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Q&A: Women Bike PHL Member Renata Cobbs-Fletcher

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Philly bicyclist Renata Cobbs-Fletcher

Renata Cobbs-Fletcher has been biking recreationally all her life, but it wasn’t until graduate school that she decided to take a bike out for her daily commute. “I was concerned about the distance from home, but they suggested I try driving part way,” she said. “That really made biking feasible for me. By shortening the distance I biked, I was able to handle all my morning tasks, like dropping the boys off at school, and then the biking part of my commute seemed more manageable.”

In an interview we’re posting as part of our Member Drive week, Bicycle Coalition policy fellow Susan Dannenberg caught up with Cobbs-Fletcher, a member of Women Bike PHL, to talk cycling.

How did you start biking?

I have been biking all my life recreationally. When my sons were growing up, it was a great family activity. We would go out and explore the trails on weekends. But I never thought that I’d be one of those people who bikes in the city. I worried about my friends who did. It seemed horribly dangerous.

What changed?

When I was in graduate school, my colleagues suggested I try biking to school. The head of our department was a bike commuter and an inspiration. I was concerned about the distance from home, but they suggested I try driving part way. That really made biking feasible for me. By shortening the distance I biked, I was able to handle all my morning tasks, like dropping the boys off at school, and then the biking part of my commute seemed more manageable.

How did you make the transition from being strictly a recreational trail rider to riding for transportation?

Initially I had some concerns, mainly regarding safety and how to arrive at work without looking disheveled. It really helped that I had a supportive work environment. Our building has showers available and a number of co-workers who bike to work.

So why bike to work?

I find biking to be really therapeutic. I love the sights and sounds you experience on a bike, that you just aren’t aware of in a car. I find it very invigorating yet relaxing at the same time. It gives me time to think. I need that. Also, being able to incorporate exercise into my daily routine was a big motivator.

So you like the health benefits. 

Yes, there are a multitude of health benefits, both physical and mental. If I don’t bike for a few days I feel it. When I am biking, my senses are attuned in a different way than when driving. My interactions with people are different. I’m dealing with them face to face. It’s all better on a bike.

My commute is multi-modal. I drop my boys off at their respective schools and then I park on MLK and ride in from there. As a working mom, it works for me and it saves me money, too. I save $10 for parking plus a little bit of gas by not driving all the way downtown.

You mentioned that you juggle a number of tasks in the morning. I think that is an issue for many women. How did you work that out?

My commute is multi-modal. I drop my boys off at their respective schools and then I park on MLK and ride in from there. As a working mom, it works for me and it saves me money, too. I save $10 for parking plus a little bit of gas by not driving all the way downtown.

So for the women out there who are considering getting started biking to work this spring, can you share how you prepared to start commuting?

I think the turning point for me was when I realized that I don’t have to bike all the way from home. I can drive partway and bike the rest. Then, when I started working at the Friends Center I found myself in an environment very supportive of bike commuting. This really kept me motivated. The people supportive and the building provides showers, which is really great during hot Philadelphia summers.

Also, I didn’t have to buy a bike. I had a hybrid in the basement, from family recreational biking. I took it to my local bike store for a tune up. They were very supportive. When I started looking at different routes, parking on MLK allowed me to fit in a bike ride twice a day.

What were your concerns starting out and how did you overcome them?

I think the usual: clothes, hair and looking disheveled when I arrive at work. I overcame these concerns by doing my research. I asked friends and read magazines. Now I have a wardrobe that can handle any conditions and my co-workers remark on the fact that I ride in any weather. A lot of it is being prepared. My research really paid off, once I figured it out, biking became routine, not daunting.

What about safety concerns. You mentioned you once thought commuting was too dangerous.

First of all, it’s gotten so much easier, with the number of bike lanes multiplying there are good options, so I no longer feel that it is high risk. I pick my route carefully to take advantage of the city’s bicycle infrastructure and lower stress streets.

There are some places where you need to be vigilant, like the Martin Luther King Bridge, where bikes have to share a narrow, crumbling sidewalk with other bikes and joggers. Another spot is where MLK and Spring Garden split, but when I commute there are usually so many people out there, I feel like I’m not alone.

Topics: Biking in Philly, Featured

One comment on “Q&A: Women Bike PHL Member Renata Cobbs-Fletcher

  1. Nina

    I have a couple of questions for Renata.
    I love Renata’s idea of driving part way to work and biking the rest of the way. I would be interested in doing this. Where do you park on MLK? Is it free? Can you leave your car there all day?
    I appreciate any information that you could give me.
    Thank you.
    Nina

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