Why Lisa Rides

Bike Portrait Lisa by Dmitry Gudkov
Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

Lisa is a city planner with Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, an organization focused on developing small businesses and revitalizing the neighborhood. She grew up with bicycles – she remembers as a little kid being jealous of her older brothers because they had cooler bikes than her. It was when she moved to Philadelphia 10 years ago that she started using a bike as her main means of transport to school and work.

“In Philly, my bike was usually the fastest way to get somewhere – faster than public transit.” Even though a faster and cheaper transportation option was a no-brainer to her, she quickly encountered some entrenched cultural perceptions about bicycle riding. “There were a lot of kids on my block who would tease me when they’d see me riding my bike to work: ‘What, you can’t afford a car so you have to ride a bike?’ There’s a perception that a car is a sign of status. They couldn’t understand why someone would choose to ride a bike when they could drive instead.” One of the things that makes Lisa such an effective bike ambassador is that she really enjoys challenging such preconceived notions; she does so often and with good humor.

For the last two years, Lisa has lived and worked in Bed Stuy. Even though she generally doesn’t bike to work (she lives just three blocks away), she tends to use her bike for just about everything else. “I ride with friends, or to the store. I like to ride to the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza. If I’m going to a place I haven’t been before, the first thing I do is look up how to get there by bike.”

One of the missions of Bed Stuy Restoration is to make the area more hospitable to bicyclists. The sidewalk in front of Restoration Plaza on Fulton Ave (where this portrait was taken) was recently widened and re-paved, and will soon include new trees and bike racks. In addition, Restoration has been instrumental in building a new bike shelter at the corner of Fulton and Nostrand. This new piece of infrastructure, positioned next to a major transit hub, will allow people to leave their bike in a safe, covered location and connect to the MTA and the Long Island Railroad. Restoration will likely be actively involved in implementing bike-share stations in Bed-Stuy when the program launches next year.

Lisa’s work has her engaged with many local small businesses and community members, and after spending some time with her in Bed-Stuy, one gets the sense that she knows everyone in the neighborhood. In the 20 minutes or so that we spent chatting on the sidewalk, at least a half dozen people stopped and struck up conversations. She enthusiastically promotes cycling in a community where it is often not viewed as a viable form of transportation. This is another reason she rides: “Of course it’s healthy and I enjoy it, but also I’m a city planner so I kind of have to practice what I preach. It’s not about demonizing cars or telling people they shouldn’t drive. But it’s important that people have the widest possible range of transportation options open to them.”