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Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.

Make Holiday Shopping a Joyride

By Carolyn Szczepanski 

Tags: holiday shopping, Mia Birk, Portland, bicycling, Joyride, Carolyn Szczepanski,

joyridecoverI’ll just come right out and say it: I hate shopping. Which presents a bit of a dilemma during the holidays.a bit of a dilemma during the holidays. 

I don’t want to be a miser, but I’m disturbed by the tremendous amount of stuff that is now considered necessary for comfortable human existence and I’m wary of adding more items to the cupboards and closets of my friends and family. So my tactic is to spread holiday cheer with knowledge and inspiration. I’m a big fan of gift memberships to worthy nonprofits or subscriptions to magazines, like, ahem, Mother Earth News.

So, if you’re like me, looking for a way to show your appreciation without participating in our destructive consumer culture, Mia Birk offers the perfect solution for the holiday season.

Who the heck is Mia Birk?

Well, Birk was there at the dawn of the bicycle revolution. Back when “bike lane” was a four-letter word, Birk was fighting to make streets safe and inviting for bicyclists. Her energy and vision as Portland’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in the 1990s turned that Oregon town into the nation’s most bike-friendly city, making once-crazy ideas realities on the pavement. When she left that gig, she joined Alta Planning + Design, a progressive engineering firm that's grown into an international outfit with bike-ped projects within and beyond U.S. borders.

And, this fall, with the debut of Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet, Birk added author to her already lengthy and distinguished resume.

If you’re a bike history buff, a political junkie or transportation nerd (and, admittedly, I’m all three), Birk’s book is required reading. But Joyride doesn’t feel like a textbook – it feels like your friend retelling war stories over a couple of beers at your favorite bar.

The funny and touching book tells Birk's story — from her childhood in Texas to her many heartwarming tales of how biking has changed her life and the lives of those around her. A conversational writer, Birk reveals her political battles within the bureaucracy in an engaging narrative, not a dry, technical timeline. She recreates scenes – some tense, some hilarious – with character descriptions and internal dialogue that put us right there in the room, whether she’s cajoling indignant, SUV-loving suburbanites or convincing policymakers to open their minds to the idea of healthier transportation options.

There’s conflict. There’s gutsy risk-taking. There are moments of frustration that warrant more than a few trips to the local watering hole but even more moments of hope and transformation. And that’s the beauty of Birk’s book.

"It's the memoir of a car-addicted, sedentary girl getting it; seeing the light and finding a career built around a passion," Mia told me this summer, when I interviewed her for Momentum magazine. "It's a story of a community going from being a traditional, car-oriented community to one where bicycling really is part of daily life. It's the story of traffic engineers seeing the light and community members seeing the light and our nation struggling with our old ways and trying to figure out, how do we evolve those ways to something that allows communities to become more healthy?"

“A big part of the healthcare crisis is our sedentary lifestyles and our addiction to prescription drugs — which is caused by our sedentary lifestyles,” she added. “I’m very hopeful this book can cross over and get to a very broad audience, which is why I tried to keep a light and breezy and narrative tone so anybody, like my mom in Texas, will read it because it’s just fun stories. But then, on some level, they’ll say, “Well, I never thought about bicycling like that before!”

Buying Joyride as a gift doubles your holiday giving. Because Birk knows firsthand the importance of grassroots advocates, she's donating 10 percent of the profits for the book to organizations like the one I work for: the Alliance for Biking & Walking. So make your holiday shopping a Joyride; read excerpts from Birk's book here