitter sharing what they know on this front.
What impact can increased cycling activity have on the climate?
The carbon emissions reductions of getting more citizens and more urban center deliveries happening by bike are worth the effort. I tend to point mainly to the Project Drawdown research on ebikes specifically: www.drawdown.org – electric bikes as transport solutions. The answer, but it is one that is self-perpetuating and can be exponential, especially because it is the only climate solution that gets people healthier and better connected to their communities too.
What advice you have for the white collared corporate business professionals with regards to “Cycle2Work” and their role in green commuting?
I’d love to see more white collar business leaders (CEO, Executive Management level on down the ranks) publicly commit to integrating bike programs for employee engagement, consider bike deliveries or transportation in areas of their business for which that makes sense and – be seen riding a bike around their city or using bike share themselves. CEOs can be influencers, and by riding a bike a day or so a week themselves, all of that business’s stakeholders will take a lesson.
How can car dominated cities like Mumbai/Delhi increase it’s ridership base?
I’d also point to “influencers” – and that can be movie, music or sports celebrities or key business, academic or journalism leaders. Develop public relations and experiential tour events where the influencers that matter most to the particular community (it will be different, depending on the targeted audience for the message) are seen biking and can experience the difference between bad and good city infrastructure.
This is also a favorite approach for me in my work, and what I’d like to build more of with my U.S. clients. It’s not about mass consumer-facing Facebook campaigns necessarily, but about quieter understanding of ‘who influences’ ‘what smaller subgroups are upto’ and ‘how to make sure the positive talk about biking is heard/read’ via the best channels – to then be further re-amplified. And of course, using social media, but with a very strategic twist.
How do you see ‘Children’ as the future torch bearers and the need to recruit them early into cycling?
Moms are the key bike influencers right now, especially when it comes to the utility of cargo and eCargo bikes. All the kids need to become pedaling torch bearers is to grow up seeing it and doing it with their mom as a matter of routine. Make biking their “norm” and it’ll be harder for them to bother with the hassles and expense of a car.
If Andrea Learned is assigned one magical power, how would she use it?
I would like to stop the world for an hour, and make sure everyone had an ebike and that it was a glorious day wherever they lived, and that they all got the chance to just ride safely with their friends and neighbors – the impact would be my reward. Just that sort of reminder about returning to the joy of the bike would be an amazing thing to be able to “gift” to the world.
Ways to connect with Andrea Learned:
LinkedIn: Andrea Learned
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai