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Face Time: Chamberlain is big wheel among Spokane cyclists

Barb Chamberlain doesn’t balk at riding her bike to work in her professional clothes – even when she’s wearing a skirt. (Jesse Tinsley)
Barb Chamberlain doesn’t balk at riding her bike to work in her professional clothes – even when she’s wearing a skirt. (Jesse Tinsley)

Barb Chamberlain has worn a lot of hats besides her bike helmet over the years.

The 48-year-old director of communications and public affairs at WSU Spokane has been an Idaho state legislator, a teacher and a business owner, and served on all sorts of community-action committees, civic panels and advisory boards.

But in Spokane bicycling circles she is perhaps best known for being the lead organizer of this city’s Bike to Work Week/Month each May, now known as Spokane Bikes (www.spokanebikes.net). Well, that and the fact she sometimes seems to be sending out electronic messages 24/7.

Q. Why change the name of the event?

A. Biking to work is only one part of biking. We had people saying “Well, I bike for other reasons – those don’t count?” And we had started expanding and evolving the last two years, saying “Bike to everything.”

Q. How did you become a bicycle commuter?

A. The city put a bike lane in front of my house.

Q. How would you assess where Spokane stands right now as a place for biking?

A. Decent and improving.

Q. What would you say to those who hate bicyclists?

A. I would point out that people in cars aren’t all nice. For every story about “that jerk on a bike” I could respond with a story about “that driver who didn’t look both ways before turning.”

If we could just recognize it’s about the people and not about how many wheels their form of transportation has, we’d get along better.

Q. What else?

A. There’s a perception that people who ride bikes don’t pay for roads. Those who say that do not understand tax reality.

Q. What role does urban planning play?

A. Most Americans believe in the right to choose how we’re going to do things. Well, there are all these ways that transportation infrastructure constrains your choices and that should really piss people off.

Q. So what is it with you and social media?

A. (Laughs.) I have always tried to look ahead at where communication is going. I am an early tech adopter. And I like to talk and connect with people.

Q. What do you think keeps people from riding bikes?

A. I think there’s some fear. They think drivers and traffic are worse than they really are. As I’ve said, most of my interactions are positive – nice people who wave and smile or try to let me in when they shouldn’t.

Q. What else?

A. Clothing barriers for women in particular. Helmet hair.

Q. How do you think Spokane is going to be as a bike town 10 years from now?

A. I think it will be awesome. Now it’s incumbent on elected officials and staff in all the jurisdictions to keep up that momentum. They can’t say “OK, we put in a few bike lanes, we’re done now.”



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