Dateline Trenton NJ February 26 2011.
For the second year running The NJ Bike and Walk Coalition has put together a “NJ Bike Summit”, to bring together everyone who is interested in basically making New Jersey a state that is a little (lot) more friendly to bicycles (and pedestrians, but I’m going to skip over that because well..I’m a bike rider…but I respect the peds out there as well.) I missed the one last year, mainly due to me not finding out about it until it was over. Afte finding out about it though, I realized… well I realized several things,
1. I’m a bike rider.
2. By running BMXNJ I have sort of become the unofficial voice of the BMX riders in NJ. (I’m trying to rep you guys and gals right!)
3. BMX needs as much exposure to the people who are making the big moves for bikes in NJ as possible.
With these thoughts in mind I became a member of the NJBWC, and signed up to attend this second annual, what seemed to me, ground breaking event. After sending an email out to the people in charge, I was really looking forward to heading out to this gathering of bike enthusiasts. The meeting itself was held centrally in Trenton across from the Old Barracks Museum and the hall was filled with people involved with bikes from all corners of NJ.
What was on the agenda? Well… not one thing that would appeal to most of the readers of this website. Some of the things discussed though were ideas that the BMX community has been doing for years. Let me give ya a run down.
One panel (um…panel, yes, they have groups of people who explain what they do or how they help making biking better in New Jersey) was discussing community events to create a cycling “culture” in their local towns. As I was listening to them tell their stories, (and some were pretty good, there’s more bike outlaws out there than know about) I realized that we had been doing this for a looong time. Bike rides, get togethers, gatherings that lead to after parties to do what? Create excitement about riding bikes. We don’t need to look any further than Brian Pleva and the Fall Brawl, Summerslam idea to see where the BMXers have been pluggin along on this for years.
Other topics brought up at the summit included bikeshares. Where people in the community would come out and “rent” a bike for a year and use it as much as they want to encourage bike riding to begin with. How many BMXers out there basically run their own bike share out of their garage with spare parts, LOL! Another great idea whose time has come.
The big focus though was on the USA’s obesity epidemic and making this state a lot more bike friendly. Now beyond walking up and telling everyone that I ran BMXNJ, I didn’t partake in a lot of discussions with people mainly due to the “when you first roll out to something, listen more than you talk” rule that I have. I did however see where BMX can fit in with many of the ideas and initiatives being discussed there.
I did get a chance to speak with Jeff Mergler of JORBA for a few moments while I was there about JORBA’s big pump track initiative and their willingness to embrace the BMX community to make things happen. A great case in point being the idea of a full on BMX racing track in West Milford. With all of these ideas out there I started to see how everyone’s ideas could jive together pretty well.
Now the one thing BMXers know how to do and the reason we keep riding is well…pretty simple. It’s fun. Period. It’s why we start doing it as kids, stuck with it and for some of us, came back to it. It’s an incredibly fun way to…get exercise. BMX seems to be the best kept secret of how to get young people interested in bike riding. It’s simple, 1 gear, 1 brake, it’s pure, you, your bike and some dirt, it’s just good. Even if the kid decides to not keep riding the BMX (oh lordy no!!) the fun that is had on that bike will stay with them their whole lives and will keep them active by realizing riding a bike is a good time.
Of course all we have to do is change the whole American mentality of driving 2 blocks to pick up food and go to the gym, but hey, if you don’t start somewhere, you’ll end up nowhere.
The keynote speaker at this thing was a gent named John Pucher who lives in NJ, teaches at Rutgers and does not own a car. Bikes and walks everywhere. I was definitely feeling this man’s enthusiasm for biking and his knowledge on urban planning made the future seem like a place we could have filled with trails, bike paths and interconnected skateparks, dirt jumps and pump tracks to keep things interesting.
The future has to start somewhere and from my point of view it is going to start in the radical minds of the few Gen X-ers who gave life to sports like BMX and Mountain Biking. We know what’s fun, we know what will make someone want to get away from video games and go outside and get some exercise…without it feeling like “working out”.
Right now, I live in a country of big box stories interconnected by major roadways that induce stress, pollution, and completely unhealthy habits. In short, it feels like a dystopia is slowly creeping into being. We have a choice though, like we always do to make a better future, where major roadways only connect communities and then those communities are designed to promote small locally run businesses that you can get to riding a bike…and jumping a curb.
Now that to me sounds like utopia…as long as it’s on a BMX bike…or I guess when I get real old..a 20″ wheelchair.
I hope to have a couple of BMXers with me next year at this summit and maybe at some point in the future, up in the front of the NJ Biking community, there will be a BMX and Mountain Bike panel explaining how we can help make the future a little bit more than a big box wasteland.