Democracy, roll-with-it-style

Article and photo courtesy of Rachel Walker at

Article and photo courtesy of Rachel Walker at

There’s something liberating about conversations conducted on a bike. Maybe it’s the forward motion. Maybe it’s the immersion in the world around you. Whatever the impetus, words flow and connections are made when two people pedal together.

Add in about 198 more people and a politician, and something even more remarkable happens: Boundaries fall, grievances are aired, compliments are given, and the mechanisms of democracy take hold. That’s been the case in Fort Worth, TX, since 2012, when Mayor Betsy Price launched short bike rides open to the public, or “rolling town halls.”

The first rolling town hall of 2014 took place in early April and attracted about 200 people. Mayor Price led the seven-mile ride through several neighborhoods, listening to residents along the way.

In addition to discussing typical city issues, the group talked about trails, how to make Fort Worth more bike-friendly, and how to motivate residents to adopt healthier lifestyles, according to news reports.

“Getting people to be more active and engaged is a big part of what we do here in Fort Worth, and our rolling town halls help us do both,” said Mayor Price. “It gets people out on their bikes and embracing the active lifestyle that promotes better health and gets them thinking about their community’s needs and how they can be a part of the solution.”

The rolling town halls highlight an initiative to build more bike trails in Fort Worth. That initiative will ask voters on May 10 to approve a bond program to allocate $1.26 million for bicycle infrastructure. This would include funding trails and supporting initiatives in the comprehensive Bike Fort Worth plan, which was approved in 2009.

The plan calls for increasing ridership in Fort Worth, improving bike safety, expanding bike trails and paths and gaining national recognition as a Bicycle Friendly Community by 2015.

During the first year of the rides, Mayor Price led more than 50 outings. In 2013, she switched the rolling town halls to a semi-monthly format and has now led about 100 rides in all. The rides take place between April and October. Not only do residents have the opportunity to voice concerns about city issues, they also get to take place in a community-building event.
The community rides travel at a slow, easy pace, with a city rider bringing up the rear to make sure no one falls behind. At the end, food trucks meet the hungry riders.

“Plus, the truth is,” said Mayor Price, “when you get out of your suit and into your spandex, it’s amazing how much more people will open up to you.”

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