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Tennessee Bike Advocate Gina Simpson

Preparing for the Tennessee Bike Summit

The annual Tennessee Bike Summit is being held April 16-17, 2020. The summit is in Cleveland, Tennessee for the first time ever this year, so I chatted with Gina Simpson, the head of Bike Walk Cleveland to learn more 

Q : As a Tennessee bike accident attorney, I am familiar with you because I serve on the Bike Walk TN board with you, but go ahead and introduce yourself to everyone else:  

Hello Everyone! I’m Gina Simpson. I am a wife, mother of three: Isaac, 12; Abigail, 11; and Indiana 9, and I am an active transportation advocate. In 2012 I started training for my first half marathon and I have been a runner ever since. I got into cycling in 2017 and started Bike Walk Cleveland to advocate for better cycling infrastructure. In 2018 I became a League Cycling Instructor and started a Bikes to Schools program to help students learn to ride safely. 

Q: Was is easy to get involved with Bike Walk TN?

A: In the summer of 2017 I saw a newspaper article about a community meeting being held at the library to discuss crosswalk placement. Being a mother with three children who loved walking to the library and needing a crosswalk by my house to accomplish this safely, I went to the meeting. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this meeting was put on by our city in hopes of finding a local citizen that was passionate about walking and cycling to head up and advocacy organization. I was on board from the start with the city’s vision for improving multimodal education and transportation and in October of 2017 Bike Walk Cleveland was officially a chapter of Bike Walk TN. 

Q: I have been so blown away by the impacts you have been having in Cleveland, and your ability to do so on a shoestring budget. You spoke about that topic at the National Bike Summit. Tell us about that and the feedback you received.

A: Most of my tips and tricks come from leveraging the assets in my community and social media. When I first started I took any opportunity I had to speak to any group no matter how large, small, or even interested they were in walking and cycling. I popped in at the local Toastmasters group that met at the YMCA after one of the fitness classes I taught. I showed up at our community health council and spoke to that group. I was very lucky to have a core group from that initial meeting the city held with the health department and our MPO to support me as well and that led to speaking to our Rotary Club and Mainstreet group.

Of course reaching the community has been a mix of Facebook, Instagram, the local radio, newspaper, and TV stations. Holding events like Walk to School Day attracted media attention and also helped to spread the word. I learned that just holding Pop Up Rides when the weather was nice by having a Facebook post was a free and easy way to reach more people.  I shared all these things during my presentation at the National Bike Summit last March and received great feedback. People really embraced the core idea of living the life of a cyclist and pedestrian and sharing it with everyone you encounter along the way. Everyone can be an advocate!

Bicycle Advocate

Q: Tell us who you are as a cyclist?

A: I always tell people as a cyclist I am just trying to keep up with my mom! She really got into cycling once I was in college and has done tours all over the east coast. She is definitely my inspiration. 

As my children got older we naturally transitioned to cycling to our destinations. Also as they have gotten older it has freed me up to sneak in some nice 25-30 milers with my friends when the weather permits. So I have seen my cycling take a definite uptick in the last two years especially. 

I am fortunate enough to be able to make the choice to commuter cycle, but I work with many in our community for whom cycling is a necessity. 

Another reason I choose to cycle is that child rearing can be stressful, but cycling helps us all destress a lot. 

Q: Give us some tips for getting your kids involved. 

First is to ride or run or walk with your children. I have ridden with two year olds on kick alongs, four year olds on big wheels, and elementary kids who were just learning to ride. Kids love it when an adult takes the time to be with them while they ride. When we have kids of varying skill levels with us I tell the older kids to circle every four light poles while we walk along and the kids literally ride circles around us. With older kids we all ride together in a group and take turns as the leader of the “bicycle gang” as we go along. 

I also teach children road safety in my bikes to school programs. With third graders and older I set up a live drill where they are turning left off of a one-way road onto a two lane road. I have other children on bikes that circle on the two-way road and they have to practice stopping, judging oncoming traffic, turning into the correct lane, and then safely turn back onto the next street. I always encourage parents to take a Smart Cycle course so they feel confident in their ability to ride, and then to ride in their neighborhoods with their children.

My kids all have to pass their “bike test” before I let them ride in the front of the pack. To pass each child must show me that they can fit their helmet properly, do an ABC Quick Check on their bike, and then navigate without input from me a neighborhood ride with proper stopping and signaling. Once they have passed their test they are able to ride with me all over town. 

Q: Tell us about your plans for the upcoming bike summit.

I think it will be a great opportunity to showcase the impact that walking and cycling can have on a smaller city with a less dense population. The riding issues in Cleveland are different than those in our larger cities like Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Memphis, but our issues are similar to dozens of other areas in the state of TN. I’m looking forward to hearing presentations from the city on the history of walking and biking in Cleveland and how it has been impacted the last few years by the push to become more multimodal. We will also be showing off the campus of Lee University, our Historic District, and our Greenway on the Thursday evening ride. 

Q: Why should we make the trip to Cleveland?

A: Besides coming to attend the awesome Bike Walk Summit there are plenty of other reasons to make the trip to Cleveland. I hope many attendees this year will bring their families along and make a long weekend out of the Summit. We have a couple of brand new parks including Deer Park (with a zip line, my kids say it is very important to mention this), Blythe Oldfield Park, Tinsley Park, and the Park on the Greenway. 

We have so many terrific local restaurants that you’ll definitely need a few days  to be able to visit them all! Cafe Roma, Cobblestone Grille, Fork and Spoon, and Gardner’s Market are all within a block of the conference location and offer some wonderful dining options. We have Stack Burger, Mash and Hops, and the Press just a few blocks down on First Street. 

You’ll have to give our locally owned coffee shops a try. Bear Brew, The Mill Coffee, Ocoee Coffee House, Inman Street Coffee, Lasaters, and BonLife are all a quick bike ride from downtown and they all offer a great yet distinct atmosphere. I can personally recommend the chai latte from all of them! 

Cleveland is called the City with Spirit and I think you’ll find it well worth the drive, flight, or ride!

Q: Tell us about the mayor of Cleveland. He was a keynote speaker at last year’s bike summit, and a staunch advocate for traffic calming and safety, who had a tough time getting safety bills passed during his time in the state legislature. He has been able to have a larger impact as mayor. What has gone on in Cleveland during his administration?

Mayor Brooks is a huge supporter of multimodal infrastructure. He told me once he saw the impact bike share had in Nashville during his time there and he wanted that same thing for Cleveland. Since he has been in office we have seen the city get several grants for sidewalk connection projects, greenway extension, and multiuse paths in neighborhoods. 

Q: How has he partnered with you?

A: The Mayor and the city have been very responsive to issues impacting multimodal transportation. One perk of a city the size of Cleveland is that it is easy to get issues straight to the person who can fix them. 

We have a great working partnership with many of our city services. Cleveland Utilities provides the lighting on our greenway system. One underpass that is particularly long and dark had lights added to it just recently. Unfortunately vandals broke the lights later that week, but we petitioned Cleveland Utilities to fix the issue and they were able to install new lights with protective covers within the month making the underpass safe once again. 

Q: Can we expect to see him at this year’s summit?

A: I asked him and he said 100% yes! He is as excited about this upcoming Summit as I am. 

Q:What else do you all have planned?

A: Bike Walk Cleveland has a lot planned for this year! We received a grant from America Walks to start a walking school bus program at a local elementary school. We are also excited to be bringing a road cycling PE elective to our local university in the fall of 2020. Continuing to build from last year’s work we hope to visit more schools with our Bikes to Schools program as well as offer a summer bike maintenance camp. The Jeff Roth Cycling Foundation has given us a lot of help in implementing our Pop Up Rides summer riding program and we hope that will continue this year as well.

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