Up Close & Personal with Caroline Samponaro

Caroline Samponaro. Thanks to Adeline Adeline for providing the Gazelle bike for the shoot.

One of New York City’s biggest movers and shakers in the grassroots cycling department, Caroline Samponaro first fell in love with bikes as an undergraduate at Columbia College back in 2000 – her thesis was about bicycling in NYC. Now the full-time director of bicycle advocacy with Transportation Alternatives (since 2006), she continues her quest to get more people riding the streets.

What bike do you ride?

My daily bike is a single-speed with a front basket. It’s a no-frills steel frame, with upright handlebars, perfect for my daily commutes and trips to meetings around the five boroughs. A few years ago I built up a geared bike for myself that has a rack so I can attach panniers and carry groceries or do errands more easily. Hands down my favorite bike is the steel, fixed-gear that I designed and brazed last summer (with a ton of help and support from fastboycycles.com). I am 5’5’’, pretty average height, yet even the smallest unisex bike frames are all out of proportion for a woman my size. I designed my frame to accommodate 26’’ wheels – and am experimenting with a more perfect frame size for the growing number of women riding bikes in the US.

What has enabled Transportation Alternatives (TA) to attract 8,000 members?

Our mission is to reclaim NYC streets for the majority of New Yorkers who are walking, taking public transit and, increasingly, riding bikes. Streets and sidewalks make up 80 percent of our public space in the Big Apple. TA’s campaign work helps to connect the dots between the many different voices that want safer, more livable public spaces. The fact that TA has helped to usher in the most unprecedented investment in bicycling in NYC over the past four years has also done a lot to grow our membership.

What is your greatest accomplishment with TA?

Ushering in the community support for the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) expansion of more than 250 miles of bike lanes over the past four years has been an amazing learning experience. That investment in quality infrastructure has paralleled a 109 percent increase in biking during the same period. If you build it, they will come! When I was riding a bike back in 2000, it was rare to run into another cyclist. Now it’s not uncommon to be in a bicycle traffic jam on some of our most popular bike routes.

What are you working on right now?

We will be working hard to reveal the benefits of increased bicycling for NYC small businesses through our Biking Rules Business campaign: bikingrules.org. We are also super excited that the NYC DOT is officially pursuing a public bike share program! This is something we have advocated for for years, and it will be the biggest game-changer for daily bicycle transportation in NYC.

What changes do you envision for NYC in the next five to 10 years?

We will continue to see the build out of the bike lane network, hopefully, with a core network of protected bike lanes that connect the Five Boroughs (aka NYC) on major arteries for bicycle-commuting. I suspect public bike share, combined with more bike lanes, will help increase our bicycle mode share from one percent to the upper teens in the next five to 10 years. And with that jump, NYC will surely mature into one of the most iconic bicycling capitals in the world. If the the last four years are any indication, we are well on our way there.

Originally published in the March/ April 2011 issue of Momentum Magazine and on momentummag.com.

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