Chris Townley is one of the founders of the Indiana Bicycle Coalition and is a regional planning student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
He works with the Indiana County Office of Development and Planning, is a member of the Indiana Borough Planning commission's walking and bicycling subcommittee, and organizes monthly "Critical Mass" bike rides through town to raise awareness of bicycling safety.
He recently sat down with staffer Heather Roth to discuss bicycling and the new coalition.
Question: What is the Indiana Bicycle Coalition about?
Answer: It's mainly a group to try to gather people together to support bicycling, to encourage people to do it more and also to help interface with local government bodies … to help get things … done. A lot of times people -- it happens with any cause -- people when they're separated feel like no one else cares about the things that they care about.
Question: When was it started, and by whom?
Answer: It just started in September, it's just getting going, we're trying to gain membership. … Right now it's just a small core group, about five people, who are helping organize and get it going. (I am) co-founder with Elizabeth Thomas, my fiancee, and a friend of ours, Gary Prunty.
Question: How did it get started?
Answer: I've ridden bikes a long time but I got (Thomas) started and we've been trying to do that a lot more than use the car, and she had an altercation or two with a driver. So we got the idea of organizing the Critical Mass (bike) rides (in which bicyclists ride together through town), but we wanted to do more than just that so we started this group as well to try to get changes made and advocate for bicycles.
Question: What kind of changes are you thinking of?
Answer: Indiana's a pretty bicycling- and walking-friendly place already. The biggest thing we're going to be focusing on is education: educating bicyclists and drivers about their rights and responsibilities. (For example), the League of American bicyclists, which is a national organization that (we) are associated with, has certified instructors and we want to bring them out to teach classes, to teach the rules of the road and proper etiquette. … The IUP police force said they would be willing to teach a class potentially on the same topic.
… One of our goals is to get more bicycling parking in commercial areas, particularly downtown. (And) something I would like to do, it's going to be more difficult, but some of the traffic signals -- you'll sit at them on a bicycle but they'll never change, but if you run the light you'll still get ticketed.
You can put (more sensitive vehicle triggers) in the ground. … Like the pedestrians have a push button, you can do the same thing for bicyclists in a space that's easy to reach. They'll still have to go to the side of the road obviously but (it would be) somewhere they can reach it. (The problem has) been solved, it's just a matter of implementing (solutions).
… There is really no one big thing (I want to change). The majority of time I have no problem with drivers, they're respectful, they don't want to run you over. It's the occasional, unfortunately usually younger person, that yells at you out the car window.
… Obviously I would like bike lanes or protected cycling infrastructure but we're in a small town, that might not be feasible.
Question: How would any of these changes be funded?
Answer: We would apply for grants and things like that. That wouldn't be able to be funded through local funding. … Most of the membership fees (ranging from $25 to $300) will just be to support the organization so we can do other things.
Question: You've talked about education being a goal. What kind of things do you want people to know?
Answer: For motorists the biggest thing I want them to know is there's a 4-foot passing law in Pennsylvania. They're supposed to give bicycles four feet between them and the car when passing and if it's not safe to pass they're supposed to wait.
I guess for bicyclists, the biggest safety hazard that they pose when they don't follow the rules of the road is just coming out into the road, not being predictable. That's the most important thing a cyclist can do is be predicable so a car can assume what they're going to do.
Question: Why is bicycling important to you?
Answer: I think it's a good alternative (to driving). I like people to have the option to be able to travel whichever method they want. … I don't hate cars, I own one. ... The way Indiana developed it was always walk-able, (but now) we've been moving away from that and I think that's a mistake.
Question: How did you get into biking?
Answer: I've always ridden a bike, I grew up in a shore town in New Jersey, so I pretty much rode a bike everywhere until I got a drivers' license and it kind of fell off. Actually, I started riding a lot more when I came back to school because I had a car and my fiancee had a car, so we sold mine and we kept one, so I actually started commuting in New Jersey. That was harrowing. ... I've always enjoyed it, and being here gave me an opportunity to be able to do it easier. There are a lot less obstacles to overcome.
Question: What events do you have coming up?
Answer: In November, I think it was, we did a tuneup in the Oak Grove to encourage people to come out and ride. … we're going to try and keep doing that. Basically we just do simple repairs if you need air in your tires or gears adjusted, things like that. … We'll probably do it in March. Getting volunteers is the question.
Question: When is the next Critical Mass ride?
Answer: In March we're hoping it will be nice and warmer. (They are) the last Friday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at the Indiana Schwinn (36 S. Fifth St.). … We take the whole lane. If you feel like you're a less experienced rider stay in the middle of the pack.
One thing, there's a big disparity in biking between the number of men who ride and the number of women who ride. (We want to) encourage women to come out and join us. There are a good number of women who come to Critical Mass and who come on bike rides. … It's not at all a men's club or anything like that.
Question: Are you looking for members, and how should someone get information?
Answer: We need everyone we can get. We're also looking for people who would be interested in leadership positions on the board. (For information visit) www.indianabicyclecoalition.com. We're also on Facebook at facebook.com/IndianaBicycleCoalition. Our next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Commonplace Coffeehouse (1176 Grant St., Indiana).
EDITOR'S NOTE: Do you know someone who would be a great subject for the Monday Q&A? If so, please call Jason Levan at (724) 465-5555, ext. 270.
Chris Townley, at a glance...
Job: Student planner at the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development
Where I grew up: New Jersey
Hobbies: Bicycling, photography, hiking, outdoors stuff
Favorite food: Don’t have one
Food I refuse to eat: Most vegetables
Favorite movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”
Last book I read: “Straphanger,” by Taras Grescoe
Favorite way to spend a day: Just being outside, not having work to do
Pet peeve: People that say they’ll do something but don’t do it
Life goal: Just be good at whatever I do