In cities like Philadelphia and New York, the push to get commuters on two wheels instead of four has been underway for quite some time. And Delaware is no exception. The First State has become an integral cog in the pro-cycling push made by nonprofits like Bike DE, where James Wilson is executive director.
As the state’s only registered lobbyist for cycling, Wilson is committed to getting Delawareans out of their cars and onto cost-efficient, eco-friendly bicycles.
He is also a member of the Wilmington Bicycle Advisory Committee, the Newark Bicycle Committee and several other groups that promote daily cycling across the state’s three counties. He has been Bike DE’s executive director since 2011, when he built the Walkable Bikeable Delaware coalition. Recently, the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals named Wilson the 2014 Professional of the Year for the Non-Profit Sector.
Wilson loves to engage with his community and, of course, ride his own bikes (the bike he rides the most only cost him $125). One of his favored First State perks? How close the community is to its government leaders.
“You sometimes see your congressman at your favorite burrito place,” Wilson said.
Here’s how he keeps Delaware rolling towards a car-free future.
How long have you been immersed in biking culture?
I don’t think of myself as a part of a bicycling “culture” in the sense of being connected to other people socially because of a shared interest in bikes anymore than I think of myself as a part of car “culture” because I own a car. I have no more interest in the Tour de France than I do in NASCAR.
But I do like to think of myself as a citizen cyclist.
Why do you think biking is so crucial for Delaware’s transportation system?
Personal vehicle ownership is the second largest household expense. And, in Delaware, 90 percent of all those expenditures leave our local economy. If we could keep some of that money in Delaware instead, that would mean hundreds of millions of dollars of extra income (as well as all the jobs that go with that) for local businesses.
Also: public health, economic development, tourism, lower air pollution, quality of life…
The only two bad things that more bicycling doesn’t do anything to improve are terrorism and male pattern baldness.
What attracted you to Delaware most, in terms of starting your bike initiative?
Well, having the most bicycle-friendly governor in America didn’t hurt.
How is living and working in Delaware different than in other states?
You sometimes see your congressman at your favorite burrito place.
How often do you check your email?
I recently got a smartphone, so more than I used to.
As an aside, is there any chance President Obama and Speaker John Boehner could pass a law that makes selling email software with an automatic “Reply All” feature a federal crime? There are some people who cannot be trusted with this ability because they never internalized Spider Man’s insight about the responsibilities of great power.
What is the most gratifying part of your job?
Helping really smart people who want to make Delaware a better place do their jobs.
When you need to take a break, what are you turning to?
Not so much a “what” as a “who.” Friends.
What’s your design/computer gear (program preference/ones you use the most, Mac or PC)?
What bike do you prefer to ride?
I have two Treks. I more often ride the one I bought used (for $125).
What’s one way in which you believe your day-to-day work is better now than it has been in the past? Is there something you do now (or don’t do) that has made a big difference?
I don’t drive to work.
For thousands of years, philosophers have tried to figure out the secret to achieving human happiness. It turns out it’s simple: bike to work. (Also the side benefits: save money, get healthier, smell the flowers, wave to your neighbors.)