Meet the Board - Part 1 - Mark Martin

With our new website and memberships launching, we thought we'd introduce Bike Baton Rouge's new (and old) board members who are currently behind the wheel (er, handlebars) of this organization. We're starting this weekly series with the man himself, the godfather of Bike Baton Rouge, outgoing Bike Baton Rouge president and founder of the organization - Mark Martin.

Who are you and where are you from?

I am Mark E. Martin. I was born and raised in Florida a long time ago.

Why do you love bicycling?

As if there were a short answer to that . . . believe it or not, the main reason I love bicycling is the peace and joy it brings me. There are lots of other reasons but that’s the fundamental one.

Why did you join the Bike Baton Rouge board? How long have you served (as a board member or as a volunteer)?

I started what is now Bike Baton Rouge in 2006 with five others. I served as chair-president for a number of years and have been on the board the entire ten years. 

What do you see YOUR role as with Bike Baton Rouge? What do you do and what are you good at?

I tend to see problems and work to resolve them, that’s why I started Bike Baton Rouge. I’m good at talking to people, gathering information, and disseminating it to those who could use the information to move creation of safer streets forward on all levels. I’m also handy with lots of low-level computer applications used to create documents, visuals, and databases.

What would you consider the greatest challenge to bicycling in Baton Rouge?

Wow . . . well . . . primarily a lack of appropriate bicycle-specific infrastructure. Without the infrastructure the city has, in my opinion, nearly reached the peak of ridership, which is largely young males, also known as “riders of choice,” and those who have no alternative, also known as “riders of necessity.” Appropriate, well-constructed, and thoughtfully located bicycle infrastructure will provide a safer environment for riding. That in turn will attract a much wider and larger ridership comprised of those who are currently uncomfortable riding on the street without bicycle-specific infrastructure.

What are you and Bike Baton Rouge doing to tackle that challenge?

We’ve been deeply involved in the governmental agencies that are responsible for creating infrastructure, amending laws, and encouraging others to ride. We’ve been effective in moving bicycling, walking, and sustainable transportation into the mainstream of conversations with these agencies. That, in turn, has brought a greater understanding of the issues to those who were unaware.

What will bicycling in Baton Rouge look like in 1/5/20 years’ time?

My crystal ball is out for polishing but, if I had to predict the future, I’d say a great deal depends on three things: 1) support from political and business leaders; 2) continued funding for projects, and; 3) changes in the way bicycling is seen by those who build infrastructure. We have a mayoral election coming up this fall which will be crucial to continuing forward movement on infrastructure. Funding is tight now and will probably be tighter in the future. Attrition, a very slow process at best, will probably have the greatest effect on the engineers and builders though political support/pressure is a factor.

At the same time, I believe more and more people will want to ride. Demographics will potentially be a major force. We’re already seeing the effects of Baby Boomers aging out, part of which is a desire to live in dense urban settings without the need for daily driving. At the other end of the spectrum, Millennials have a lowest motor vehicle ownership and driver’s license holding levels in fifty years. Both of these forces will, I believe, create a desire for better bicycling infrastructure.

What does your ideal day of bike riding in Baton Rouge look like?

An ideal day of riding would include dry, cool, sunny weather with the least interaction with motor vehicles possible. Throw in a gathering of bike people, some good food, a little beer, and maybe a fire in the backyard pit . . . heaven.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

Ride yer bike!

Bike Baton Rouge Board Members (Left to Right) Claire Pittman, Samantha Morgan, Alaric 'Ric' Haag, Kellen Gilbert, Mika Torkkola and Doug Moore (Photograph by Irene Kato)

Bike Baton Rouge Board Members (Left to Right) Claire Pittman, Samantha Morgan, Alaric 'Ric' Haag, Kellen Gilbert, Mika Torkkola and Doug Moore
(Photograph by Irene Kato)

A brief history of "Yeah, Bike!"

The first "YEAH BIKE" stencil

Editor's Note : Our Annual Mike Bitton Awards are this evening, and in tribute to all those who've worked to make Baton Rouge a better place to ride, former Baton Rouge resident, bike advocate and all round AWESOME DUDE Moshe Cohen kindly agreed to briefly tell us the history of the uniquely Baton Rougeian 'Yeah, Bike!'...

The current generation of Critical Mass Baton Rouge started up in 2005.  At the Hill Farm Community Organic Garden on the LSU campus, rows of strawberries, tomatoes, and mustard greens were usually lined with bikes, as well.  Weekly community gardening days spurred ad hoc debates on how to spread the love of cycling.

Unlike the mountain and road biking communities, urban cycling wasn’t so popular in Baton Rouge, and so it wasn’t so easy to spot new riders to attract to Critical Mass each month.  In fact there were so few that when this author passed another cyclist, he would shout in solidarity: "Yeah, bike!"  This became a catch phrase amongst those at the garden, who would shout it in call-and-response when anyone else would arrive.  This was an informal enough tool to cement this group of friends as they began to go on various biking adventures together.

This was also a useful way to signal to new friends that they were welcome to join the rides.  Someone carved a “YEAH BIKE” stencil into a drum head, and rides would begin with the spray painting of clothes, bags, and patches.  These were doled out to anyone who wanted them, in an effort to prove that the movement was truly for the masses.

Excerpted from "Building a biking community with Critical Mass Baton Rouge" from the book "Shift Happens: Critical Mass at 20" -- available for purchase here.

About the author:  Moshe Cohen lived in Baton Rouge and attended LSU from 2004 through 2010.