A Conversation with MassBike's New Executive Director

[caption id="attachment_23650" align="alignright" width="300"] Photo courtesy of Russ Campbell. RussCam.com[/caption]

MassBike’s Board of Directors has named well-respected and experienced promoter, announcer, and journalist Richard Fries as our new Executive Director. Fries takes over the helm of the statewide organization as bicycling and bicycle commuting is growing in popularity across Massachusetts. He most recently worked as marketing director for the Best Buddies Challenge rides and as a development advisor for People for Bikes. (View the press release for Fries' appointment.)

MassBike Board member Colin Durrant took a few minutes to ask Richard about why he chose to take the job, how a wide variety of stakeholders can work together to create safer cycling in Massachusetts, and what he sees as the challenges and opportunities ahead for MassBike.

Colin: Let’s start off with a basic question. How do you think MassBike is doing as a statewide advocacy organization?

RF: I am going to use a racing analogy to answer this question because it fits. David [Watson], as well as the current and former staff, have provided me with a fantastic leadout.

I first got involved in MassBike in the early 1990s when it could not maintain a single paid staff member. David’s tenure has created a powerful foundation for much bigger growth. Whether we are discussing rail-trails, bike lanes, police education, pending legislation, or awareness programs like Mass in Motion, the achievements have been staggering. And, importantly, they yield enormous benefits for every resident, not just cyclists.

Colin:  What role do you think MassBike has played and must play in building better, and much safer, bicycling across the state?

RF: The biggest change mirrors changes seen elsewhere in the nation. We have altered the wiring of the planning process to include pedestrians and cyclists in not just the discussion but in the formal planning process throughout the transportation grid. We worked really hard to get a space at that table. We don’t always get everything we want but we are part of that discussion.

Going forward I believe we now need to shift our focus slightly from not just working to get a share of the public road, but also to working for a share of the public mind. Instead of bicyclists being tolerated, we need to work on being embraced as a positive element of transportation and recreation.

Colin: You have a deep history of involvement with cycling in Massachusetts and nationally. Why did you think now was the right time to lead MassBike?

RF: Many viewed my career as the dream job. I have been able to travel and ride all over the world and do a lot of meaningful work, all of which involves the bicycle. Much of it I will miss. But I have a love affair with Massachusetts, and I truly saw this opportunity to bring many of the cultural elements and physical infrastructure from places like Colorado, California, Oregon, Denmark, and the Netherlands to the Bay State.

I look at all the potential we have here - ranging from compact urban design that pre-dates automobiles to perhaps the best transit network in America - and I see nothing but opportunity. The ingredients are all here. The next step is to foster the cultural will to embrace bikes on a much larger scale.

Colin:  Do you have a few priorities you know you want to tackle right away in the coming year?

RF: The first is to increase membership. We have more than 700,000 people in Massachusetts who ride a bike at least monthly. But we have only about 3,000 members. Just one percent of those folks would put us at 7,000 members. Most of the folks I ride with every week are not members. That’s low-hanging fruit. More members means more clout. To date, bicycle advocacy has largely been led with an agenda that prioritizes legislation and engineering, which is important. One of my first goals will be to build on that by approaching bicycle advocacy from a marketing and communications angle.

Colin: Bicycling is growing in popularity, both in urban areas and recreationally. What are some of the greatest opportunities for building a stronger bicycling community across Massachusetts?

RF: Again, pardon the racing metaphor, but I intend to do what my coaches taught me: train your weakness, race your strength. We have had such success in urban infrastructure and enlisting those riders. But out in the suburbs and farmlands and orchards, where thousands of people in our target demographic are riding, we have little or no presence. These riders are not engaged at all in advocacy. They have economic strength; they have political clout; and they are often in professional positions of power. No bike shop could ever exist without catering to that market; why should an advocacy group feel they can flourish without their strongest asset?

Colin: Massachusetts has been making great strides in transit recently as well. What are some of the greatest opportunities for strengthening our coalition with transit riders?

RF: Our transit system distinguishes Massachusetts from the rest of the country. While I’m a hard-core bike commuter, having a transit option truly enables mainstream students and workers to commute by bike. Putting our effort and energy into making those critical transit lynchpins bike friendly yields perhaps the greatest return on investment. And yes, you can have automobiles as part of those systems.

The model to replicate is the Alewife MBTA station, where you have a subway connect with buses, automobile parking, and the Minuteman Bikeway. Look at the bike cages. They are filled to capacity. But when weather or darkness deters a cyclist, transit is there to help. So let’s do that in every MBTA station - let’s prioritize round-the-clock, roll-on access.

Colin: And how do you see bicycles fitting in the larger context of a transportation system that includes transit, cars, pedestrians, and commercial trucks for example?

RF: Advocates work really hard to get bike lanes put into place. And then to have them used as loading zones, drop-off zones, taxi lines, parking spots, turning lanes, is understandably frustrating. I’ll go back to what I said earlier: having a share of the road is one thing; having a share of the mind is another. Demand must precede supply.

For example, look at motorist behavior in Cambridge’s Inman Square, where the bicycle mode share matches anything we see in Portland, Oregon or Boulder, Colorado. There are so many bikes in the flow that the typical motorists and pedestrians there seem hyper aware of the bike traffic and are accordingly aware and polite. But as we build up to that level of mode share elsewhere, we need a strategy. You get what you tolerate. We need a lot more education and media outreach so every user understands the bicycle’s role in our transportation system.

Colin:  You just spoke to the public perception of bicycling, but you’ve also said your experience cuts across the “disparate tribal elements of bicycling: sport, industry, culture, and advocacy.” What can be done to bring these elements closer together to encourage collaboration and setting of common goals?

RF: I’ve always been a “big-tent” guy. We are too small of a market to separate into correct and incorrect cyclists. But look at the bicycle industry, which ranges from the bicycle retailer all the way up to the manufacturer. At issue is the enormous pressure they face to either make that month’s payroll or that quarter’s sales goal. That pressure is important to appreciate. There is the choice to either focus on selling that $400 bike to a student, which may be the first of say 20 bikes purchased in her lifetime, or focus on selling that plastic surgeon the last bike he’ll ever purchase for $13,000. But I see it less as a choice and more as a question: how do we as advocates help the industry to develop BOTH customer bases?

This is also where I believe the racing community is really important. Advocates have been unwise in failing to recruit them to their ranks. Those riders are the alphas who are spending upwards of 30 hours per week on the roads interacting with motorists and pedestrians. They also impact the behavior and purchasing decisions of other cyclists. Most of them evolved through the purchases of equipment and apparel to foster a true cycling lifestyle that involves training, touring, AND commuting. Improve their conduct and you improve all cycling conduct.

The club ride is arguably one of the most important things we do as a recreational cyclist. A club ride in the Netherlands is a modicum of proper cycling to be emulated with every ride. Ride with a pro, a real pro like Tim Johnson, and your group will churn along smoothly without ever hearing a car horn. But a lot of group rides are run with a Lord of the Flies attitude. This is something bike shops and clubs need to discourage - it sets us all back.

Colin: On a related note, many might not know that Massachusetts has a strong and growing bicycle industry. What role do you think they can play in supporting statewide bicycle programs?

RF: Had you told me in 1978 that Italians would fly to America just get a bike made in New England I would have pulled over laughing. Just look at Seven, Parlee, and Firefly to start. This is like having Ferrari and Lamborghini in your backyard. Then consider that Craft, Todson, Kryptonite, Vittoria, Pedro’s, and others are anchored here and you get a sense of the power we have. But they have not been as engaged with local advocacy as they could be. These brands may not have a lot of disposable income but they have considerable energy and impact that we need to engage. Our job is to tell their story as part of our story. Look at what Trek has done in Wisconsin. That has worked for both the state and the company.

Colin: Speak for a moment about what originally drew you to bicycling and what keeps you coming back for more?

RF: The bicycle is the world’s most perfect invention. I grew up riding bikes but I truly embraced cycling at age 17 when I started commuting during college. I’ve been a passionate cyclist for nearly 40 years. That includes racing at the pro level, year-round commuting, charity rides, some epic touring, and my coffee shop rides on the weekends.

I often say that every cyclist, myself included, is a work in progress. We each enter this lifestyle through a variety of doors. For some it may be a charity, for others it may be fitness or recreation. But I believe the biggest draw to cycling - especially in Boston, the world’s biggest college town - is the economics. I go door to desk from Lexington to Boston in as little as 37 minutes without ever running a red light. No parking. No insurance. No gas. No traffic jams. And at age 54 I still wear the same size jeans I wore in high school despite my fondness for sausage and craft beers.

Colin: Let’s wrap up with what advice you would tell someone who is considering getting on a bicycle for the first time.

RF: Invest in a good bike that fits properly and buy stuff at real bike shops. Then ask questions. Too many cyclists quit learning way too soon. I still learn something every time I ride.

MassBike Names Richard Fries as New Executive Director

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JAN. 6, 2015
CONTACT: Beth Rodio, Beth@MassBike.org

[caption id="attachment_23650" align="alignright" width="300"] Photo courtesy of Russ Campbell. RussCam.com[/caption]

Experienced Promoter, Announcer, and Journalist Will Lead Statewide Advocacy Group As Bicycling is Growing in Popularity.

BOSTON (Jan. 6, 2015) – After an extensive search and interview process the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike) has named Richard Fries to serve as its new executive director. His appointment comes as new investments in infrastructure and education have encouraged more people than ever to explore bicycling as a safe, healthy, accessible transportation option.

“I’ve never been so excited about a professional opportunity before. From its compact urban centers and world-class transit system to its beautiful countryside, Massachusetts has all the ingredients we need to build a truly first-rate bicycle culture,” said Fries. “Whether you’re starting a new bike business, riding for the first time, or logging your thousandth mile, we can all work together to build a state where everyone has access to a safe, smooth ride.”

Fries’ experience in the bicycling community is both broad and deep. For the past eight years he has served as the marketing director and later the cycling experience director for Best Buddies International, where he helped promote as many as four charity cycling events per year. He has also served as a development advisor for People for Bikes, where he helped launch Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington, and he spent two years as the director of the Bicycle Leadership Conference.

“Richard comes to MassBike with the perfect blend of advocacy, leadership, and industry experience that, combined with his passion for cycling, will help us continue to make bicycling better in every corner of the state,” said Jim Bradley, President of MassBike’s Board of Directors.

Fries is co-founder of the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival, which has grown to become the largest cyclo-cross event in America and one of New England’s largest cycling events. Fries will stay on as director of that event, now known as the KMC Cyclo-cross Festival.

Having raced at the pro level both in America and Europe, Fries left racing to become a journalist. He co-founded The Ride Magazine, a regional cycling publication that focused on all facets of bike culture in the Northeast. He also developed a reputation as both a live announcer and a television commentator. Fries has called countless national championships and several UCI World Cups and the UCI World Championships in both road and cyclo-cross. He has been an event consultant for the past five years.

Fries will join MassBike on January 15 and succeeds David Watson who held the post for eight years. “I am honored to be joining MassBike at such a critical time, and that excitement only grew when I dug into the details of how well David Watson ran this organization,” said Fries. “I could not have received a better lead-out. This board, this staff, this membership, and many of our strategic partners have set Massachusetts up to become the gold standard for bicycling in the United States. ”

A native of Pittsburgh, Fries received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of South Florida, and a masters degree in journalism from Northeastern University. A passionate bicycle commuter, Fries lives alongside the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway in Lexington, Mass. He and his wife, Deborah, have three children.

Read a Q&A interview with Richard Fries about his appointment.

Building Bike Culture in Fall River

[caption id="attachment_23607" align="alignright" width="300"] Current End of Quequechan River Rail Trail in Fall River.[/caption]

There are a lot of ways that MassBike helps communities in Massachusetts access safer bicycling. We work through Safe Routes to School, the MassDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Awareness and Enforcement Program, Mass in Motion, and our Bikeable Communities Program, just to name a few.

In Fall River, a lot of these programs are coming together to make this city a better place for bicyclists and active, healthy living. As we mentioned recently, Fall River is one of the communities included in the MassDOT Safety Program. Through this program, MassBike is advising the city how to connect cyclists between an existing bike path on the west side of the city with a proposed one on the east side. This should bring in both recreational riders and commuters.

Recently we met with Julianne Kelly of Mass in Motion (MiM) and Jacqueline L. Schmidt, Senior Transportation Planner with the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SPREDD) to discuss how we can help Fall River continue to grow as a city that attracts existing cyclists and encourages new ones. Through MiM, we can complement the work we will do through the MassDOT Safety Program to

  • Connect the many beautiful parks in Fall River by bike paths or lanes

  • Ensure bike equity by serving all income areas and road users, including recreational riders, bike commuters within the city, and bike commuters through the city

  • Focus on bicycling (along with healthy eating and other MiM priorities) as a key component to active, healthy living

  • Take into account Fall River’s hilly topography when planning for bicyclists

  • Develop bike map routes


It's exciting to see how all of these programs can work together to make the city a safer place to bike. To that end, we also discussed bringing in Safe Routes to School and having infrastructure connect to schools to get more kids biking for transportation.

Kelly, an avid bicyclist and active member of Bike Fall River, the local bicycle committee, has worked tirelessly making bicycling safer and more accessible in Fall River. Lately, she says, the focus has been on building a culture of bicycling. Having all of these programs come together to enhance bicycling for all in the city will help make that happen. From planned multi-use pathways to upcoming rail trail ground breakings, there is already a lot underway, but there are still plenty of opportunities for improving bicyclist safety.

The city already has a lot to offer bicyclists, such as the city’s density, which makes it great for commuters, and the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve, with 14,000 acres of protected land and bikeable roads that make for a beautiful ride. Mass in Motion Fall River is also one of the one of the founding members of the South Coast Bikeway Alliance. Kelly says that the comprehensive focus on bicycling that will make Fall River an even better place to bike is about “pushing ahead and having a lot of support, but also learning as you go along.” That’s why the audits and discussions with engineers are so important to bringing Fall River to the next level.

According to Barbara Jacobson, MassBike’s Program Manager, “Working with Fall River has been great because they are so enthusiastic about biking and walking. They want to use as many of our programs as they can and take a holistic approach to promoting bicycling for all of their residents. They are especially enthusiastic about making sure no one is left out regardless of age, income level, or ability.”

Mass in Motion communities can access MassBike programs at no cost to them. To see if your community is a MiM community, visit their website.

Fall River is a city working with every possible angle to enhance a culture of bicycling. Like Fall River, a lot of cities and towns across Massachusetts are making decisions that positively impacts cyclists. What’s happening in your town? If you would like to share stories about cycling advocacy or infrastructure changes, contact bikeinfo@massbike.org to let us know. Your story might be featured on the MassBike website and newsletter!

Your Support Helps Make Bicyclists Safer

We are on the last mile of our Winter Appeal. Here is one more reminder of how your support helps bicyclists in all communities.

 

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Your Support Helps Build Bike Lanes

Our work in Springfield helped build their first ever bike lane! Give to MassBike to help residents across Massachusetts get infrastructure.

 

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MassBike Gets Festive

[caption id="attachment_23590" align="alignright" width="300"] Photo Courtesy of Henry van den Broek[/caption]

MassBike is pleased to announce that we have been chosen as a beneficiary for Ride Studio Cafe's Ride Conservation Fund during the Rapha Festive 500. Ride Studio Cafe (RSC) in Lexington, a cycling shop with a goal to get more people on bikes and to get cyclists out more, has been participating in the Festive 500 for four years.

Rapha's Festive 500 challenges participants to ride 500km or more between December 24 and December 31. Every year RSC offers gifts, prize drawings, and other motivators to get people riding in December - a month where too much pie and even a little snow can slow down your cycling.

This year RSC makes the Festive 500 part charity, part challenge by giving to MassBike, The New England Mountain Bike Association, and the Lexington Nature Trust. Patria Lanfranchi of Ride Studio Cafe told us "We are really excited to be including MassBike as one of the recipients of our RSC Ride Conservation fund because of all of the notable improvements MassBike makes to the riding that we value so much. Because of MassBike's advocacy, programs, education, training, and events, our roads are a better place to be on a bike, and more people than ever are enjoying time riding in our community."

Ride Studio Cafe will donate

1) 5 percent of all RSC sales of Rapha items throughout December

2) $20 per rider per Festive 500 ride

3) A minimum of $1,000 split between the three chosen beneficiaries no matter what, and possibly more depending on participation

The more you ride, the more you earn for these local bicyclist-friendly organizations, including us! Visit RSC's Festive 500 page to learn more about the rides, the prizes, and the causes they are supporting. You can register online and start earning money for MassBike while you log your December miles.

Keep riding and stay festive!

Your Support Helps Make Kids Safer and Healthier

When you support MassBike, you help kids throughout Massachusetts get on their bikes.



 

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Your Support Helps Advocates

Today is Giving Tuesday. As you plan your year-end giving, remember how you help bike advocates when you give to MassBike. This year during the Bike/Walk Summit, advocates held 22 meetings with elected leaders, and that led to funding for infrastructure. We couldn't hold the Bike/Walk Summit without supporters like you! 

 

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Safety Program Helps Cyclists Across Massachusetts

[caption id="attachment_23476" align="alignright" width="225"] Summer St at Essex St in Salem, part of the assessment for bikeability.[/caption]

MassBike is in its first year of working with the MassDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Awareness and Enforcement Program to make cities and towns across Massachusetts safer for cycling. This initiative is part of the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) developed to reduce serious injuries and fatalities. The program requires collecting and using data about safety on public roads. In Massachusetts, 12 communities have been selected for 13 studies (two in Quincy) based on the rate of bicycling and collisions in each city or town.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, WalkBoston, and MassBike are working together to increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety in these communities. The goal is to reduce injuries and fatalities by 20 percent over five years, and the plan to do so involves three basic elements: enforcement, education/awareness, and preparation.

The enforcement component involves educating local police on the laws and challenges specific to bicyclists and pedestrians. To facilitate this, MassBike’s police training video has been shown to police officers in the 12 communities. With a firm understanding of bicycling laws in Massachusetts as well as best practices, police officers can educate residents about the legal, safest ways to get to their destination, no matter the mode. Walk audits highlight safety issues in each community and will help prepare the communities for infrastructure and other safety changes.

Although the basic plan – enforce, educate, prepare – is the same for every community, how it plays out in practice varies from place to place. Each of the communities has its own set of opportunities, as we discover after each visit.

Some communities see improved bicycling facilities and safety as a way to revitalize a downtown area. Cities where a downtown core has been overlooked in favor of suburban development – such as Brockton, Lynn, Haverhill, and Fall River – want to attract cyclists as part of a plan for economic development. Other places with higher rates of cycling – such as Cambridge, Somerville, Newton, and Watertown – are looking to improve safety for their cyclists and attract even more commuters. Salem and Pittsfield are looking for slightly different help. In Salem, a city with an already robust cycling culture, bringing businesses out in support of increased cycling is a way to help make improvements for bicyclist safety. Pittsfield represents a town just starting out to think about cycling infrastructure, and there are a lot of opportunities there to increase safety and attract more cyclists.

With MassBike and our partners out there on the street, we get to both learn about the challenges of bicyclists in specific communities throughout Massachusetts and help those communities learn how to make cyclists safer on the road. Next year will we will continue to work with these communities, build off of what we learned in 2014, and meet the needs of each city or town to ensure that whoever is bicycling through or around them will have a safe, enjoyable experience.

To see a full list of the towns and cities that are participating in the safety program, visit the MassDOT website.

 

 

Your Support Helps Make Bicyclists Count

Giving Tuesday is coming up in one week, and we are kicking off our winter appeal! To show you how important you are to MassBike's mission to promote a bicycle-friendly environment, we've cycled through the ways your support helps bicyclists. Click the image below to read about how you help make bicyclists count or just click here to donate.



 

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