Holocaust survivor, PTA mom, city council member, and bike advocate: Ellen Fletcher succumbed yesterday at age 83 to lung cancer at her Palo Alto home.
Ellen escaped Berlin as a Jewish child on the Kindertransport trains and spent her teen years as a refugee in World War 2 London, where she biked to her factory job.
She eventually ended up in Palo Alto California, where she got her start in cycling advocacy as safety chair of the local PTA when she saw that the best way to protect school children from their greatest danger was by reducing auto traffic around schools. She revived the Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association (which exists today as the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) in the early 1970s. Ellen pioneered the first bike boulevard in the United States on Bryant Avenue (now named in her honor) while serving on the Palo Alto city council from 1977 to 1989.
Caltrain Bikes on Board Pioneer
If you like bikes on Caltrain, you can thank Ellen Fletcher. Beginning in 1977, she and Daryl Skrabac of San Francisco pushed Southern Pacific to try bikes on board. They finally agreed to a four month demonstration in 1982, when four bikes were allowed in the aisle of the cab car. Southern Pacific refused to continue the experiment. When the Peninsula Joint Powers Board took over the line in 1992, they agreed to make room for bikes, but needed money to make it happen. Cap Thomas of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition persuaded the city of San Francisco to contribute $40,000 to making space for 8 bikes in each cab car.
Her list of achievements and accomplishments could fill a book, but suffice to write she’s inspired thousands. I first met Ellen in 2006 and even as a retired senior citizen she was super busy parking bikes at Stanford football games and organizing volunteers for bike giveaways. I could count on always seeing her at Palo Alto City Hall on Bike to Work Day handing out schwag and encouraging people.
Although she has never smoked a cigarette in her life, she was diagnosed with lung cancer late in 2008 and was forced to begin driving her 1964 Plymouth Valiant to appointments because her pulmonary therapy required that she be at rest.
She felt bad about driving, even with her ill health, and she continued toodling around town on her bike. Last year she bought a RideKick trailer — this is a little trailer attached to her Breezer bicycle with an electric motor to give her a modest push to help her along. When I saw her with the RideKick she expressed her embarrassment at having to use an electric motor on her bike — even at 82 years old and dying of lung cancer she considered it “cheating”!
Ellen Fletcher will be greatly missed. R.I.P. She wrote “Why I Ride” for the League of American Bicyclists just six months ago.