It's 11 a.m. on a Monday morning, and 78-year-old Ellen Fletcher hops off her bicycle on Bryant Street near Embarcadero Road and observes the fruits of her labor: helmeted and spandex-covered cyclists zipping down the bicycle boulevard that bears her name.
"Hey Ellen!" one cyclist shouts, waving to the former Palo Alto vice mayor as he pedals past Castilleja School in a pack of riders. He recognizes her from across the street, even though she is wearing her helmet.
"My goodness, look at them all!" Fletcher says.
Those who ride past her -- proving her theory, "You build it, and they will come" -- are among the many cyclists in Palo Alto who have benefited from Fletcher's 30 years of bicycle advocacy.
With approximately 1,700 Palo Altans -- 5.6 percent of the working population -- choosing two wheels instead of four for their daily work commutes, Palo Alto has almost five times the percentage of bike commuters as that of Santa Clara County as a whole. The city's ratio is 14 times the proportion of bike commuters in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000.
In addition to the Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard on Bryant (which gained her name in 2002), the bicycle advocate pushed for incentives for city employees to commute by bike as well as for bike bridges, bike parking and accommodations for bicycles on Caltrain. They're all based on Fletcher's fundamental but not commonly shared belief that, "It is possible to do without a car most of the time."
Ellen Fletcher is still very active in local advocacy as a board member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.
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With her "Field of Dreams" philosophy--if you build it, they will come--Ellen Fletcher is a model of determination for bicycling. And her efforts represent another repudiation of John Forester's contention that bicycling facilities were originally pursued by automobile promoters seeking to clear roads of pedalers: "Fletcher turned to cycling and bicycle advocacy 30 years ago as a mother of a young son who needed a safe way to get to Fairmeadow Elementary School."
Other than experienced and determined bicyclists, most people prefer riding on streets with bike facilities. Period.