Cyclist of the Month: Kent Peterson

Car free since 1987, Kent Peterson proselytizes the consequences of personal choice and false perceptions as the Age of Cheap Oil comes to an end.

Age: 47
Occupation: Commuting Program Director, Bicycle Alliance of Washington
Hometown: Cloquet, MN
Alma Mater: Philosophy, University of Minnesota
Commute Distance: 35 miles round trip (Issaquah to downtown Seattle)
Describe your role at the Bike Alliance.
First, I administer the Bike Buddy Program. I also work one-on-one with commuters looking for help with routes and resources, like maps. Every other Thursday, I present a Bike Commute Workshop – a brown bag series. For example, one workshop focused on how to select a new bike. The seminar series runs April through June.

I also deal with Metro bike issues: lockers and lost bikes. Believe it or not, several hundred bikes are left on Metro buses each year. Half the bikes are eventually reunited with their owners; the other 50% are donated to organizations like Bike Works, churches, and various nonprofits.

Didn’t the Bike Buddy Program lose funding for awhile?
Bike Buddy was not fully funded in 2005, but funding was restored by King County Metro in 2006.

How did you land such a great biking job?
I worked at Sammamish Valley Cycle in Redmond when I heard about the Bike Alliance looking for someone to help with Metro. So I called my friend Linda Schwartz [former Commuting Program Director] to inquire; she explained that she was leaving and insisted I come interview. It was a strange coincidence.

How do you work with Cascade?
One of my duties is meeting with various Commute Trip Reduction Coordinators. Last week, I met with Chris Cameron, who does similar work. Chris’ work is top down; he works with organizations like Group Health on more system-related programs. My work is more grassroots, one-on-one.

Louise [McGrody] may also work with Cascade on certain trail issues and we may work together on Safe Routes to Schools.

Any new programs?
In Portland, Jeff Bernards developed a Get Lit program to get lights to utilitarian cyclists. I’m trying to secure funding for a similar program in Washington State, starting in King County.

You’re not just a utilitarian cyclist though.
I’ve been a member of the Seattle International Randonneurs since 1999. Many new SIRs find the organization through my site, SIR rotates ride leaders and I design many rides – including the Mountain Unpopulaire (aka, the Issaquah 100k). Most 100k SIR routes encourage people to join; we designed a post-[SIR] season ride to be the most challenging 100k. The route starts up Zoo Hill, which has 15% grades in places.

How has cycling shaped your lifestyle?
At 16, when most people got into cars, I got into bikes. I bought my first ten-speed, then did some USAC racing in college. When I got married, my wife and I evaluated our priorities; we like riding and dislike driving, so spending money on cars just didn’t make sense.

Whenever we change jobs, we map out our job locations to determine how to bike everywhere. We make conscious decisions to live car-less. It helps that my effective cycling radius has increased to about 20 miles over time. Christine bikes too, but she prefers to walk and ride the bus.

While I was a full-time bike mechanic, Christine was a stay-at-home mom. When our kids got to high school, she decided to return to work, but she didn’t know what to do, having been out of the work force. Coincidentally, she’s now a “shopper” for; her job is to walk the aisles and shop for online buyers.

The consequences of our decisions are often big policy decisions, but people would not build McMansions if the demand did not exist. Our transit problems are a result of personal choices. We choose our lifestyle.

What services do you consider essential?
We look for the grocery store, school and library; and then doctors/dentists office, to be within walking distance. Of course, mass transit is also key; we would not live anywhere without transit.

How can others learn from your car free experience?
As individuals, we must make intelligent decisions. If you don’t like your commute, you may have to make life changes, like moving, which we did when moving from the country to downtown Issaquah…because there’s a central core. People who live in suburbia cannot live car free because services are so dispersed.

I recognize that I’m not mainstream. I have friends who are “in your face” car free. We’re not that way. Our kids don’t have cars, and neither has clamored to get a drivers license yet.

Most parents drive their kids to school because they perceive it as safer. SUV sales are driven by safety perceptions. But one of the major dangers to kids is getting hit by a car. It’s a cycle that becomes like an Arms War. The real dangers are often not obvious to us, partially because what the media focuses on.

I don’t argue with people who don’t want to commute in the rain. Programs like the Group Health Commute Challenge get people to try something new; change does not have to be all or nothing. I advocate, but try not to preach. Despite that it is practically my job, I still like riding my bike.

Kent lives with his wife Christine in Issaquah. Their two boys, Eric (17) and Peter (20) do not have driver’s licenses.

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