There has been a lot of public attention in the bike advocacy world on the subject of attracting and engaging more women. What has been missing from the discussion to date is the issue of the tremendous strides that have been and continue to be made by women both on the ground and behind the scenes. It is only fitting that we give attention where attention is due.
Mia Birk led the charge in making Portland the bike mecca that it is today. Janette Sadik-Khan has transformed New York City from being the center of art, culture and design, to being _the_ center for art, culture and truly innovative re-design of its urban space and transportation network. Dorothy Brackett from Chicago along with her friend Trisha Ping in Nashville have singlehandedly, through the power of their widely read blog Let’s Go Ride a Bike, transformed the image of the urban bicycle rider from that of a sweaty, spandex clad man to that of a truly elegant and inspiring image that is both the source of joy and inspiration for thousands around the world.
While I could go on and on about all the women who are making tremendous strides in making our cities and towns more livable for all its residents, I’d like to highlight one woman who has made a significant dent in a city that is striving to be the most bicycle friendly city in America: April Economides.
Economides is the Founder and Principal of Green Octopus Consulting, a “sustainability strategy and communications firm that helps create and promote vibrant, livable communities.” As a car-free resident and native of an auto-centric city in Southern California, Economides not only works to create livable communities that can exist without its dependence on the automobile, but she also serves as a role model for everyone both in Southern California and beyond. I want to highlight Economides not simply for her contributions to making Southern California a more people-centric place to live, work and play, but also for the grace with which she handles life in Long Beach as a single and car-free mom.
With her MBA in Sustainable Management, Economides not only advises cities around the country how they can become more people friendly, but she also lives the life that is not only friendly to her wallet, but gives her the freedom that people around the country are craving. This freedom is something she has experienced from a life outside the automobile.
It was during her undergraduate days at the University of California in Santa Cruz that Economides began to really envision the possibility of living a life without the automobile. She rediscovered the joy of transporting herself by bicycle and loved the feeling of being truly connected with her surroundings. She decided to continue her car-free living when she moved to Berkeley, D.C., Portland, San Francisco, and then back home to Long Beach – a region of the country that has long been defined by its auto-culture.
Living car-free in Southern California, Economides found that she was more in touch with her environment when riding around town with her daughter, Audrey. With the help of a tag-along, an extension (that costs no more than $80), a device that Economides couldn’t say enough good things about, the mother and daughter duo accomplish most of the daily travels and errands on a bicycle. For the rare occasions when Economides does need the help of an automobile, she simply rents one. She’s rented an automobile to attend meetings in San Diego (where she is collaborating with the local bicycle coalition to create bike friendly business districts), or to haul large purchases
Not being a car-owner relieves Economides of the typical daily stressors associated with car-ownership: maintenance costs, gas costs, looking for parking and more. With the flexibility that Economides has afforded herself in being car-free, she is able to spend her time and money on those things that truly matter: time with her daughter, and living her life to the fullest extent embodying the very values that Birk, Sadik-Khan, Brackett and Ping are espousing and inspiring others around the country to embrace. These values are the very essence of what makes a community more livable and I, for one, am grateful that these women are leading the way to a truly more joyous and livable world.
By Samantha Olinger – San Diego, CA
Sam Ollinger is a bike advocate who lives, advocates and rides in San Diego. Last fall, she quit her full time job as a Financial Manager at a local craft and design museum to devote all her energy toward making San Diego the world’s most bicycle friendly city. She publicizes the current state of bicycling at BikeSD.org – a site that is a source of inspiration and information for the region’s riders, policy makers and elected officials. You may reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @bikeSD