On a Woman and Her Bikes

On a Woman and Her Bikes

Anyone who’s owned at least one bike, even if it was just a tri-cycle, has a story. As I’ve added to my fleet recently, here’s my story.

It was Christmas of 1988. I can’t spell out any other details, but there’s photographic evidence,  snapped by a parent of mine really being geeked out by my third Christmas. In the photo below, you can see it and you can also see in the foreground, the handlebars and basket of a lavender trike. I suspect my mom had a role in choosing the color, but it was dad making sure it was recorded for posterity. Oh and it was also his idea that I stuff myself into the empty Kid Sister box that you can just see in the corner.


Yet, this wasn’t even my first trike. I had this big hot wheel sucker, that I really don’t remember riding around very much outside the house. What you see here in this picture, of me riding in the living room, is pretty much what you get.


By age 6, I was starting to get creative. I’d moved up to my first set of training wheels. However, not to leave my old trike behind, I decided to go out back and hitch the old gal up to my new bike. My motivations for this twine-fueled activity are dusty now, but it did make for another fun picture.


The next Christmas brought me my next bike, this time, without training wheels. There’s photographic evidence of it in all its pink and green glory, next to a pile of other things, including roller skates (my other favorite wheeled activity).

Yet, that evidence did not make it to the digital cannon. I will note that this was the bike that started me riding regularly with my dad. I rode by myself in a nearby traffic circle, that was only occupied by elderly folks in city-sponsored senior housing and practically empty of cars. I rode with my dad up the mild Piedmonty hills and across stroady roads (when in doubt, ride into the turn lane, look both ways again, then cross the street) and through more calmer neighborhood streets to a few of my favorite playgrounds and a slightly longer route (maybe about 2-4 miles each way) to the home of a cousin).

By bike number 4, there were plans for us to make longer treks. It was a 15-speed junior mountain bike, which I begged my dad for. Not that I understood mountain biking as it is today. If I’d understood the concept of the commuter/hybrid bike, then this is what I would have asked for, because all I wanted to do was get over some of our bigger hills in town. If I could only take little me here to Kansas City and show her that nothing Greensboro offered in hills could compare to some of what’s available here. Then maybe I would have truly understood mountain biking. ;). I digress. There she is, just as I’m ready to say goodbye to her to move away from Greensboro to Kansas City.


But wait, why was she your only bike from age 10–29? Well, the short story of that was that I lost interest in biking. Not because I hated the feeling of riding or thought the distances were too long, but after my parents separating and divorcing and moving to different houses, biking just didn’t feel the same. My dad had a handful of adult sized bikes at his house, and I would borrow them. Technically, I still have one of his old bikes, living in storage with a few of my other things in Greensboro.

The main reason biking didn’t feel the same was that I was getting teased a lot by my neighbors. I was already a somewhat nerdy and quiet child, and by my teen years that was amplified. And then on top of me not riding the bike, some meaner neighbors stole my bike out of our garage (which was open just enough to get inside and out). A nicer adult neighbor saw the thieves and helped me get it back, though. I knew one of the thieves casually from school and I’ve always speculated that it was a stunt for that person to get cool points, not that they actually didn’t like me.

Still college came and I was warned that taking a bike there might result in a theft and that I’d do better walking. And then younger adulthood came and I was too busy driving to and from work and other activities. Plus, I’d honestly outgrown the thing by this time.

Which prompted me to go to REI and get one of those nice, shiny new Novara women’s hybrids. However, it wasn’t really in the budget and it went into storage and then eventually back to the store. Yes, even after I’d driven to Raleigh, and made all the effort to test ride it, get the right size and secure it to the back of my car so it wouldn’t fall off at 65 miles an hour for the hour and a half back to Greensboro. I still dreamed of having one though, this is from last spring, dreaming of what I could get. Still not in the budget though and so it stayed at REI.


I think a bit of this story was also driven by my desire to ride like I did at CNU 19 in Madison, WS. I’d had a Trek hybrid rental (I’m not sure of it’s specs, but it feels a lot like my newest acquisition, one of the women’s FXs) and I had no trouble zipping around town on all the different paths and boulevards and in the lanes. I locked it wrong and it still felt ok. I also got to try this newfangled thing called B-cycle, a kiosk rental service, where you could take bikes between the kiosks and then return them. We had free codes and they stopped giving them out to attendees after a while, because people wanted to keep them overnight. I had no idea that B-cycle would come back in my life in a big way in the future, but it did. Here’s a foreshadowing, testing out B-cycle in Greensboro in 2013 as part of my role in the bikeshare task force that Action Greensboro has convened off and on since 2013:


And just a few weeks ago testing out bike loading on the KC Streetcar (image by David Johnson)


Meanwhile, the purple mountain bike still collected dust in my mom’s garage. Its size didn’t stop my dad from attempting to ride it the day I moved to my downtown Greensboro apartment (and having some success on it, despite him being just a few inches taller and wider). After seeing that, I took it for one more spin. As you see here.


But it was obvious the frame was too small and I’m sure the inner tubes were dead. Upon my migration to Kansas City, it left my mom’s garage and my life for good and went to Goodwill.

With me working for a bike advocacy group and my lifelong love for bikes, not having one wasn’t acceptable. I just wish I’d taken a bit of time before I bought Lulu.


You know her. She looks great in pictures. Also, there’s something kind of cool about riding a pink bike. Yet, what’s not cool is that as a cruiser, she’s way too heavy. As a bike from Target, that’s not just because of all the extra components, it’s because those bikes are made of heavier metal, than the ones that come from Trek, REI and other companies that only make bikes and make them for racers, as well as casual riders. And with the hills and just the inability to push the bike long distances, Lulu really only went from my apartment to the office ( a flat, quarter-mile distance).

But I couldn’t be satisfied. Meet Lina, short for the Spanish language pronunciation of Carolina.


She’s bright. She’s a 7.3 Trek FX. She will need some comfort modifications (namely fenders and panniers ), but right now, she and I have already been on a number of trips, including several that Lulu and I made, with a bit less success. And Lulu never went to the grounds of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, as seen above. She’s been a big hit so far and brought lots of joy to my bike-loving office and to me.

And there you have it. The story of a woman and her bikes.

I’m Kristen, by the way. I started writing this site to tell my story of being a black urbanist and a lover of all things place and community. Learn more about me. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to my email list. Learn more about my work with BikeWalkKC , namely our Women Bike KC initiative to get more women on bikes confidently and safely.



Why Road Gentrification Is Good Gentrification

Why Road Gentrification is Good Gentrifcation

I’m a firm believer that transportation is one place where equity can and should be had. At the end of the day, a street is a street, we all have to use them and their presence should not be the signal of gentrification you worry about. It should be the one you champion to get you to where you need to go. Hence why I’m here advocating for what some call complete streets, others call road diets and yet others call road gentrification.

Why All Three Names Matter

Why three names for this kind of road construction and maintenance? Well, because each name covers three key benefits of such changes.

First, you are completing what should already be standard on all roads, the ability for any mode of transportation to thrive.

Second, when you go on a food diet, if you want to be successful, it becomes a lifestyle change. It also is tailored to what you actually eat and how your body is actually made. Hence a good road diet, like form-based codes in architecture, works best when it takes into account what’s already there, and how others use the road.

Food diets also insist on being the most lean and green version of one’s self. Same with road diets, they insist that roads be the most efficient, but not just for one use, but for all users.

My last food analogy: it introduces more than one food (transport) group to the roads, more like the old four group pattern where all groups were somewhat equal.

And finally, gentrification at its purest, takes something that needs a touch of class and makes it better for everyone. Unfortunately, making it better for everyone doesn’t always come out of gentrification of housing and commercial buildings. Instead of making it so everyone can be part of a neighborhood, residential and commercial gentrification often privileges one group, namely the wealthy, of any cultural background.

But road gentrification is different. In adding more than one mode to the road, it allows everyone to use the roads, at whatever place they are in life.

What Institutions Can, Are and Should Be Doing

As we see with much of housing and commercial gentrification, it is government policy which really seals the deal in terms of how housing and commercial markets are allowed to work. Governments at all levels regularly get flack for not implementing community and economic development programs in the right way.

However, there’s really no wrong way to do a complete street/road diet/road improvement. Unless you decide to continue to privilege one mode at the expense of others.

You don’t have to do that. In the image leading this post, I was participating in a demonstration led by students at the University of Oklahoma ‘s Urban Design Studio at the 2015 American Planning Association’s Quad State Conference in Kansas City. They brought us model pieces giving us multiple options to create a complete street from a scale model of a portion of 11th Street in Tulsa, also known as part of the historic Route 66.

Our group came up with what is pictured above. This was after I (and others) insisted that we have both bike lanes, trolley/car lanes, sidewalks and at least one lane where cars can pass the trolleys safely without endangering the cyclists and walkers other than to turn into the businesses with parking lots.

Another group came up with something completely different. Both were solid complete streets. Both even had low-density, suburban retail. And when someone suggested that my sidewalk was too narrow, I reminded them that some shop fronts could still roll up their windows and make the outside come in.

Yet, their concerns about how the buildings would work were valid. So are those of these folks in DC, who are concerned about a new road diet plan, even though they can be annoying. What it tells us is that we still need to work on making sure people understand, that when it comes to having all modes of transit on a street, that means everyone has a right to the street, a right that can’t be questioned. A right that allows people to advance their lives in other ways.

Imagine the college student from the housing project who has to walk to school. They continue to walk and may even bike to school, then to their next job and then maybe with a baby carriage attached. America Walks has a great fact sheet on how complete streets help low-income and other underprivileged families.

So many other organizations around the country, such as Changing Gears in Greensboro and The 816 Bike Collective and RevolveKC in Kansas City exist just to get poor, homeless, black, Latino, refugee and any other underserved or under-resourced population to bicycling.

Then there are the Major Taylor Clubs, the Black Women Bike clubs, traditional cycling clubs with membership fees and jerseys, that do long distance rides and sometimes compete in races, which also tend to attract African-Americans and other people of color with means.

Finally, many schools are adding bike education to their main curriculums. My office is in school districts across the KC metro doing just that and soon DC will teach every second grader in the traditional  public school system bike safety, with actual bikes and making sure every kid who comes through the program can ride.

With these programs children biking won’t be a thing of the past. They will then grow to commute and maybe even race by bike. More adults will be able to take advantage of having a mode of transport that they control and pay little, if nothing at all besides sweat equity to use.

Also, completing streets is something that municipalities can adopt and put money to at the same time. By training the staff who make improvements to the roads and sidewalks, by absorbing more of the costs to make road and sidewalk improvements and by being creative as to what makes each street in a city complete, then they can turn around their reputations for creating bad gentrification and unsafe streets.

So there you have it. A gentrification method, that when done right, makes a community whole and connected, no matter the economic class, counters the obesity epidemic and creates more equal opportunity for jobs, education and cultural engagement.

Chat with me about this live on Periscope Thursday evening (October 29 at 5:30 Central). Also, be sure to get on my email list to never miss a post! 

My Placemaking Wishes for 2015

Happy New Year folks! I’m posting this with about 12 hours to go on the East Coast, but I believe we’ll make it just in time. And as always at year’s end, I am here with a few things that I hope all of us placemakers and citizens can see in 2015:

Truly Open Streets


Remember this picture of me? I was playing on a B-cycle demonstration bike on the street that I helped paint, to have an open streets event there. Yet, from then to now, not just in Greensboro, but in many other cities, the streets haven’t been so open. In fact, many have been hostile. My wish is that we can start looking at people on our streets, not as threats, not as people to shake money out of, not as places to speculate our real estate futures and to shoot to kill, but as places where we can celebrate our achievements and what it means to be human. I might be wishing this every year, but I’m going to get us started there. If we block the streets in 2015, I pray that it’s to have a party, be at peace and be better neighbors.

High-Speed Rail

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I’ve been on more trains and planes than I can count on my fingers this year. I’m reading Tom Zoellner’s Train. I’ve met  and mingled with so many of my transit nerd herd folks this year. Hold the though of mingling with people to my next wish. I want to put out there that it would be nice for at least the routes outlined in green above to get started this year. Thanks to the US High Speed Rail Association for putting the map above together. (Check out the interactive version). Congrats to the Texas Central Railway and California High Speed Rail Authority for breaking ground in 2014. Kudos to All Aboard Florida for setting a 2015 start date. Yes, high-speed rail is a sticky issue. However, it’s an issue that we need to resolve. Streetcars are nice. But a 90 minute trip between major cities like DC and New York would be even better.

Seeing More of You and Making Better Places Together

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As I mentioned above, I flew and rode trains more than I’ve ever done in my life this year and it was great! I gave my first solo keynote,which is pictured above and you can watch here.  I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at Transportation Camp  DC and festivities surrounding the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting in a few weeks. North Carolina folks, namely those in and around Greensboro are invited to join me at Scuppernong Books at 7 p.m. on January 17th for a book event. I will read from A Black Urbanist and will sign any copies you have. A very limited number will be for sale. Go ahead and grab a print copy here. There will be a DC book event on January 11 at 7 p.m. during the TRB festivities. I’ll post more information in the next few days on both events. CNU, CCDA and New Partners for Smart Growth are also on the tentative agenda as well. And if you want to help me make this wish come true contact me here.

Again, Happy New Year! See you in 2015!

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Dispatches from Bookcation: Pocket Parks, Dinner and Bikes and Food Deserts

Greetings from Bookcationland. For the record, I do want to establish, that I am writing the book. However, one must sometimes live an experience before they put it out. So what have I been doing to live my experience in the last week or so? Here goes.

First off, we had another City Market, this time, around the theme of Wheels. I am proud to have been on an early steering committee for this great community festival. Thanks to running into one friend,who was staffing the tent for charity, I ended up checking out the Boba House Vegetarian tent. I’d been there before thanks to a gift card, but found the crab amazing and the fried chicken lacking. However, what ever is in the BBQ/Teriyaki sauce is amazing and I have to say that I might give tofu a chance again every once in a while. Check out this sweet painted banner that greeted everyone at the entrance.


Then on Saturday, I dropped by the Power to the People’s Transit event, organized by fellow local tactical urbanist Ryan Saunders. There were four great rootsy bands, a cute pocket park and a bus hanging out for people to try out. Oh and check this wooden sign out:



Nothing says tactical urbanism right like a hand-painted, wooden billboard/white board to collect ideas and promote sponsors. There were also folks painting murals right around the corner. Unfortunately, due to the heat and the fact that I had a ton to do on Saturday, I sat here, and finished a couple of chapters of Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a great story of the first hand experience of Nigerian immigrants to the US and UK over the span of the last 15 years. 



Meanwhile, I meandered down to Durham on Monday night to catch Dinner and Bikes with the wonderful bike advocate/book and movie making collective of Microcosm Publishing. I’d been following and tweeting both Elly Blue and Joe Biel for a while and enjoyed getting to know more about their books and watching segments of Aftermass:Bicycling in a post-Critical Mass Portland. Oh and quite a bit of the vegan food was good. I’m more of a pescatarian (still working on the protein balance) but it was good to know how to cook veggies and have them actually taste good. Check some scenes from the evening below:


Fell ill and missed my monthly transit board meeting, but I was able to get back in the saddle yesterday (Wednesday) and attend this panel on food deserts put on by SynerG, our local organization for engaging young professionals into civic life. And yes, as several of you saw on social media, the chart below is real. The measurement is the USDA measurement of no major supermarkets, but for many of these folks, they would love to have what others in our community have, namely the supermarket on every corner of the stroad. Or even better, a supermarket in walking distance. Even more compelling was that all the panelists were under 40 and already making head-roads into fixing our food desert problem. Check out the map image below.


And finally, about the book. I’ve gotten a couple new essays written. In addition, for those of you who just want these essays in your inbox click here. As much as I love doing the North Carolina Placebook, I know for many of you, you’d rather read something from me in a more national or universal vein. Plus, folks who join the email list now will get podcast episodes as soon as they come out, along with special goodies when the book hits the streets. Once again, sign up here for the new and improved The Black Urbanist email list.

And with that, I’m back to working on that podcast episode I owe you guys. Promise it’s coming soon!

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Placebook: Where Veggies Come From

Happy Thursday! Yesterday I ate the traditional collard greens and black eyed peas at my grandmother’s with my mom, some uncles, and my cousins. My grandmother’s house sits on a few acres of land out in the country, not far from Greensboro. It’s no longer an active farm and it was never a big time deal, but when I was younger, my grandparents grew several rows of strawberries,corn, tomatoes and yellow squash, along with a patch of mixed greens. I used to hate going out there, especially in these summer due to the bugs, but now, I really appreciate what it means to know the true origins of certain vegetables. An adjacent farm has cows and horses and mules, along with this lovely pond, which you can sort of see below.

Out at my grandparents. The fields were behind the white house and so are the adjacent field with the pond. The main house is on  the left. (Photo credit: Kristen Jeffers).

Out at my grandparents. Their  fields were behind the white house and so are the adjacent fields with the pond. The main house is on the left. (Photo credit: Kristen Jeffers).

This land and the land of others in the family is part of the reason I love the urban environment so much and want very much for both rural and urban (and really good in-between areas) to keep their character. Enough about that, here’s some links for your Thursday:

One of the best commentaries I’ve seen yet of what’s to come for NYC. Also, this one from my good friend Sarah Goodyear(@buttermilk1) She also wrote this cool article on the second lives of a suburban staple, the Pizza Hut.

The Overhead Wire (@theoverheadwire) spotlights some great street signs that have bikes printed where the bikes would need to turn to follow the official paths set by the town of Lafayette, CA.

Fireworks over several significant skylines to bring in the New Year.

What’s the best thing your city has done this year? Leaders in a handful of major cities share.

Philadelphia gets serious about developing a land bank.

Mayor Bloomburg took the subway home on his last day as mayor. He, along with the rest of NYC, can no longer take a horse-drawn carriage ride like in the movies.

Older renters will drive demand for apartments in the next decade according to this report.

And finally, urbanism (and the whole civic environment), is black and white in Cleveland. Shout out to Richey Piiparinen (@richeypipes), who through Belt Magazine and his own blog tell it like it truly is in Cleveland and through out the Midwest/Rust Belt region.

Also, please suggest ideas for this list by tagging them #tbuplacebook. The goal is for this to happen every weekday, including some holidays, depending on how they fall and how I feel. Thanks for reading!