What is aspiration? People often say, “I want my kids to have what I didn’t have.” And others who are more honest will state, “I want something better.”
I am the product of the first. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea in the early 1970’s. A military dictatorship made the future seem untenable for most university-educated Koreans. I chose my parents well. They instilled in me the value of work, education, culture, the arts, languages. Consequently, my choice of a career took me around the world. In banking, I have seen aspiration expressed as both greed and as benevolence. It is truly a global phenomenon.
I left London for love. I married my husband in Sydney 2004 and we have two young children with brilliant accents. I am also an Australian citizen. But I will be honest. I believe Sydney can be better. How? By adoption of the bicycle as a solution for life. Why? We are now one of the most obese countries in the world. Congestion in our cities is world-class. Climate change has resulted in one of the hottest summers on record.
I believe that the destruction of the College Street Cycleway in 2015 was the beginning of the decline in Sydney for bicycling. The Baird government’s institution of fines, beyond the scope of reality for bicyclists in 2016, further damaged its growth.
The College Street Cycleways is gone but not forgotten.
In 2016, I met Dr. Steven Fleming in Newcastle. We met to discuss our ideas about cycling and found that we were contemporaries. His perspective is the macro – bicycle-oriented architecture, while my approach is micro – how to live a bicycle lifestyle via fashion, food, family and fun. As a result of these conversations, he told me about CycleSpace Amsterdam’s Global Bicycle Mayor Programme.
In Amsterdam, the NGO CycleSpace launched the selection process for the Bicycle Mayor of Amsterdam in 2016. It was based on the concept of the Night Mayor in Amsterdam whose role is to nurture and protect the city’s expanding night economy. Anna Luten was selected as the Bicycle Mayor of Amsterdam after a lengthy selection process.
Given the dire state of cycling in Sydney, Dr. Fleming suggested that I consider taking on the role. As a result of my work as the founder of the lifestyle brand Velo-a-Porter, he suggested that the broad network of contacts I had accumulated would help to exert influence and create change. He proposed endorsement by key bicycling influencers in Sydney and to set up a selection process for the next Bicycle Mayor. What sets the Bicycle Mayor apart from the roles held by elected officials is its independence and advisory role.
Mike Tomalaris of SBS Television, the Australian face of the Tour de France and Cell Bikes, the bicycle retailer, are my supporters. Mike has been a terrific proponent of bicycling for every day. Despite being a “roadie,” he came with me for a #bikeshopeat on his first e-bike ride. We had coffee and did a bit of shopping in the city. I had him back in the studio in no time. He was an instant convert to the utility of the e-bike.
An on-the-spot endorsement of e-bikes!
Cell Bikes is a bicycle retailer who took on an advocacy role in 2016. Dave Musgrove, Brand/Product Manager at Cell Bikes, met with then-Premier Mike Baird. I had lunch with Dave after his meeting with Mr. Baird. We decided to invite Mr. Baird for a #bikeshopeat. We would provide him with an e-bike and an escort to ride together from Manly to his office in Martin Place. Dave bicycle-delivered my hand-written invitation to his office. I spoke with a member of his team who confirmed that he had seen the invitation but refused to progress our plan stating that “The Premier has already given Mr. Musgrove so much of his time.” And also cited security and safety concerns. The irony of this last remark was priceless.
I am fortunate to know most of the key players in bicycle advocacy and the bicycle industry. What I propose is that we band together to make change happen. My expertise is in working with key stakeholders to agree a path forward. It is a result of my time working with investment banks to create risk solutions for business. Being a successful agent of change requires that key stakeholders adopt and progress solutions because they see the value in their adherence.
Consequently, my plans as Bicycle Mayor of Sydney are the following:
- Influence the NSW government to recognise bicycling as a solution and to encourage its growth by working with bicycle organisations to create change.
- Act as positive resource in the media to discuss the benefits of bicycling
- Organise and publicise a series of knowledge-sharing-events (eg. Bike Buses) to encourage more people to bicycle instead of drive in Greater Sydney.
People come in all shapes, sizes and opinions. People go fast or slow on bikes. They commute, road bike, mountain bike, cargo bike, ebike. Some even take their children. There are so many options. There are those who prefer cycleways and those who manage on the roads despite the obstacles. Instead of squabbling over ancillary issues, and there are many, we need to unite to educate people, specifically those who represent us in government, about the value of the bicycle in society – economic, social, health, . Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to make this change. In the Netherlands, many factors contributed to the change from a car-based society in the 1970’s to a bicycle-based society.
Also, there is too much negative news about bicycling in the press and media. The dangers, the things that can go wrong, the worst in people – drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, police continue to dissuade people from bicycling. As a counter-balance, we need to show the value that cycling offers and create positive news stories.There are many others who are keen to comment on a cyclists’ death. I will not be one of them. Instead, we will make our own positive news stories. There are so many ways.
One of these is by holding a series of events in Greater Sydney. Building upon Fiona Campbell’s Bike Buses, I plan to re-institute group commuter rides. They will be held in cooperation with bicycle retailers around Greater Sydney and with people who have knowledge of their local areas. It will be an opportunity to introduce more people to the idea of riding for utility, trying a better quality bike which enhances the experience and building community. I have a few other ideas and welcome more from you.
We are all anticipating the new cycleway designs of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to encourage more bicycling instead of driving.
As the Bicycle Mayor of Sydney, I am one person. I cannot achieve much without working with others. If you cycle, you have knowledge that can be shared with others. If you are interested in cycling, there are many who would like to help you start to ride. My larger goal is to create networks and build communities with the bicycle as the nexus.
While the Bicycle Mayor of Sydney holds independence pivotal to its success, the office requires sponsorship to progress. If you would like to help make Sydney better, please consider sponsoring the launch event being held Wednesday, 29 March 2017 at Red Lantern on Riley Street, Darlinghurst. Alternatively, for longer term sponsorship and other forms of support, please contact me via this blog or via email: email@example.com.
Sarah H. Imm