Designated riders

Ventura’s First Annual Bike Summit aims to convince residents that bicycling is the best alternative energy source

Published September 6, 2007 by The VC Reporter 
By MARISSA LANDRIGAN

Ventura’s First Annual Bike Summit aims to convince residents that bicycling is the best alternative energy source

If you’ve ever tried to ride home from work in the dark, or tried to navigate the confusing and often dangerous bike routes from the westside to the eastside, you know how hairy biking in Ventura can be. Despite the city’s best efforts, despite the perfect climate and the short distance between work and home, it’s frustrating to try and get around by bike in Ventura. Don’t worry; you’re not the only one thinking it.

The city of Ventura is on the same page, and that’s the reason why they’ve teamed up with VCCool, the local global warming action group, to present Ventura’s First Annual Bike Summit on Sept. 8.

The events of the Bicycle Summit reflect the joint mission of the creators, Tom Mericle, the city’s transportation engineer, and Rachel Morris of VCCool. All morning, Sheridan Way School will be hosting a Bike Rodeo, to draw in the children and families of Ventura with bicycle racers, free helmets and repairs and a raffle. Morris says getting kids into bikes is an important aspect of this day-long event. “Often, when you talk about bike plans, all you get are the hardcore cyclists. But the schools in Ventura are some of the most dangerous places to ride a bike.” It’s not only global warming or traffic congestion that can be positively affected by increased biking, either. “Parents are becoming valet services and our kids are suffering; if kids can safely bike to school, they can become a lot healthier, as well.”

The afternoon film festival, organized by HopeDance magazine, is a cultural demonstration, designed to take the first of many steps toward convincing people that biking is, well, cool. With films ranging from the commercial to the independent, from funny to inspirational, Morris says she hopes Ventura will begin to see the bicycle culture as a part of the city’s future.

“The issue of global warming is entirely encapsulated in our culture,” she says. “We have this idea that driving a car is normal. We need to shift the paradigm to the idea that biking is normal.”

Biking is also a great way for younger people just getting out of school to keep their heads above water financially. Being able to bike to work means not having car or insurance payments, not to mention saving money on car repairs and fuel at a time when gas prices are at their peak. “Our goal,” Morris says, “is to make Ventura a place where people don’t need to own a car.”

Healthier kids, buffer grown-ups with more cash, more greenery and fewer carbon emissions — sounds like a dream city, and the people at city hall agree. The only problem is they need the input of the citizenry to move these ideas into reality, which is why the Summit will end with a public Master Plan workshop to discuss the proposed changes to the bikeway plan.

Some of the priority items for Morris are revisions to the Class One bike path that winds from Ventura to Ojai, specifically exits and pathways that will eventually connect Ventura Avenue to the Pacific Ocean. Morris also hopes to improve the commuter mass transit system to fit more bicycles on board, allowing bikers to extend their commuter possibilities while simultaneously getting more people to ride the buses. Primarily, the city needs input from all you bikers out there — parents, racers or casual riders — as to what improvements are most needed to the existing paths throughout the city.

Overall, Morris says, there is so much enthusiasm for improved biking in the city that if these plans are implemented, Ventura will be able to significantly reduce its carbon footprint. Aside from reduced emissions from cars, the construction and maintenance of a bike uses fewer natural resources. We can reduce the percentage of healthy, viable soil covered by asphalt, since bikes don’t need giant parking lots, creating more green space in the city.

Plus, biking is simple, incredibly inexpensive, healthy and, let’s face it, a lot of fun. We just need to convince a nation of SUVs that biking makes you look cooler, too.

“As social creatures, [humans’] driving force is to want to fit in,” Morris says. “It can make us do crazy things, but it can make us do good things as well. If we start seeing our bosses and coworkers biking around town, our ideas start to change, and that’s how we make a difference.” 

For more information on Ventura’ First Annual Bike Summit, visit www.vccool.org.