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Women Bike Stories: New Orleans
Marin Tockman was on the steering committee for the very first Women Bike event in Long Beach, Calif., in September 2012 — and has continued her work to increase female ridership in New Orleans. In this guest post, she describes the inspiration for and innovative work of the NOLA Women on Bikes initiative.
Although many of us down here were disappointed we couldn’t attend the National Women's Bicycling Summit due to conflicts with our Carnival Season here in New Orleans, in looking back at our photos from the parade we participated in during the same week, we can’t get these huge grins off our faces! The parade, itself, was amazingly fun, but the realization of how much we have grown as a group in just one year is just as amazing.
This time a year ago, in spring 2013, NOLA Women on Bikes formally started to organize as a group. A few women already active in the bicycle community -- whether local bicycle riding groups, advocacy groups, community bike shops, etc. -- decided to meet to see if we could organize our efforts and host a few workshops and rides that could be targeted to new and experienced women riders, along with expand all of our efforts to support youth employment and safety in regards to biking.
We met a few times at local restaurants and cafes to organize our mission and our goals –- and what became evident very quickly is that we all had great shared goals and we were all missing a women-centric bicycle network in our community. Most importantly, it seemed to many that having a network to communicate about biking and transportation with other women was something we wanted to build. Organizing group rides, having women-led and attended bicycle maintenance workshops was something that needed to grow in our community as well, and having a youth component to target the next generation of riders and transportation advocates was also important to our shared goals.
After those first few meetings to help shape our mission and goals, we formed a Facebook group, NOLA Women on Bikes -- which now has more than 400 members! -- and put up a website, where people can further see our mission and our events/ride calendar, along with a great homepage for our fundraising efforts for programs like the Youth Mentorship Program.
Our first group ride was also wonderfully timed with the International CycloFemme Ride in May 2013 (pictured below). We had about 25 people, including children and male partners, attend the ride and we did an easy nine-mile loop through New Orleans’ City Park. We had a lot of great feedback and many people soon after began to signup on our e-mail listserv and Facebook group.
Since then, we’ve gone on to accomplish a lot including:
- Hosting a handful of bicycle maintenance classes at the local youth community bike shop called RUBARB in the Upper 9th Ward.
- Hosting rides including one with the Bike!Bike! Conference where more than 150 women from all over the world rode with us.
- Participating in the first New Orleans Ciclovia event
- Launching a Youth Mentorship Program with a local non-profit called the Youth Empowerment Project and successfully raising $2,000 through our crowdfunding campaign for a young woman to intern and work at Bicycle Tour/Rental company called Crescent City Bike Tours during spring 2014.
- Participating in a local parade called Chewbacchus as “The Future Faces of Cycling” rolling with kids from the RUBARB Youth Community Bike Shop for a two mile-parade route in costume, handing out hundreds of local New Orleans Bicycle Maps and other great throws, including buttons and t-shirts donated by the League's Women Bike program.
Looking back, all this is a prety impressive list of activity for just one year — but, I’d be lying if I said organizing all of our efforts has been easy.
Getting the word out and getting our group motivated and engaged has taken some hard work from a few of us all volunteering our time. New Orleans is definitely known for its easy-going, fun festivals and fairs, and we have more work to do to connect NOLA Women on Bikes with the cities' events and other empowering opportunities. Our efforts to launch and successfully fundraise for the first Youth Mentorship showed us that we can have strong purpose and leadership skills in our group – and we need to do more as a group of women to be inspiring mentors for young people in New Orleans.
Our participation in the Chewbacchus Parade, that had almost 20,000 viewers and thousands of participants, showed that, when it comes down to it, we love having a great time, being creative, and working with and inspiring young people to see biking as empowering and fun, as well. Every time we hold a ride or event, all that hard work pays off with the enthusiasm, great conversations, and the growing number of members we gain.
I really feel we're at the beginning of a great thing as NOLA Women on Bikes. Our efforts to keep fundraising for the Youth Mentorship Program have gained attention from several local bike shops and transportation companies in the local area, along with other youth advocacy organizations. Our rides are growing, as we are family/partner-friendly, as well.
I truly believe that, by our forming this group a year ago, we have put great attention on women/family riding in New Orleans and people are paying attention to our good work and continued efforts to support better biking, and inspire more women and young people to get out and ride every day.
The larger national Women Bike community has definitely inspired us here in New Orleans and has kept us motivated to keep organizing and make our voices collectively stronger and more engaging to a wider audience. The key is to keep motivated, always move forward, and continue to be creative, fun, and open minded when it comes to creating more opportunities for women and young people to get out and ride.
It’s been a fun ride for us so far and we can’t wait to see how NOLA Women on Bikes will grow!