ANN ARBOR, Mich.—There was a time, somewhere around 1978, when the city of Ann Arbor matched other great American college towns bike lane for bike lane, mile for mile, says Ann Arbor resident Krysia Hepatica.
The mother of two, active in the outdoors and a current Michigan State University graduate student, contends that local policy decisions and the economy have since left Ann Arbor watching towns like Boulder, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin pull away in their bike lane counts.
Krysia has recently started a nonprofit, Bike A2, in an attempt to restore Ann Arbor's once lofty standing as one of the country's most bike friendly cities.
When Krysia first envisioned Bike A2, it was to be a nonprofit fundraising organization for bike lanes in Ann Arbor. When the city's mayor, John Hieftje, got word of her plans, however, the mayor personally reached out to Krysia and asked her to switch gears.
“We wanted to raise money for bike lanes. That's really the end goal. But after many conversations with a lot of people, it sounds like advocacy is where it's going to be more helpful because as long as we can get people to change their minds, [we can] get city council to fund [bike lanes],” said Krysia. “It's still the same end goal it's just I'm going about it in a slightly different way. I had to change my thinking.”
“After speaking with the mayor, he said, really what I need is advocacy to get these projects funded.”
Now, with Bike A2 operating as a bike lane advocacy group rather than a fundraising operation, Krysia has solidified the organization's mission. Bike A2 aims to, “Inspire leaders, business owners, and citizens of Ann Arbor to support initiatives that will enable more people to ride bikes more often.”
She's accomplishing this the old-fashioned way, spreading the word about her organization and its mission every chance she gets.
What the still young organization lacks in funds, it is making up for in a serious visible presence. Krysia was on last year's Tour de Troit crew and could be seen making the rounds at the Detroit Bike City conference and bike show at Cobo Hall this past March.
She has generated awareness for Bike A2 online, through Facebook, Twitter, and a new website. She's been active in petitioning the Ann Arbor City Council to stop drawing funds from the non-motorized transportation budget and was recently seen at the getDowntown Program's Bike to Work Day commuter stations in Ann Arbor.
Come summer, Bike A2 will have an even bigger presence in the city. Bike A2 will be present at the Mayor's Green Fair Friday, June 14, and may be offering bike valet services for the popular Sonic Lunch series, a free summer outdoor concert series happening every Thursday from noon to 1:30 p.m. in downtown Ann Arbor. She's also partnering up with Bicycle Benefits, a program that benefits both local businesses and bicyclists who wear helmets. The Bike A2 website will get even bigger, too.
“In the future I want to add a page where if your bike was stolen, you can report it on the site and then we'll help spread the word through social media,” said Krysia. “I think it'd add a lot of value to the community.”
Krysia plans to begin bike safety classes for children, adding even more value to the community. She sees children as a crucial component of bike safety awareness, taking a get-'em-while-they're-young approach. Each class, each networking opportunity, each connection made is a chance for Bike A2 to further its mission.
“We have to start small. We're just starting out. Money is, of course, always an issue,” said Krysia. “But we do have plans for more education in the future and we do have a sustainability plan. It's going to take us a little bit to get there so we're starting off small because I don't want it to be overwhelming that it fails. We're just trying to keep it in perspective.”
Krysia's big goal for the year is a little larger. Bike A2 is currently in the organizing stages of Lite Bike, a four mile night-time pleasure ride through the streets of Ann Arbor scheduled tentatively for September.
“It'll be a spectacle, 200 people riding down the streets of Ann Arbor. I've been talking to the city and we'll get a police escort through the streets.” The ride will end with a downtown party, with a raffle, bands, and beer.
Krysia partly drew inspiration for Lite Bike from Detroit's Dlectricity bike parade.
“I'm going to encourage people to light up their bike as brightly as they want. We're gonna have a demo beforehand on how to light up your bike. Probably have vendors there selling lights, if people want to buy lights. We'll try to get people to be really bright,” said Krysia.
As fun a party as Lite Bike sounds, there is a purpose behind it and the many other events with which Bike A2 has been and will be involved. The goal is a shift in attitude, to convince automobile traffic to share the road with bicyclists while creating a safe and respectful on-the-road relationship between the two sometimes contentious groups. Bike A2 hopes that its bike lane and bike safety advocacy will help smooth traffic for everyone in Ann Arbor, bikes and cars alike.
“It's always been a concern of mine. I would like to commute more myself. I would like to be able to go places with my kids on our bikes without first having to put the bikes on the back of my truck and driving somewhere to bike trails. We ride around the neighborhood but I haven't really felt that comfortable taking them on far trips from the house because of the lack of bike lanes in places,” said Krysia. “I feel like there's not enough awareness with traffic watching for cyclists. It's been on my mind a lot that there are a ton of cyclists in Ann Arbor—there are so many—yet I feel like the awareness needs to be raised to make it better for everybody—and safer.”
“It's really just about education and awareness. I think a big part of it is going to be reaching the youth because they're going to be the future drivers. To educate the youth on how to be safe on their bikes right now and then by educating the youth their parents will be educated, too. They're going to be more aware. I think having the Lite Bike ride will get people thinking about awareness in general. Both cyclists and motorists—making sure I'm reflecting, that I'm lit up at night, that people can see me, that I'm not in dark clothing. So it's both hands. Having the City Council really value the fact that bike lanes really are needed because it is a safety issue and it will only help our city grow and become stronger and better.”
Krysia cites many bike lane advocates in the city of Ann Arbor, including Mayor Hieftje and Transportation Program Manager Eli Cooper, not to mention the citizens themselves. Getting the community involved is a crucial part of the process, too, it being necessary for people to let their city council know that bike lanes are an important part of their city's future.
“[Bike lanes] keep young professionals and people with families in a place where we can go on our bikes and ride downtown and get an ice cream or go see a night concert. Because there are tons of concerts at night, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and Top of the Park. There's so much to do,” said Krysia. “We could have a better quality of life if it's more bike friendly.”