Justin Booth, the Executive Director of Gobike Buffalo has the heart of an athlete. To get to the core of why he is so driven to put more bikes on the roads of Western New York an answer might have something to do with his own personal quest to build fitness into his life. Like so many people, Justin juggles family, work and fitness. In the old work/life model, you went to work, the woman raised the kids, and no one really made any effort to stay fit. Playing was for kids. I don’t remember my parents or my grandparents working out, ever. Back in the 70’s, 40-year-old people looked like they were closer to 60.
Justin came to Buffalo in 1996 to play basketball at Buffalo State and his first job out of college was Youth Fitness Coordinator for the Wellness Institute. Planning programs wasn’t enough for him, so he started riding a bike on the 14-mile round-trip commute from Kenmore to City Hall every day, including bad weather days.
Looking for precedent, he found a bike sharing program in New York City at Transportation Alternatives. Holistic solutions are imperative when you can’t ignore the contrasts that arise when you start riding a bike to work every day. People around you complain that they can’t keep the weight off and marvel how you find the time to work out. They are late for meetings, but you’re always on time because you park right in front of the building. People notice your energy wistfully. So, you want everyone to share the bliss.
Justin found the curriculum for a NYC Transportation Alternative’s bike share program, Tools for Life. It had a huge impact on him and soon after, he set up a recycle-a-bike program in his garage. Then he created his own version of bike share called, “Buffalo Blue Bikes.” The downside of these innovative programs was that a lot of time was spent fixing bikes, and finding them either vandalized or stolen.
If you’re trying to encourage cycling you have to realize that only about 8% of people are diehards like me, willing to ride a bike no matter what the traffic situation. But a good 60% of people would ride if they felt safe and feeling safe means providing neighborhood greenways, bikeways and protected bike lanes.
The people of cities long strangled by horrible traffic, DC, NYC, Toronto, LA, and Boston, have long made their voices heard at city halls demanding better traffic solutions. Not surprisingly, those cities also have extensive bike infrastructure and bike share programs. Municipalities realized, in self-defense, that they need to get people out of cars. In Buffalo, few people would dream of not driving into or around the city. Things are changing though. Inevitably, with development comes congestion.
This profile in Sustainability will be in subsequent installments because Justin’s work has touched on a lot of aspects of an economic revolution and a self-determined re-balancing of the playing field. It’s the kind of outlier thinking that gives those of us on the bottom of the economic pyramid an asymmetrical response to an economic order that doesn’t work for us.