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Q&A With Founder Of Walk N' Rollers

Heather Navarro |
September 30, 2012 | 11:17 p.m. PDT



 Heather Navarro)
Heather Navarro)
A mixture of sweat and sunblock dripped down Jim Shanman’s face on Saturday after he biked five miles to the Culver City Metro Station, where his organization, Walk N’ Rollers, held a community bike ride in response to Carmageddon II.

The “Bike Carmageddon: Westside Ride” was a 22-mile loop from Culver City through Venice, Santa Monica and Westwood. Families met with riders along the course to bike for as long, or as short, as they wanted to. They experienced bike riding in L.A. in a safe, structured environment, according to the Los Angeles County Biking Coalition, which assisted with flat tires or other safety-related issues. 

Shanman, a 49-year-old graphic designer and marketing director, started Walk N’ Rollers a year ago after attending a “Safe Routes to School” community meeting in Culver City. Community members discussed applying for $1.5 million in state and federal funding to make routes safer for children walking or biking to school. Shanman said he realized the process of getting “paint to pavement” would take longer than a year, and he wanted to advocate bike riding in L.A. without having to wait. 

Do you think American society is getting lazier?

If anything, a hundred years ago most people biked or walked. Even 30 years ago, 80 percent of kids biked or walked to school.* There has been a transition, and we’ve got more car-centric, two-parent working families. Convenience has become the mode of the day, and the thought is that using the car is most convenient. But it’s changing. Bike ridership in cities like New York, Portland, and Los Angeles is going off the charts. In L.A., we’re not where we need to be, we’re at like one percent. We’re aiming for two to three percent, and that’s enough to shift the mindset of the entire country. That’s when drivers notice, “Oh, there’s less traffic today and there’s bicycles I need to pay attention to.” We’re moving in the right direction. 

Do you think Carmageddon wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if we were at 2-3 percent in bike ridership?

If we were at two to three percent we wouldn’t have to call it “Carmageddon.” People would just ride their bikes on the weekends anyway. They would realize that they don’t have to drive over to the Valley, not that they would on a weekend anyway, and maybe just stay in their neighborhoods. It would be nice to get to a point where we would do this just as another Saturday fun ride, not just because the freeways are being closed. 

Did you hold a Carmageddon bike-riding event last year?

Not at all. We all woke up the day before and said, “Why didn’t we do something?” We were all focused on if we could get to the freeway and ride on the freeway, but nobody thought of organizing a community ride and taking advantage of that. Metro recognized that also, and they’re big proponents of getting people to bike to the train stations, so they thought it was a great way to expand their scope a bit more. It was actually their decision to push for the rides both on the Westside and in the Valley. 

Some L.A. commuters travel long distances and would call you crazy for suggesting they bike to work. What would you say to them?

We ask people to try to mix-and-match. Maybe you have a 23-mile commute and think, “I can’t ride a bike 23 miles to work.” Instead of riding all the way to work, find a Metro station that’s five miles away, bike there and take the Metro. Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Culver City are all doing a lot with infrastructure, like building cycle tracks. They’re also doing a lot with encouragement with organizations like mine. The more education people have, the more they’re going to bike.

When did you start biking on a daily basis?

I started in 2008, when gas prices hit $5 a gallon. I live five miles from here and I work right down the street. I would ride my bike once a week recreationally. I realized that $5 a gallon was a lot, and started riding to work twice a week, then three times a week, and it got easier. I have a 5-year-old daughter and I started taking her to school meetings, and they would discuss neighborhood safety and how to fix the bike-and-walk. I realized the need was so great. You get the community together and they say, “Yes! Let’s get a grant, and let’s build this up.” Well, that’s a two-year cycle, and in the meantime you’re just sitting around saying, “Now what?” They don’t realize you can do something literally the next day. So I started to get the word out there, and organized something you can do for free.

Why is biking the way to go?

This is an easy way to get exercise because you can either go as hard or easy as you want. You don’t have to wear spandex; you don’t have to go 30 miles-per-hour down the bike path. You can wear shoes that don’t look like riding shoes, but they are. You can dress fairly normally and still be able to come to events like this. And you don’t have to be a triathlete to bike five miles.


* According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, “Thirty years ago…nearly 90 [percent] of children who lived within a mile of school used active transportation (i.e., walking or bicycling) as their primary mode of travel.”  By 2009, this number had decreased to 35 percent, according to a report released by the National Center for Safe Routes to School.



Reach Contributor Heather Navarro here.



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