A native San Diegan from Bonita who’s lived in Ocean Beach the last 18 years, Burgess had an “epiphany” about six years ago. That happened when she took her love for cycling to the next level by promoting the public benefits of cycling, carrying that message to the motorized masses.
Following is a Q & A the Beacon held with Burgess, who discussed a wide range of topics associated with promoting bicycling.
Beacon: When did cycling cease being a hobby and become an avocation for you?
Burgess: My brother got a gift of a tandem bike at age 16 and I started riding with him. My kids went to school in OB, and when they transitioned from elementary to middle school I told them, “I’m not putting you in a car to take you a mile and a half. It’s too far to walk. We’ll start riding our bikes.”
Beacon: Was it hard to get other people to follow your example?
Burgess: I (gradually) encouraged more moms and dads to ride with me. I said, “Come join me, I’ll show you the ropes.” I held bike rodeos from OB Elementary to Dana Middle School.
Beacon: Were you recruited, or did you volunteer, to be District 2’s bicycling representative for the city?
Burgess: I applied.
Beacon: Why did you opt to be in that position?
Burgess: I wanted to get something done at the city level.
Beacon: What does being the District 2 bike rep entail?
Burgess: Meetings once a month (with other bike reps) down at the Civic Center downtown.
Beacon: What needs to be done to promote bicycling throughout San Diego?
Burgess: We need our city to prioritize biking infrastructure – and fund it.
Beacon: Why should we do that?
Burgess: It’s a health and lifestyle issue. In the '80s, 88 percent of kids walked or rode bikes to school. Obesity rates were very low. Now kids are being driven by their parents to soccer, piano, dance, et cetera. Fifty percent of people in the state are obese. This is about $325 billion being spent on (fighting) diabetes after the fact. Let’s prevent diabetes by getting more people on bikes (and exercising).
Beacon: What’s it going to take to accomplish that objective?
Burgess: Leadership. And money.
Beacon: What can parents do to encourage their children to take up cycling?
Burgess: Join them. Get out there and be their escort, ride with them to school.
Beacon: What can we do in San Diego to encourage more adult bike ridership?
Burgess: I had a crazy notion: Have a Saturday or Sunday bike ride with Mayor Faulconer. He could invite families. He could visit with people in each district. He would be remembered for that.
Beacon: What is San Diego’s overall bike commuter ridership now?
Burgess: About 1 percent. In Portland, it’s 8 percent. In Holland, which is cold half the year, it’s 40 percent.
Beacon: What’s different about cycling in those places than here?
Burgess: They just accept it as their form of transportation. They learn to dress (appropriately).
Beacon: Can we do the same in San Diego?
Burgess: For sure. We just have to (learn to) accept it as a cultural thing. Let’s start with (increasing to) 6 percent (ridership) by 2020. It’s in our Climate Action Plan.
Beacon: What’s it going to take to alter San Diego’s bike “culture?”
Burgess: We have to be OK with change, have to be willing to change.
Beacon: What’s the most important reason why we need a paradigm shift toward cycling in San Diego?
Burgess: Health. I’m trying to create a healthy habit (cycling) because I know everywhere in San Diego is doable by bike. Parents today are giving their kids (car) rides everywhere, then get them a car and tell them they’re on their own when they’re 16. The average cost of a car is $8,000 a year. Should we be saddling them with that debt?
Beacon: What’s so great about bicycling?
Burgess: I feel so good when I do it, being able to ride and explore and see new people and new cities. I’d rather by saying hi to people (on a bike) than being in a metal box. I try not to preach, just be a role model. I just do it out of pure joy.
Beacon: Are you optimistic we’ll be successful in getting more people out of cars and onto bikes in San Diego?
Burgess: If we put as much energy into bikes as we did into the Chargers stadium, we’d be there.