Take me to your Reader. Erik Reader

Erik_Reader_0029-2In 2013, Erik Reader wrote about walking in Pekin, specifically walking to the grocery store–a simple task 100 years ago but more challenging in the 21st century due to consolidation in the food industry. (The fact that we call it an industry points out another change in the grocery business.) Consolidation–the loss of the corner grocery store–reduced the number of stores, increasing the distance between people and their grub.

A walkable catchment, or ‘ped shed,’ maps the area one is willing to walk to get to their destination is a good tool for looking at the reality of the situation,” he wrote in 2013. “A 1/4 mile radius equals 5 minutes and a 1/2 mile radius equals 10 minutes. Generally, once you get out of that range you’re more prone to taking something more convenient than your own two hooves.

He walked 14 minutes that day and turned that walk into a question for his readers: How far would you walk for food? It was a rhetorical question–the answer is pretty clear: Most people will walk to their car.

And today, it will take them about as long to drive to the store as one hundred years ago it took to walk–which can be discouraging if you think about it long enough.

Perhaps, say, during a walk.

Today, Reader, president of Bike Peoria, continues to exercise shank’s mare, but organizationally he’s more focused on travel by bicycle, a form of transportation with its own unique challenges. “Personally I’d rather have a walking movement and more walkable communities, but that’s not as exciting as biking. Walking number one, biking number two, bus and train three followed by driving.”

And that’s why we met at Two25 downtown to talk about bicycles and Bike Peoria, not about walking and Schnucks. The pizza was pretty good, too.

Tell me a bit about the Bike Peoria journey.

We really hesitated from making this a formal organization for such a long time because of existing membership groups trying to get people to ride bikes. Additionally, there were so many different people with such a variety of different viewpoints involved, which gave us many directions to consider.

150We think we’re filling a gap where other organizations weren’t quite tackling the advocacy side of things. So we were able to insert ourselves immediately into something that wasn’t there. But with doing that comes expectations, some fair, some otherwise, but things had to be more organized for the sake of growing the movement.

To me, it seems like there’s still that traditional consensus that things have to be organized in a manner that other people can understand for them to participate, donate, etc. And so you can answer questions like, “What does a more bike-friendly Peoria look like and what areas are you serving?” You have to be able to explain the mission and vision–aside from we all like to ride our bikes and be around other people who ride bikes.

So we took a lot of raw energy and formalized it, which is interesting with a lot of creative different minds and personalities. You have people who just want to get out and ride, people who really just want to do advocacy work, and other people who want to work on bikes.

Getting the foundation built is extremely important for sustaining success, but it’s not much fun. We’ve done a bunch of legal, financial and planning stuff behind the scenes. I’m a glutton for punishment.

962Yes, Bike Peoria now has legal non-profit status. What does that mean?

bike peoria logo smallOur non-profit status legitimizes and adds credibility to the movement, but it also allows people to donate to us and get that tax exemption, just like when you drop off a bunch of clothes at Goodwill. We are able to apply for grants for bike-related infrastructure, host events, and receive funding which will keep the wheels of progress moving.

So the focus is the city of Peoria?

For simplicity’s sake I think we have to focus on Peoria, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t care about other areas. Even from an advisory standpoint it helps to be in the mix. Some of us live in different cities and work in fields professionally that could help make changes possible.
For example, two of our board members work for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. Our eyes and ears are open to things going on around the region, but because there’s so few of us we have to concentrate our efforts at the moment.

What are your hopes for 2015?

A couple of well-structured events that have Bike Peoria continuing to collaborate with other organizations and get more people on their bikes for everyday purposes. A big opportunity is the Bike Peoria Co-op, and we’re trying to program that with more workshops and educational activities.

The city-wide bicycle master plan should be completed, but the biggest thing I want to see is the public works department continue to implement some of the things we’ve wished would happen. Things like bike lanes, signage and racks. Slow progress is what needs to be made. Continuing to build off each year’s progress is going to be crucial the next four to five years.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I was always riding my bike as a kid. To practice, a friend’s house or downtown where I grew up in Geneva.

However, spending a semester abroad in the Netherlands kind of shaped what I thought could be possible. It was something of a novelty to me 10 years ago, but later I recognized how the way they did things could transform how you function daily.Leeuwarden

They made a decision, in the sixties, not to be so car-reliant, and when I was living there I didn’t have a car. It was easy to walk everywhere. When we first got into town they showed us where we could rent a bike. For $25 you could rent a bike for the semester. You could ride to the bar, ride to school. It was natural.

They also had great public transportation in their bus and train systems. It made it almost effortless to not have to get into a car. There, we used a car maybe five times in five months. Here, people use the car for every little occasion, whether it’s going to the grocery store or getting your hair cut.

You live in Pekin but you’re working on Peoria. Why?

Even crazier is that I moved from Dallas to Pekin to work in Peoria. My wife is from Pekin and the transition there made sense at the time. Peoria has its issues as a post-industrial city but still has many assets. I see it as a blank canvas to work on with a lot of things. 

In Pekin I tried, but we’re not there yet. Culturally speaking that is. They’re working on Court Street right now, they have a trail going out to the east part of town. Pekin’s known for the park system, but they haven’t figured how to connect all the dots with an overriding leisure and recreational lifestyle with infrastructure that builds it into your everyday life.

So when there was activity about starting up a group like this in Peoria, I wanted to get involved. People are the ones to push policy makers to understand its importance. For me, it’s not about hating cars but simply trying to build more equitable, easy-to-get-around cities.

How can someone get involved in Bike Peoria?

We can get you plugged in to where you want to be, whether it’s planning an event, raising awareness, working on bikes or leading a ride. The public is welcome to come to our first Tuesday meet-ups where we talk business and bikes. Visit us virtually at bikepeoria.org, then email us at bikepeoria@gmail.com. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to join the conversation.

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