Words by Violet Ravotti || Images by Howard Draper
Howard Draper is the founder of Bike Denton, a news source that discusses cycling in Denton. Established in 2007, they write about topics regarding bicycle advocacy and racing. Draper was compelled to initiate this in our community after a coworker riding her bike on Mingo Street in Denton survived a hit-and-run impact.
35 Denton is a green, walkable 3-day festival and we strongly encourage the use of bicycles over the festival weekend (and just in general, y’all). There will be plenty of bike racks within the festival footprint and all over downtown. Staff writer, Violet Ravotti sat down with Draper to discuss Bike Denton in more detail. Keep reading for more..
VIOLET RAVOTTI: What was the mission you strive to accomplish with Bike Denton?
Howard Draper: Bike Denton is just a voice for discussing biking and walking in Denton. Except for a couple of casual group rides, I intentionally avoided running my own events because my focus (like bikeportland.org) was on coverage and awareness; ideally the things that get people talking. I added the stolen-bike and job listings because it seemed like an easy way to help people.
What actions did you take to pivot forward the momentum of Bike Denton?
I wrote some articles after polling the Denton Police Department for crash data, since it seemed like there were trends in the data that showed increased crash frequency along certain routes. At that time, the Denton Record Chronicle wasn’t given biking/walking crash coverage beyond an occasional blotter entry, so there was a feeling that if you weren’t driving a car when you crashed, it wasn’t news. On that note, Lt. Tom Woods (now retired) of the Denton PD was a big help in my dialogues with the police department. He was perhaps the most outspoken and consistent city staff champion for biking and walking over the years I covered things. In fact, he encouraged the public to file more reports due to crashes and harassment, because almost all incidents related to bicycling are under-reported.
What are you currently working on to help the biking community?
Since I moved to Oregon two years ago, my life hasn’t included any overt biking and walking, writing. I still ride more than ever, but my focus has changed quite a bit, and BikePortland.org does a great job of covering biking and walking topics.
What encourages your passion for biking?
Riding bikes seems like a simple, joyful, thing that should be really easy to do. It’s good for the health of a city. It makes places better. It makes people happy. I give feedback to Portland city staff about signal timing, since they thrive on feedback, and that’s been a fun and productive thing. I spend a lot of time on outdoor adventures as possible — family hikes, mountain biking, hiking, etc. I do some pointing at maps, dreaming up explorations, and then getting out there and trying a few of them every year.
What are some critical things Denton really needs to accelerate the biking movement forward?
I’m a couple years out of the loop since I moved to Oregon, but when I left, the idea of improving biking and walking had support of people who lived in Denton, support of city council people, but we lacked the crucial 3rd ingredient – internal champions inside the city. Lt. Tom Woods aside, we just didn’t have enough vocal support inside city staff, especially in the engineering department. Things were marginally better just before I moved, but I couldn’t detect any real support at city staff management levels.
I think in order for any city to make big improvements in walking, biking, and urban livability, you have to have alignment of all 3 ingredients: citizen, political, and staff support.
What is it about being a part of a biking movement that gives you the most satisfaction?
I don’t feel like part of a biking movement, really, because that implies that it’s a cohesive group of like-minded folks who only ride bikes, and that’s not an accurate representation.
Since I drive a car, take public transit, walk, and bike, I feel like an advocate for people-centric cities, where the focus is on how best to move people within public space. I even try to avoid using the word “cyclist”, because it implies an exclusive group of people and is a term affiliated with professional sport cycling, to which everyday practical cycling bears little resemblance.
These days, a more humanizing approach to advocacy is coming out of the woodwork, like this. I guess my point is that the movement either doesn’t exist or is diffuse.
It’s satisfying that the supportive people don’t fit a stereotype. The most satisfying thing overall is seeing the improvements help the local economy, improve the public health, and make people happy.
I ran it by myself while I lived in Denton, and now Devin Taylor and Christopher Walker have control. A handful of folks loosely affiliated with Bike Denton and Querencia ended up on various boards and commissions, so that civic inclusion will help Denton for a long time, but there wasn’t any official Bike Denton planning or action there.
We look forward to seeing a bunch of bicycles at the festival this year! Be sure to head over to PreKindle to get your tickets now!