On any given workday, Kent Epperson can be seen hauling several hundred pounds of equipment around town with an extra long, bright orange cargo bike. As the director of Traffic Solutions, Epperson views the bike as both a tangible contribution to the organization’s mission and a way to spread their message.
Under the broader scope of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), Traffic Solutions promotes sustainable transportation to help reduce congestion and pollution, and to improve quality of life in the area. The organization works with businesses to develop ride-share programs, assists residents in finding carpool partners, and organizes events promoting sustainable transportation throughout the year.
Traffic Solution’s biggest campaign, CycleMAYnia, is a month-long celebration of all things biking. In the past, the 30-plus events during the month of May required the staff to drive all over town, setting up booths and music equipment, tables and handouts. But that all changed about 18 months ago.
“As CycleMAYnia approached, I was dreading the thought of us schlepping our stuff around by car while everyone else was enjoying being out on a bike,” said Epperson. “I thought it would be great if we could do these events car-free, as much as possible.” As a longtime cyclist, and daily bike commuter, he saw the potential to attend the events by bike. However, moving all of the necessary equipment still presented a challenge. “We’ve got tables, canopies, chairs, pamphlets, bike maps. All together, I imagine it’s close to 1,000 pounds.”
The Traffic Solutions staff decided to invest in a long-tail cargo bike capable of handling heavy loads. After retrofitting an old pedicab trailer, reupholstering, and adding some panels and flags for advertising, they had a bike system up to the task. “We really wanted the events to be sustainable, to feel consistent, so we are not saying one thing and then doing another.”
The bike has now covered thousands of miles, successfully supported two rounds of CylceMAYnia, and is available for staff members to use throughout the year. Epperson rides it most frequently, attending meetings from Goleta to downtown Santa Barbara, and hitching the trailer on when he needs to move equipment. Still, he takes a measured approach, “If I’m really rushing and covering longer distances then I’ll drive.”
Program Coordinator Lori La Riva says this is in keeping with their flexible attitude. “We ask what people’s commute looks like and try to help them find solutions that will work for them.” Recognizing that people’s lifestyles and commitments might make daily bike commuting too difficult, Traffic Solutions advocates for small changes. “If someone can bike once a week, or carpool once a week, and address their errands or other commitments the other four days, that’s still a 20 percent change.”
La Riva finds the cargo bike a bit too large for her smaller frame, but she still manages to use a mix of transportation options to commute, including the bus, carpooling, and biking. “I will often bring my bike on the bus on the way to work, then ride home at the end of the day. It’s a really calm and pleasant ride in the evening and takes the same amount of time as the return bus would.”
Biking part of the time, or part of the way, can substantially reduce environmental impacts, but not everyone feels comfortable riding. Said Epperson, “The single biggest barrier to biking here is the perception around safety. The far majority of people I talk with say they would like to bike more but they don’t feel safe riding in traffic.”
The Traffic Solutions team addresses these concerns by publishing maps with alternative routes, partnering with SBBike to provide safety education, and using the cargo bike to pull the CycleMAYnia Boom Boom (a unique sound system on wheels) on group rides — giving newer cyclists the chance to gain experience and confidence in a fun atmosphere.
The cargo bike has increased Traffic Solution’s presence around town, bringing better brand recognition and a greater awareness of the services the group offers. Ultimately, Epperson wants the bike to act as a catalyst for further change, “I hope that it will inspire people to push the envelope a little bit in terms of being car-free.”