Bicycle advocacy is personal to Kevin Whited. Between bicycle racing and going to get groceries, he has logged thousands of miles on his bike over the past 15 years. From his bicycle seat, he has seen firsthand the need to educate drivers and cyclists on how to share the road and get along.
After living and riding in cities like Portland, Atlanta, and Chicago, Whited settled in Indianapolis, where he took over the reigns as executive director of INDYCOG, the city’s bicycle advocacy group. In the four years since, INDYCOG has led the charge for improving bicycle infrastructure in Indianapolis, and continues to serve as a common ground for cyclists of all types to gather and ride.
Besides the obvious environmental and health benefits of riding, why do you think more people should get on a bike?
I think riding a bike naturally encourages people to be more engaged with their community. When you’re out on your bike, you see the blighted houses and you see the progress happening around the city. I think you miss so much driving in a car. You’re going too fast to really see what’s happening in your community. I’ve come to see cycling as an engine for public change that way.
What has been your proudest moment so far as director of INDYCOG?
Wow, there’s so many of them. I would honestly say when the first Ride Guide came out. That was the first thing I could really hold in my hand and say, “We did this.”
For those few who might not know about it, tell us about the Indy Ride Guide. What’s new about it this time?
The Ride Guide is a map that uses an algorithm to rate streets around Indianapolis on how bicycle-friendly they are. And that’s a really unique aspect of the map. A lot of other bike maps just show bike lanes and trails, but ours helps people get around the streets, too. Which is important given Indy’s limited bike infrastructure right now. It’s improving, but bike lanes don’t go everywhere, and they never will. Having that friendliness measure helps people choose better streets to bike on is important.
On this new version of the map, we partnered with IndyGo to show how cycling and public transit can work together here in town. The new Ride Guide marks where bus routes intersect with trails and some of the most bike-friendly streets here in Indy so they can plan Bike-and-Bus trips.
Especially as a smaller, newer organization, getting your message out can be a challenge. What methods do you use to spread the word of what INDYCOG is working on and accomplishing?
Social media is huge for us because it’s cheap and relatively easy. It’s the new grassroots. We have a decent sized following, and they are constantly sharing our messages with their followers.
And social media has led to earned media just by default. Recently, the city installed new infrared cameras around town that see cyclists at stoplights and trigger the light to turn green for them. We tweeted about how excited we are to have those here in Indy, and suddenly, we had two or three media outlets asking us for quotes about them.
There are also secondary stories about cycling around town, just because cycling is a hot topic right now. For example, there was story about bike polo recently. Indy is one of the only cities in the country with official, dedicated bike polo courts. INDYCOG didn’t have anything to do with that other than helping promote the growth of the sport here in town. But, the more people are talking about bikes here, the better it is for us. We celebrate cycling, so if the media is celebrating cycling here, our message is getting out—even if we’re not a part of it.
INDYCOG does a lot with other organizations around town, for example partnering with IndyGo on the latest version of the Indy Bike Map. How do you cultivate those partnerships and how important do you feel these partnerships are to INDYCOG’s success?
Cultivation sometimes takes time, but it’s worth it. It’s probably the most important thing we do. For us it’s imperative, especially since we’re a younger organization. We’ve partnered with larger, more established nonprofits to help boost our credibility and raise support and our own public profile. But you can’t force the partnership opportunities. You have to be cautious of mission drift, of course. But the great thing about cycling is there are a lot of ways cycling can be involved in different events.
And it’s just enjoyable, getting to know people from other nonprofits on a personal level. They’re all engaged, interesting people. I would want to be friends with them even without INDYCOG.
How does working for INDYCOG inspire you in your personal life?
I’ve always been relatively social engaged anyway, and since I’m doing this, it kind of inspires me to get involved with other nonprofits. I’m already talking with them in meetings and hearing about the things they’re doing. I’m naturally like, “Oh, I want to do that!” and I volunteer to help. I’ve always planted trees with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and last year, we partnered with them to do a bike-based tree planting. We had a route where trees needed planted, and rode from spot to spot to do that.
How can the community best help INDYCOG to succeed?
Ride a bike. And ride it correctly. If you’re in a car, be a good driver and be friendly to cyclists. And more directly with INDYCOG, we tweet driver and cycling safety messages all the time. Engaging us on social media, sharing our message. That’s huge. And then ideally, supporting INDYCOG financially through donating and membership. The more funding we get, the more we can accomplish for cycling in Indianapolis.