Mika Torkkola is the current President of Bike Baton Rouge, although he'll tell you he's not really sure how that happened. He'll also tell you that he's not really sure what he does when he's not riding, or thinking about riding, or thinking about getting other people to ride, or thinking about how to ride to the place with the thing, or... you get the idea.
Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Mika, I arrived in Baton Rouge in 2007 via Texas, having spent most of my life before that in Australia.
Why do you love bicycling?
Originally I loved bicycling because it was easy. It meant I didn't have to get a driver's license, which was hard work that I wasn't interested in doing. I lived in Australia, where riding a bike was pretty simple - but not as simple as catching a bus or train, which was the main reason I never needed a car. I was in for a shock when I moved to Baton Rouge and found that both the bicycling and transit options were pretty awful. When bicycling became hard, I learned other reasons to love it. It's great for the environment and for your health. It's fun, and it's cheap. But I think most importantly I think when you ride a bike instead of driving you remain a part of your community. You move IN your neighbourhood, rather than THROUGH it, watching life happen through a window.
Eventually I wisened up and moved to a part of town where bicycling was easy and things have been pretty great since.
Whether I ride or a drive, I typically will be happy when I get home - but when I'm driving I'm happy the trip is over, and when I'm biking I'm just happy.
Why did you join the Bike Baton Rouge board?
I've been involved in biking in Baton Rouge for several years, mostly in organizing bike rides and events. In late 2015, Bike Baton Rouge as an organization had been inactive for some time, and following some long conversations, several friends and fellow bicyclists agreed to volunteer ourselves as board members of Bike Baton Rouge. Bike advocacy amongst our small group was going to be happening anyway, so it seemed like the logical thing that we would be doing so under the Bike Baton Rouge banner.
What do you see YOUR role as with Bike Baton Rouge? What do you do and what are you good at?
If I were to sum up my role with Bike Baton Rouge into one word it would be ENTHUSIASM. All caps. I like to keep things moving. I like seeing wild, far out ideas become reality. I like committing to an idea before we even know what it is and then watching as we somehow pull it off. I like the idea of crossing the bridge when we get to it, but what I like even more is finding out that there is no bridge and that we have to build one to get across.
What would you consider the greatest challenge to bicycling in Baton Rouge?
The biggest challenge to bicycling in Baton Rouge is us bicyclists ourselves. We can be a miserable bunch. We complain and moan about road conditions and law enforcement and traffic incidents. We rarely celebrate the bicycle, and riding with our friends and the simple joys that a pedal around town can bring. Is it any wonder that people in Baton Rouge thing that bicycling is too dangerous when all they ever hear is about the last person that was hit?
What are you and Bike Baton Rouge doing to tackle that challenge?
While we do, of course, have to talk about the bad things from time to time, we're devoting most of our energy into talking about good things. We want to focus on progress, not on history. The #mybikestory hashtag which we rolled out last week was not only successful amongst bicyclists, it was popular amongst non-bicyclists who saw it as a small window into our world and why we choose to ride all-the-goddamn-time. Sometimes subtle things can make big differences, such as our choice to take the 'Change Lanes to Pass' messaging, which evokes feelings of white-knuckle highway riding, off of our new T-Shirts.
What will bicycling in Baton Rouge look like in 1/5/20 years time?
A year from now, bicycling will be subtly different. We'll talk regularly about the good things about bicycling, such as the new Government Street bike lanes and the rapidly progressing Downtown Greenway. Folks who are new to bicycling will choose to live in or near these areas. Property values will begin to increase, and developers and land owners will begin to take notice what bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure means to their bottom line - and to the quality of life to the people who live near them.
In five years, Baton Rouge will be a rapidly growing bicycling city, and people will talk about how they couldn't even imagine a time when people thought biking in Baton Rouge was hard or scary. Bike lanes and trails will pop up all over town, and Baton Rouge will become an attractive destination for young, active families to move to.
In twenty years all of that, as they say, will be history. We'll have world class bike infrastructure, happier and healthier families, and less pollution. We won't be the only ones. We'll be one of hundreds of world class bike friendly cities in the United States, and the bike advocates of 2035 will be fighting to compete with those cities, asking questions like 'Why doesn't this bike trail have more lanes?', saying things like 'You don't need to have cars on this road,' and (hopefully) still choosing to spread the joy and happiness of riding a bicycle despite these (much smaller) obstacles.
What is does your 'ideal' day of bike riding in Baton Rouge look like?
This is a tough question because my ideal day on a bike is, by it's very nature, entirely unpredictable. What it most likely does contain, however, are several changes of plan, at least one nap, several (very) large meals, stops for liquid refreshments, making friends in unexpected places, attempting to maintain control of my bike while laughing too hard, avoiding sunburn (barely), and finally at the end of the day choosing to take the long route home.
Anything else you'd like to mention?
I tell this to some close friends of mine every now and then, but when I first moved to Baton Rouge I hated it here. I had plans to leave at the first available opportunity. Since becoming involved in bicycling, however - in riding, in advocacy, and just in hanging out with 'bike people' (the best kinds of people), my entire world has changed. Life is good, and it's getting better. There are still moments when I think of those 'dream' bike cities - Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle - and imagine what my life would be like there. The grass will always be greener on the other side, as they say, - but Baton Rouge is my home, and me and my friends helped plant this grass and I'm very, very happy to sit back and watch it grow.