By Megan Ramey
Some things have to be experienced to be understood.
Electric bikes are one such phenomenon. No matter how eloquently you describe riding an e-bike to a someone, their first ride is still going to astound them. This is why the Electric Bikes For All group and Oregon Environmental Council decided to organize guided rides that put local and state policymakers in the saddle. Once they find out how fun and empowering it is to ride an e-bike, they are going to want to make it easier for everyone else to have the same experience.
The main goal of these policymaker rides is simply to have fun and generate smiles. The secondary goal is to show policymakers how e-bikes can help solve not only transportation problems but a string of top-line societal issues like physical and mental health, community resiliency, climate change, affordable housing, and so on. These rides give advocates a forum to show how close places like Hood River are to becoming a “15 minute city”, where everything is a short e-bike ride away — if there’s a safe way to get there.
I co-hosted this ride with Oregon E-Bikes co-owner Jodie Gates and Sol Rides tour operator Charlie Crocker. Attendees included: Oregon State Representative Anna Williams and her Chief of Staff Justin Withem, Hood River Mayor Kate McBride, Hood River Planning Commissioners Doug Stepina and Sue Powers, Hood River County Commissioners Leti Moretti and Mike Oates, ODOT Public Transit Administrator Karyn Criswell, ODOT Climate Office Director Suzanne Carlson, Heather Staten of Thrive Hood River, City of Hood River GIS Analyst Jonathan Skloven-Gill, Energy Council Co-Chair Annick Chalier, Sara Wright and Morgan Gratz-Weiser from Oregon Environmental Council, and Amy Black of Oregon E-Bikes.
We pedaled away from downtown Hood River via State Street aboard a fleet of e-bikes. The group was able to easily climb a set of switchbacks leading to the Mark O. Hatfield trailhead and a carfree portion of the Historic Columbia River State Trail. It wasn’t long until the first real smiles appeared.(Click for gallery on mobile)
Just past the Twin Tunnels at the overlook, we stopped for a group photo. A middle-aged couple who had just rented e-bikes for their first time stopped to admire the same view, and after taking our photo, began to talk to the group. When asked how she was enjoying her first e-bike ride, the woman, named Shannon, began to cry and called the experience “life changing”. She said that being on the e-bike felt like she could really breathe for the first time. This unscripted, emotional testimonial settled on the group as we took in the sun setting across the Columbia River on the syncline, one of the Gorge’s most unique geological features.
During one of the breaks on our ride I asked the group to use fingers to show their comfort level on various types of roads. On the carfree paved path I saw mostly five fingers, on the shared-lane switchbacks up a hill I saw 3-4 fingers, and on busy State Street coming out of town just 2-3 fingers. I then told them to imagine biking the same route with a young child on their bike or a parent riding next to them.
Wherever they felt uncomfortable, I told them, is where we should build separated bikeways.
Another type of infrastructure I talked about were e-bike charging stations, like they have in The Netherlands. Hood River Mayor Kate McBride said she would ask Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who is doing an EV needs assessment, to include e-bike charging in their scope of work.
So how’d we do? Did the ride have the intended impact on these elected leaders?
After the ride, State Rep Anna Williams shared these thoughts:
“It was my first time on an e-bike and I expected it to be scary. But I felt free and capable as I rode up the steep hills without straining and sweating! Throughout the state, especially in close-knit communities like Hood River built on challenging landscapes, e-bikes offer an important and largely untapped opportunity to reduce transportation-related carbon emissions. We should do everything we can to build e-bike infrastructure in Oregon.”
Perhaps even more telling of how effective the ride was, Hood River mayor Kate McBride bought her first e-bike the day after the ride!
The planning and policy decisions these leaders go on to make will reach exponentially more people’s lives than we as advocates can reach on our own. Let’s keep spreading the smiles and power of riding e-bikes!
In related news, the League of American Bicyclists has just issued an action alert to save the E-Bike Tax Credit in the Build Back Better legislation working its way through Capitol Hill.
Guest author Megan Ramey, is the founder of the travel site, Bikabout.com and wears many hats in the Columbia Gorge including Planning Commissioner, Board Member of Columbia Area Transit, Active Transportation Representative for ODOT Region 1 Area Committee on Transportation, and most importantly, Conductor for the bike train and walking bus to school at May Street Elementary.
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