Jeri Stroupe: Advocating For More Bikable Communities

DETROIT—When it comes to the subject of making cities more sustainable – and improving the quality of life of the people who live in them – Jeri Stroupe of Ann Arbor has the benefit of a multi-disciplinary perspective. She's only 27, but she's already immersed herself in many of the issues that factor into that sustainability and quality of life – and has accumulated a fair amount of expertise in those issues along the way.

Stroupe holds a masters degree from the University of Michigan in Public Health Management and Policy, and did additional course work in urban planning. Prior to that, she earned a bachelors degree in Exercise Science from Miami University in Ohio.

As a consultant with the SMART group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, she's developed a case study on transportation visioning and community engagement strategies. And when she worked as a consultant for Public Sector Consultants in Lansing in 2011-'12, she secured grant funding from the Michigan Department of Community Health for impact assessments that studied the health effects of adding bicycle lanes around schools in East Lansing and Grand Rapids.

She also writes a blog for Little Things Labs, on subjects like urban sustainability, social innovation and social engagement. In addition, she teaches a cardio-fitness class for adults, and two classes for grade-school kids (nutrition and children's yoga).

"I'm passionate about getting more people up and moving around, including exercise and more active transportation," says Stroupe, who's moving from Ann Arbor to Detroit in June. To that end, Stroupe has also focused on ways to make Detroit a more bicycle-friendly city. And when she learned that the Dinner and Bikes Tour was coming to the Midwest, she helped coordinate a Detroit date, find sponsors and sell tickets. (The event will be May 8, co-sponsored by Mode Shift.)

"Bicycling movements are getting a lot of attention all over the country," says Stroupe, a Wilmington, Delaware native who moved to the Detroit area with her family when she was eight years old and grew up in Rochester Hills. "We clearly have a serious obesity problem, and so many people live sedentary lifestyles -- so if we make our cities more bike-friendly, that's one way to get people moving more.

"And of course, if more people ride bicycles instead of driving cars to work, or to other destinations, we'll have less traffic congestion," and will also cut down on fossil-fuel consumption and carbon emissions, notes Stroupe.

Stroupe has several great ideas for how to make Detroit more a more bikeable city.

For starters, she stresses that the city should develop more infrastructure -- i.e., biking lanes: "We need more designated spaces for bikes -- on the roads, not sidewalks -- and make sure that they're inter-connected, and that they lead to real destinations -- the places people want to go every day, as opposed to riding for recreation."

Secondly, Detroit should increase signage, she says, "in order to let bicyclists know where the biking routes are, throughout the city. Those bike lane networks are only good if people know where to find them. And more signage will help make drivers and bicyclists more aware of each other."

Stroupe also suggests that the city increase the amount of space devoted to bicycle-parking: "If people know they can park their bike in a designated space, instead of having to chain it to a tree or a pole, they're much more likely to ride their bikes to destinations" -- like stores, workplaces, government buildings, etc.

Finally, "there needs to be more education and advocacy," she says. "There are great organizations in Detroit that are doing some good work in this area, like making bike rentals available, and teaching people to maintain and repair their bikes. But, there is still a huge opportunity here to create and strengthen a united voice for people who ride bicycles regularly."

Stroupe prefers that phrase -- "people who ride bicycles" -- to the term "cyclists." "I'm hesitant to label people that way -- to put them into categories like 'cyclists' and 'drivers' and 'transit users,'" she explains. "Because in most cities where there are many bike commuters, those people also sometimes drive cars, and also sometimes take mass transit."

And Stroupe agrees with writer and bicycling advocate Elly Blue when it comes to the image often conjured by the term "cyclists." Blue wrote "Everyday Bicycling: How to Ride a Bicycle for Transportation (Whatever your Lifestyle)," and edited and published "Our Bodies, Our Bikes," and will be one the speakers at the Dinners and Bikes event.

"To a lot of people, the word 'cyclists' often implies guys in spandex on racing bikes," says Stroupe. "And in her books, Elly has done a lot of great work to encourage everyone to make bicycling part of their everyday lives -- and, more specifically, she's done a lot to encourage more women to do that."

For 13 years, starting in her childhood, continuing through high school and into her college days, Stroupe was a competitive synchronized skater. That experience eventually led her to become more aware of America's obesity problem.

"I often traveled to other countries, especially European countries, to compete in skating events, and when I'd came back to the U.S., that's when I noticed how much larger everything was here -- waistlines, food portions, cars, etc. That was sort of an awakening for me, and inspired me to study public health -- and prompted me to want to do something about the problem."

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