Member Profile: Emily Drennen: Biking for All Abilities By Gernot Huber

A classic! A bicyclist waits for the pedestrians to cross before riding onward. Photo by Sam Laser
Name Emily Drennen
Age 28
Community Involvement SF Bicycle Advisory Committee Chair
Neighborhood Mission
Member Since 1998
Bikes for everyone "I want to raise consciousness about how disability issues relate to bicycles."

Why did you join the SFBC? When I first moved to San Francisco, I was doing work with AmeriCorps at Crissy Field and they gave me a bicycle to get to work. I hadn't ridden a bike as an adult, so I joined the SFBC to get information on safe riding practices. I quickly learned how fantastic the people involved with the SFBC were, and gradually became more active in the organization. The SFBC is the main reason I became so interested with transportation issues in the first place.

How many years have you been using your bike for transport? Ever since I got that bike three years ago. I don't own a car anymore.

How often do you ride? Once or twice a week. I also take MUNI and BART a lot. I can't ride all the time because I have a disability.

What kind of bike do you ride? A fabulous green 3-speed Schwinn from the mid-60s.

Those were great years for Schwinns. What is the BAC and what are its goals? The Bicycle Advisory Committee is an 11-member city body that was created in 1990 by the Board of Supervisors to advise the Board and various city departments on bicycle-related matters. As far as what we're working on, the Bay Bridge has come up a lot recently, as well as MTC's Regional Transportation Plan. We've also been working with the DA's Office on the Chris Robertson case, and with MUNI about bike racks for buses. How our streets are designed and engineered to accommodate bikes and peds has also become a big focus lately. So much to be done!

How are things going with the BAC these days? Really well. The atmosphere at City Hall is amazing so much positive and creative energy, and it's apparent to me that the majority of folks at City Hall are there because they have their hearts in the right place. It's an unprecedented time for making progress on bicycle issues. Plus, all of us on the committee have a good time working with each other, which is key.

What do you see as your role on the BAC? As the chair, I represent the BAC at public hearings, talk about policy issues with city staff, set the agendas for our meetings, and make sure that our donated Piano Pizzas arrive on time. [laughs]. And as a member of the BAC, I get to work on bike projects that are close to my heart, which makes the volunteering all the more rewarding.

What else should SFBC members know about the BAC? We are looking for new members, and are especially encouraging people of color and women to apply.

What else do you do with your time? I make art and jewelry. I also volunteer in Supervisor Ammiano's office and with the Green Party's Transportation Working Group. But mostly, I spend my time with bike activism and with my sweetie, Linda though not in that order!

What is the worst thing about biking in San Francisco? The verbal abuse from drivers. And the unsafe conditions due to inadequate engineering and planning.

What are the next few key steps for improving San Francisco's traffic and livability? The merging of DPT and MUNI into the new Municipal Transportation Agency has the potential to be a major change for the better if it is done right, and puts transit first. But the new agency will need a much bigger bicycle staff.

What's the time frame for the merger? They are supposed to have the proposal finished by July 1 of this year, and implement it starting in July of 2002.

What are some other key steps? Working to make Market Street safer and more convenient for pedestrians, bicyclists, the disabled, and everybody else. Working to get better bike-transit connections, more bike racks, new bike lanes, and education for drivers and the police. I think it is also vital for bicycle groups to continue to form coalitions with housing advocates, seniors and the disabled, environmentalists, and other groups whose missions are different, but related to the work we're doing.

What's the best thing about riding in San Francisco? It's the fastest way to get around! Plus, it's a lot cheaper than MUNI or owning my own car. Anything else you want to add? I want to raise consciousness about how disability issues relate to bicycles. Being able to take bikes on transit is a huge deal for those of us who can't ride very far, or up hills. For example, I can't ride all the way from the Mission to Ocean Beach, but I would love being able to ride along the Great Highway. Without being able to take my bike on MUNI, this is impossible now.

I also want to challenge people's assumptions that one must be thin in order to be fit, healthy, and in shape. When we talk about all of the health benefits that can come from bike riding, let's be sure to focus on how it can help one get stronger and more fit, rather than how it can help one lose weight. Healthy, vibrant, and strong bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and with many different abilities!

Any final thoughts? For our movement to succeed, we have to recognize how much influence class, gender, and racial differences have in determining why someone rides a bike. For instance, riding a bike out of economic necessity is a very different experience than weekend mountain biking in Marin. Whatever the reason someone gets on two wheels, I'd like to see the SFBC represent them.