Charlotte Spokes People

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Pam Murray, Charlotte Spokes People

The first person who responded to me about meeting up while I was in Charlotte was Pam Murray, co-founder of the Charlotte Spokes People. Pam turned out to be incredibly helpful and enthusiastic about cycling. Her philosophy is that education should be the primary tool to get people riding; she runs a “Cycling Savvy” class to teach vehicular cycling methods, and she organizes a number of social rides, most notably the Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride (PMTNR), which can get over 100 people when the weather is good.

Social rides are an important part of cycling culture in Charlotte (and in Austin, it turns out). These are low-speed rides focused on building community, generally starting or ending at “Bike Benefits” businesses. Bike Benefits is another program of the Charlotte Spokes People; businesses volunteer to give discounts to people who come in with their bike helmets, and the Spokes People help encourage cyclists to frequent those businesses.

Because Pam is focused on education rather than infrastructure, she doesn’t generally advocate for new facilities. As we rode around town, she regularly pointed out that Charlotte’s roads were “just fine” once you knew how to ride them safely. As a long-time vehicular cyclist myself, I appreciate her points, and while in Charlotte I met a number of individuals who had been through CyclingSavvy and felt it had made a huge difference in their confidence on the road. However, I’m personally not sure that education can ever move the needle on cycling rates on its own; by the time someone has committed to a 10-hour class, they already must be disposed towards cycling.

Pam was a great person to meet to start this work, because the tension between separate-infrastructure advocates and vehicular cyclists has characterized bike advocacy in the U.S. for decades, and clearly it’s still something that cities struggle with.

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