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Why I Ride #18: For 40 Years of BTWD Smiles

(Ellen Fletcher volunteered at a Palo Alto Energizer station for Bike to Work Day for nearly four decades, in addition to  serving as a city council member and leading bicycle advocate.)

Ellen Fletcher (Credit: Richard Masoner)

I was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1928 and was sent to England 10 years later. I don’t remember seeing anyone ride a bicycle in Berlin, but almost everyone, or so it seemed, rode a bicycle in England.

So I started riding, too. As I grew up I enjoyed riding my bike so much I took many pleasure rides, as well as the regular rides for various errands.

I moved to New York City in 1946 at the age of 17. The extreme crowding on public transit soon enticed me back on a bike, a rarity in the City in those days. I was the only one using the bike racks at Hunter College “uptown” in the Bronx all year round.

Moving to the California suburbs in 1958 with a baby, I thought my biking days were over. But it wasn’t long before I was again back on the bike, at least for short trips. But those short trips expanded greatly, partly for ideological reasons during the Arab oil boycott. Although I still owned a 1964 Plymouth Valiant until a few months ago, I rarely used it, filling my gas tank no more than once a year. The rest of my trips were by bike or with my bike on transit.

When my son entered elementary school here in Palo Alto I volunteered to be “Safety Chair” for the PTA. That got me started in bicycle advocacy. Bike lanes, under and over crossings at major obstacles, bikes on trains and buses and the Nation’s first bicycle boulevard.

At one point when the City Council balked at adopting some bike improvement policies in its General Plan, I decided to run for a seat on the City Council myself and served on the Council for twelve years, from 1977 to 1989.

I don’t remember when or where I started serving at Energizer stations on Bike to Work Day. Probably when BTWD started in the seventies (I’m not sure when that was). I’m skipping it this year due to my deteriorating physical condition.

Now at the age of 83, I have terminal lung cancer and can no longer pedal. I now have an electric motor in a trailer, the RideKick, to get me around, still on my bike. I’m so grateful because otherwise I’d have to rely on others for rides.

I’m so glad I can still get around by bike!

May is National Bike Month and this year’s theme is One Ride, Many Reasons. To highlight and celebrate the many benefits of bicycling, throughout May we’ll bring you the personal reflections and inspirations of a diverse collection of bicyclists from coast to coast with our daily 31 Days, 31 Reasons blog feature.


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