Q&A with: Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists

For this issue, the National Center is pleased to feature a question-and-answer article with Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. The National Center is partnering with the League this year to present National Bike to School Day as a kid-focused part of National Bike Month, which the League promotes every May.

Q:    How long has the League been coordinating National Bike Month?

A:     Since the 1960s! The League almost disappeared in the late 50s and early 60s but was revived (just in time for the bike boom in 1973!) with the help of the bike industry, and Bike Month was one of our first initiatives.

Q:     What are some of your favorite highlights from past Bike Month activities?

A:    It’s pretty hard to single out one or two events or activities…I think what continues to impress me is the simplicity of the idea and its longevity. It’s such a great opportunity to get people back on their bikes in a variety of ways that really showcase the diversity of bicycling itself.

Q:    How have you seen support for and interest in cycling evolve over that time?

A:     Obviously it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster over the years. The early ‘70s must have been amazing to witness; the 1980s must have been a bit depressing as not much seemed to be happening that was good for bicycling! The last twenty years has seen a steady increase in interest and activity – with a big boost in 2008 when gas prices shot up – and right now it seems like we need bicycling more than ever to help address health, safety, congestion, energy, environmental and economic development issues. So the future is bright!

Q:    What do you consider the most important issue related to bicycling right now?

A:     Related to the last point, we still have a big job to do convincing some of our elected officials that people really will ride their bikes given the choice and that these benefits really will materialize. What’s exciting to me is that more and more cities and states are documenting those benefits, and it’s getting easier to make the case that when America bikes, America benefits.

Q:     What does the first-ever National Bike to School Day mean to Bike Month and to the League?

A:    It’s about time! I think it adds a critical dimension to Bike Month – we have got to make sure we don’t allow any more generations of kids to grow up without learning how to ride a bike, without them experiencing the joy of a simple bike ride and the independence of getting around on their own. Bike to School Day is the perfect excuse to get kids riding and to show Mom and Dad (and themselves, sometimes) that they can get to school by themselves!

Q:    How does the League support youth bicycling?

A:    We have a variety of classes – rodeos, a Safe Routes to School specific class – that our network of 2,000 League Certified Instructors are teaching; Safe Routes to School and other youth-specific programs are featured in our Bicycle Friendly Community program; and we’re honored to have been able to feature the leaders of the National Youth Bike Summit (in New York in January) in our own National Bike Summit in March!

Q:    How would you respond to the question, “Why should my child bike to school?”

A:    There’s a big long list of reasons like esteem, physical fitness, independence, the environment, congestion, etc. that I think people understand (even if they don’t necessarily act on that understanding), so I am going to go with an absolutely selfish reason people might not expect. It’s incredibly liberating for parents to not have to ferry their kids around all day and be at a specific time and place every single day! Do it for your Mom and Dad, kids!