1×10: Andy Boenau, Director of Mobility Strategy, Gotcha & Storyteller, Speakeasy Media

Welcome to 1×10, where we ask 1 inspiring human 10 questions about how they are using cycling as a force for good. Read on to meet Andy Boenau, Director of Mobility Strategy at Gotcha where he’s bringing electrified fleets of bikes, scooters, and more for the world to share. He’s also a storyteller at Speakeasy Media, where he’s able to combine his love of wandering streets with his camera with his work as a transportation planner. Learn more about Andy in his 1×10 interview.

1. How / why did you fall in love with cycling?

I like riding bikes, but I wouldn’t say I fell in love with cycling. It’s more accurate to say I love freedom. Like most Gen Xers, I remember riding miles to swim practice, Sam Goody, visit friends, hang out at the strip mall, or just to roam. I didn’t have to rely on adults to drive me everywhere. Now that I’m an adult, I’m in love with the freedom of modal choice. It’s hard for me to identify the tipping point for me…that moment or period when I realized as an adult how important bicycling was as a means for transportation. The bicycle is the great social equalizer. I’m in love with a world where we all share the freedom to choose the safety and convenience of bicycling as transportation.

“I’m in love with a world where we all share the freedom to choose the safety and convenience of bicycling as transportation.”

2. Favorite bike?

EuroMini Urbano. It’s a folding bike for regular people. I love it. I bought mine when they first launched cheaper than most “normal” bikes you’d find in a bike shop. It’s bright red and funny looking, so it turns heads. I want Americans noticing fun and functional bikes.

I’m not sure what the technical specs are. I’m not a cyclist. I’m just a guy who likes riding bikes.

“It’s bright red and funny looking, so it turns heads. I want Americans noticing fun and functional bikes.”

3. What’s the most memorable ride you’ve done, and what happened?

Up until a few years ago, my most memorable ride was probably in 1986, wiping out in gravel with my dad and sister. They didn’t wipe out. I did. And I remember acting like my legs wouldn’t ever work again. (My knees were raw…that’s about it.)

June 6, 2016. That’s now the most memorable ride.

I was riding from a lunch meeting back to the office in Richmond, VA. Warm sun on my face, breeze in my helmet-free hair. I was riding in the center of my lane on Franklin Street, part of the official bike route. I’m sitting upright with casual posture and an alert mind, fully expecting motorists to be reckless around me. That’s partly why my Ricoh GR II camera dangles from my wrist. There’s always a photo-worthy scene unfolding in an urban environment.

As I approach Monroe Park, the street slopes downhill just a bit. I’m maybe traveling 10 mph. Halfway between traffic signals I find myself soaring over the handlebars. In that tiny fraction of time I heard a loud clang, felt my knees at the handlebars, and raised my arms in full Superman mode. I’d heard stories about sliding across streets. The warm sting of asphalt particles grinding clothes and skin.

I lay motionless for a moment, then slowly panned my head to see my camera lens ahead of me and my bike sideways in the next lane. I slowly stood up, met in the street by some rightly concerned pedestrians. My arms didn’t want to straighten. They felt stuck at a 45 degree angle. I didn’t think to look behind me for car traffic when I walked out to retrieve the pieces of my camera. The bus that barely tapped the brakes reminded me I was not out of danger. A man helped me carry the bike to the sidewalk. A woman offered me her bottle of water. As I lifted my arms from my side to accept the water, her expression told me I needed to get medical attention.

So I did what anyone in a hurry should do in downtown Richmond. I put my camera back on my wrist, picked up my bike, and finished the ride back to the office.

(And yes, my hair gel is strong enough to protect against wind.)

“I lay motionless for a moment, then slowly panned my head to see my camera lens ahead of me and my bike sideways in the next lane.”

4. Who do you admire in the cycling world?

Mikael Colville-Andersen. He might roll his eyes that I labeled him as part of the cycling world, because he’s quick to point out bicycles are just tools for happy, healthy living.

Mikael and I share a birthday and a love for storytelling. But those are just two excuses for putting myself in the same sentence as him. In all seriousness, he has an excellent way of cutting through traffic engineering dogma and silly groupthink to get to the heart of issues. He’s wrong to oppose e-bikes and e-scooters, and I still hang on every word he says.

5. Top tip for a new rider, or a cyclist about to take on a new challenge?

I’m going to assume a new rider’s new challenge is the surrounding infrastructure. You’ve heard of American Exceptionalism? That’s the belief that every country except America should have robust bike infrastructure. My top tip is to always challenge the status quo.

Don’t settle for sharrows, the temporary tattoo of city planning. Don’t settle for 3-foot wide bike paths in the gutter of a busy street. Bicycling is a fundamental mode of transport for any creature born with two legs. Befriend your elected officials and city hall employees. You’re a freedom fighter, on a quest to provide safe infrastructure for children, senior citizens, and everyone in between.

“You’re a freedom fighter, on a quest to provide safe infrastructure for children, senior citizens, and everyone in between.”

6. Favorite trend or innovation in cycling?

E-bikes. No hesitation.

Pedal-assist technology is already revolutionizing bike share, and it’s going to have an impact on cargo bikes. They aren’t going to completely replace traditional bikes, but they’ll get huge numbers of Americans pedaling who wouldn’t otherwise give it a spin.

E-bikes are a huge opportunity for cities and counties trying to retrofit their suburbs with more development projects. The extra boost carries riders miles without breaking a sweat. And let’s face it, that’s important for most of us.

“E-bikes are a huge opportunity for cities and counties trying to retrofit their suburbs with more development projects.”

7. What are you doing to use cycling as a force for good?

That’s a hard question for me to answer, because I don’t think about cycling itself as my force for good. For me, it’s using propaganda as a force for good.

I want to persuade the world that bicycling is a basic form of travel that should be treated as second only to walking. I want to persuade the world that the humble bicycle is the miracle drug to cure us from a multitude of physical and mental health crises. I want to persuade the world that we can all live happier, healthier lives when we design transportation systems that promote bicycling as transportation. And I want to persuade my fellow Americans that the only obstacle to the freedom of mobility is engineering streets to prioritize cars over bikes.

“I want to persuade the world that bicycling is a basic form of travel that should be treated as second only to walking.”

8. Thinking about the work you’re doing, what do you see as the potential change for people or the planet? If you are successful, what impact will you have?

One indicator of my success would be a fundamental change in measuring the effectiveness of street design. Instead of worrying about 30 seconds of vehicle delay at an intersection, we’ll focus on the human experience.

Maybe we’ll measure smiles per block. A happiness density. Or a flirtability index. We’ll celebrate the interactions that are made possible when people can walk and bike their communities.

Potential changes for people or the planet…there are just too many to list. The only people who should oppose bicycling are the people who want to implement population control or destroy the earth.

An active lifestyle is the key to living longer, staying healthy, maintaining a sharp mind, smiling more, being a loving pet owner, and getting that promotion at work. In other words, the world will be full of people who love babies and puppies — evidence of a strong bicycling culture.

“Maybe we’ll measure smiles per block. A happiness density. Or a flirtability index.”

9. What’s your biggest challenge/obstacle to success?

The biggest obstacles to our freedom of mobility are policies that reward high-speed car traffic, especially in urbanized areas. I’m not saying anything groundbreaking.

There are plenty of design guides available online to help planners and engineers create vibrant communities through better street design. But local and state policies have to be overthrown. Or ignored.

10. How can people help? Where can they learn more about your work?

Speak up in whatever form is natural for you. Publish a blog, share cartoons, post photographs, design memes, launch a podcast, create videos. People seem to think a topic like bicycle urbanism requires advanced degrees and peer-reviewed research papers. Be unafraid. We don’t need more experts. We need relatable anecdotes.

The world needs clear and simple messages. Use the internet to your advantage. Spread your work and find like-minded people.

Feel free to reach out to me if you’re feeling stuck with your propagandart, or unsure how to improve your advocacy. Collaborations make me happy.

“Be unafraid. We don’t need more experts. We need relatable anecdotes.”

Andy Boenau is Director of Mobility Strategy at Gotcha, storyteller at Speakeasy Media, and a transportation planner. When he’s not riding he’s probably thinking about, talking about, or taking photographs of getting around town sans car. You can find him on instagram, twitter, or his own website.

Edited by John Kim. When he’s not out for a ride, John uses his expertise in Corporate Social Responsibility to help companies do well by doing good. Find him at virtcyc@gmail.com or VirtCyc on twitter or instagram.

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