Wheel Power

 The Bay Area is in a perfect position to be the leader in America in terms of advancing bicycling. We have the will, the weather, the leaders and the basic groundwork started to be the region at the front of the bicycling pack.

Diana Rohini LaVigne is many things but she certainly is not one-dimensional. With a long history working in media and decades of nonprofit work, she is forging ahead to keep residents healthier, spread the message about active transportation and generally working to make the Bay Area more bike-friendly. Rhonini LaVigne grew up in Boston and attended Harvard University, but today she calls California home. As the head of the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition, she is making positive changes in the bike movement.

You are certainly passionate about bicycling. Tell me about when you first developed an interest in biking.

Diana Rohini LaVigne: Like many, I started my love for bicycles and riding when I was a child. I remember my dad putting me on a bike and instructing me to just steer and not worry about pedals. He put me on the top of a small hill, and gave me a little push down the grassy embankment. It was pure exhilaration and freedom. I was in love.

How has living in the Bay Area influenced your biking interests?

DRLV: The Bay Area has spoiled me! I grew up in Boston and other than sub-zero degrees or icy conditions, we would bike daily. The Bay Area is a great place for bicycling because of the weather, the fairly large percentage of the population that enjoys riding and the numerous bike-friendly areas such as the Bay Trails or Bike Boulevards. There is still plenty of room for improvement in areas such as bridge access, enhancements of programs like Safe Routes to Schools and making the entire bay bike network connected.

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You have an extensive media background. How did you decide to take this leading role at a nonprofit?

DRLV:  Although my early work as an intern was in media, my first real job was leading a one-person nonprofit.  My history with nonprofits runs deep, on the professional side and the personal side. I was one of the founders of SAMTA International which helped match new immigrants adjusting to life in America with a mentor. Once I saw how much our small dedicated group could accomplish, I was hooked.

One of the Bay Area Bike Coalition’s most successful events is the annual Bike to Work day. Tell me more about this event.

DRLV: It is a day where we encourage all residents to bike to work. We provide energizer stations so that participants can fuel up along the way and get valuable information. In 2011, we increased our overall participation by 7.9%. I’m proud that our campaign was able to reach the Indian-American community. That outreach was highly successful its first year. We printed posters in Hindi, recruited Indian-American models for our promotional videos and photos, partnered with key Indian-American organizations like the India Community Center and the South Asian Heart Center, and got key community leaders to participate. For example, San Jose Councilman Ash Kalra participated for the first time in 2011 and chronicled his Bike to Work activities on Facebook. He bought a bike, took test rides and reported his progress on a regular basis. It really opened up the discussion within the community of why Indian-Americans should bike more. On a personal note, I was so grateful to receive VivaBrite’s national award: Event Chair of the Year for my Bike to Work efforts.

When will it take place this year? How many participants do you expect?

DRLV: Bike to Work events happen during the month of May. The main event will be held on Thursday, May 10, 2012. We have hundreds of thousands of participants annually and hope to grow it in 2012. It’s an ambitious goal, but residents are really looking for ways to save money, respect the environment, get healthy and have fun. The goal is to get as many new riders out to try it and hopefully show them that biking to work is a possibility and has many benefits.

What other Bay Area events are scheduled for National Bike Month in May?

DRLV: In May, the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition hosts Team Bike Challenge. This challenge encourages people to get together as a team and bike as often as possible during the month of May for a chance to win fabulous prizes and recognition. There are bike education classes and safety and repair workshops held as well.

In terms of bicycle policy, how do you envision the Bay Area in 10 years?

DRLV: The Bay Area is in a perfect position to be the leader in America in terms of advancing bicycling. We have the will, the weather, the leaders and the basic groundwork started to be the region at the front of the bicycling pack. We still have needs like a policy that ensures that bicycle access is a high priority when new streets are being built or updates are made to existing streets . Additionally, it would be great to have the entire Bay Area bicycle network connected from end to end. This would include completing the Bay Trails and giving access to bicyclists on all bridges. It is ambitious but that is a vision that I share with many leading advocates in the area. I tip my hat to others helping lead the way. Deb Hubsmith, National Director of Safe Routes to Schools, Corinne Winters, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, Laura Thompson from the Bay Trails project and Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are just a few of the amazing women who are leading the effort to make things happen in the Bay Area. They’ve committed many years to the process and have resolved to come out winning. I’m inspired by their efforts.

A bicycle is such an accessible vehicle for so many people of all ages. How do you get your bicycle messaging out to the Bay Area?

DRLV: There are many distribution channels. We work with the media, use social media and speak at conferences and events to share the message. Broadcast is a powerful medium for bicycling and in early 2011, we launched a show called Bay Area Bikes TV, which I host. It is a casual show format which is on CreaTV, San Jose’s own cable access station, but is also available online and on-demand via Comcast. We are hoping to broaden our show’s reach by distributing it throughout the Bay Area. Our guests range from safety experts to health gurus to bike education trainers to bicycle enthusiasts. It’s fun and informative.

Any quirky bicycle stories to share?

DRLV: In Boston, I was planning to attend the opening night of the opera. I lived less than two miles from the opera house. My friend called 30 minutes prior to the show to say she was stuck in traffic and wouldn’t make it for another hour or so. I was in a beaded gown, traffic was horrific and taxi access was non-existent. I grabbed a coat, my helmet and u-lock and headed for my bicycle. Did I mention it was winter with snow already on the ground? I rode to the opera on my bicycle, arriving in plenty of time to grab a glass of bubbly, check my helmet and coat and make it to my seat in time for the opening. There was no other form of transportation that day that could have accomplished this.

You seem like an avid traveler and someone who is very globally connected. Do you have any plans to work on bicycle projects in other countries?

DRLV: With parents who sacrificed all their ambitious ‘travel the world’ plans to raise a family of eight, I made it my goal to travel extensively in their honor. After I graduated from college, I began travelling heavily. Having lived in the Middle East and Africa and travelled extensively around the globe including Antarctica, Asia, The Americas, Australia and Europe, I’ve spent my life building a deep understanding of global communities and their needs. I’m very interested in many global projects like World Bike, that designs innovative bicycle prototypes to advance development in poor countries and Calfee Design that trains people in Africa to build their own bamboo cargo bikes. I am currently focusing my own efforts on the Bay Area. Bicycles make good global sense and some places like Amsterdam are already far more advanced than the United States in terms of bicycling. I would love to live in a world where the transportation mode was mainly by bicycle. I see a cleaner, healthier, and more affordable world in that vision.

Bay Area Bicycle Coalition

Bike to Work Day

with Diana Rohini LaVigne

By Simran Chawla

Photography by Daniel Garcia

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