Laura Crawford and Russ Roca decided to ditch it all in 2009 and leave California on a three-year bicycle journey across the United States.
The couple returned from their travels with a new appreciation not just for cycling, but for what small-town America has to offer.
Crawford and Roca landed in Portland and started a consulting business called the Path Less Pedaled, which helps communities develop plans to attract bicycle tourism.
They will be among the keynote speakers Monday and Tuesday (March 21 and 22) at the Washington Bike Summit in Tacoma. The gathering will bring together scores of bicycle enthusiasts, urban designers, city planners and others to discuss biking in Washington.
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Crawford talked to The News Tribune about her and Roca’s work and the advantages of bicycling and bike tourism.
Q: Tell our readers a little about yourself. How did you and Russ come to be full-time bike evangelists?
A: In 2009, we had an opportunity to sell everything and go. So we did it. We traveled three years by bike, mostly in the U.S., but some in New Zealand as well. It’s an incredible way to see a country.
Along the way we’d stop in little towns or cities for coffee or an ice cream or to spend the night.
We started thinking: What if there were a lot of people coming through by bike and spending a lot of money? How might that benefit these communities?
Then we started thinking about things like, how do we recruit people into these areas? How could we help cities and towns promote what they have to offer to cyclists? That’s kind of how we got started.
Q: What is it about riding bikes that appeals to you?
For me personally, it’s the way that you move simultaneously both quickly and slowly through a landscape. You’re moving quickly enough to cover distance, but slowly enough that you notice things.
If you pass something interesting along the way, you can stop quickly and explore it. You can integrate more and experience more than if you’re traveling by car. But you go faster than if you’re walking.
It’s just a really nice way to get to know your community. You’re just naturally paying more attention.
Q: Have you visited Tacoma before?
A: We’ve not spent any time in Tacoma. We’ve been through on Amtrak a number of times, going up to Seattle.
We’re looking forward to exploring a little bit. We’re coming up for the summit on Amtrak, and we’re bringing our bikes.
Q: The title of your talk is “Creating a Cycling Identity for Your Town.” What steps can a city take to do that? What are the challenges?
A: The first thing, and often the biggest challenge, is getting everybody to the table, so that everybody has a chance to consider what the opportunities are and what the challenges would be.
And then starting to think about who are we as a community and what do we want to promote to people coming in? What is the character of our community? What kind of experiences and resources do we have to offer?
You want to look at the quality of the riding, but also the other things. People are not going to be riding 100 percent of the time.
Q: What is the role of the private sector in creating a culture of biking?
A: A lot of the work we do these days is on the tourism side. We work with a lot of hotel and motel people, who obviously have a big stake.
I think as more and more people start moving through a community as bicycle tourists, it opens up other business opportunities, like shuttle operators and tour guides and that kind of thing.
Q: What are some cities that already have a strong cycling identity? What makes them a good model?
A: One that comes to mind is Lodi, California. It’s a small little town, not a whole lot going on, but over the past 20 years, their wine industry has really exploded. It’s also a place where people go to bike as well.
They’ve done a lot of work to blend the two. They’ve gone to a lot of great lengths to build great bike routes there and have tied it together with the wine industry with a great printed map with some really great images.
Q: How do you feel about bike-sharing programs? The Seattle City Council recently voted to bail out the bike-share program in Seattle, and, at the same time, Tacoma is talking about implementing one.
A: I’m not sure that I know enough about them from a transportation or commuter program to talk about that aspect. But what we’ve noticed in some of the communities we’ve visited is that they’re a really popular and easy way for a tourist to get on a bicycle.
A business person or a visitor to town can get on one of those bikes on their lunch break or between meetings to get out and explore a little. It’s easier for them than trying to rent a bike.
I think that they can be a great offering for folks.
If you go
What: Washington Bike Summit
When: Monday and Tuesday (March 21 and 22)
Where: Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, 1500 Broadway
Cost: $120 to $240