Thursday, January 25, 2007

Get A Light!

“Hey Moron! Get a light!” I regretted the words almost the instant they’d left my lips. The unlit cyclist was bundled up in a dark hooded sweatshirt and riding an old Magna and my bike’s own lights had very little to reflect off of. So when I did finally perceive the rider and swerve to avoid him, I guess my reaction was understandable. He mumbled something like “Sorry” as we passed, still a bit to quick and close for comfort. But as my adrenaline levels dropped to normal and I reflected on this dim and sudden encounter, I felt bad about my choice of words.

First off, beginning an exchange with “Hey Moron” really does nothing to predispose the listener to hear the rest of your message. But more importantly, I don’t think this fellow had the means to act on my advice, even if it had been delivered in a friendlier and more constructive manner. He might have been on his way to some low-paying job, or maybe he was jobless. I probably had more invested in my left shoe than he had spent on his entire bike. Dashing off to the bike shop to pick up a headlight and a rear blinkie is something I would do, but it would probably never make it to the top of this fellow’s economic priorities.

The old proverb says "it is better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness." A few years ago in Portland, Jeff Bernards thought about the problem of poor, unlit cyclists. He scraped together some money and started a program called Get Lit. I called up Jeff, got the scoop on his program and decided to make the same thing happen here in Washington.

Planet Bike has agreed to supply lights at a very reasonable cost. For each $25 we raise, we can equip two low-income cyclists with front and rear lights. And until March 30th, 2007 the Bicycle Alliance of Washington will match every dollar donated to Get Lit (up to $2,500). So if you donate $25, you basically are buying lights for four low-income cyclists.

And that’s the point of this note. I’m asking you for money. If you ride your bike at night, you should have lights. If you don’t have lights on your own bike, take care of that first! But if you have taken care of that and you want to do something to make the streets and trails safer for all of us, send $25 to:

Bicycle Alliance of Washington
Get Lit Program
P.O. Box 2904
Seattle WA 98111

Make checks payable to “The Bicycle Alliance of Washington” and make a note that this is for the "Get Lit" program.

The goal of the program is to specifically target low-income cyclists and we’ll be working with groups like Bike Works and the Union Gospel Mission here in Seattle and similar groups statewide to make sure the lights go to the truly needy. We’ll be out on the roads and trails giving out lights in Seattle, Spokane, Everett, Bellingham and other places were there is a need. It’ll be nice to replace the words “Hey moron! Get a light!” with “Hey buddy, need a light?”

Kent Peterson
Commute Program Director
Bicycle Alliance of Washington


Anonymous said...

We all do things sometimes that we recognize as inappropriate. If I was riding without a light and you called me a moron and told me to get a light, the conversatio n would not have ended there. Why don't you carry an extra set of cheapo lights and give them to the next person who needs them.

Kent Peterson said...

I have carried spare, cheepo lights and given them away. I've given away at least half a dozen sets of lights that way. Get Lit exists to create a pile of lights to give away. But if you look like you make more money than I do, I'm not going to give you a light. I used to work in a bike shop and I'm not out to undermine any of their legitimate business.

Anonymous said...

Here in the Bay Area (& possibly in Seattle as well) a lot of the low income /unlit bike commuters also seem to lack English skills (I'm judging purely from observation on the roads and public transit modes which allow bikes--could be wrong).
I'm guessing that some of these folks are undocumented and/or immigrant workers and are going to be wary of some of the public service agencies. I wonder if lights could be distributed through some of the groups that work specifically with undocumented or immigrant workers (maybe through day labor centers or the like ).

Unknown said...

Does BAW have method to contribute via paypal at all? I know they take a small percentage out of transactions, but I imagine you could get a lot of postal phobic Seattle techies to spend 3 minutes to drop $25 via paypal. Either way, I encourage you to drop a comment to the maintainer to donation request further.

Kent Peterson said...

Yeah, I've been pushing for the BAW to get a Paypal account. I had a bunch of folks contribute to my efforts via Paypal back when I raced the Great Divide in 2005 and it worked great. And that ID is still intact so if anybody Paypal's money to

I'll cover the Paypal transaction fee and the Bike Alliance will do the fund matching. Just make sure to note that the money is for "Get Lit."

And I'll keep working to move the BAW into the 21st century!

Anonymous said...

I think it's a great idea to help other cyclists stay safe by providing lights that they might not otherwise be able to afford, but what happens when the batteries inevitably die?
I would think that someone who isn't able to afford cheap lights probably won't want to spend money to replace batteries either.
Maybe it would be a good idea to offer some strips of reflective tape to place on their bike in conspicuous places to supplement the light program. Just a thought - what do you think?

Anonymous said...

Kent, I should have known that you had already given away your share of lights and other bike stuff to the needy. Sorry if I offended. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I used the paypal method, great idea.

Kent Peterson said...

Thanks Joe and the others that are donating. As to the batteries and reflective tape ideas, we're going to do our best to get that covered as well. We're going to do a run of reflective Bike Alliance stickers and we're seeing if we can get some other local groups to do reflective stickers as well. I would love to be able to swing a deal with somebody like Reel Lights but we can get a lot more lights on bikes by going with the Planet Bike LED lights. We opted for lights with pretty long runtimes and standard AA and AAA batteries. It's not perfect, but it's a start.

The Historian said...

Hi Kent,

I've added a notice and a link to your Get Lit post at my blog:

"How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

Anonymous said...

hi - yes, most of the cyclists with out lights, dark clothing are my coutrymen (Mexico). I sometimes carry extra flashers and hand them out. Kent, would you mind if I hand you a few taillights to hand out?


Kent Peterson said...

That's a great idea, Mauricio. If anybody has any lights they want to give away, drop them off at the Seattle Bikestation, BikeWorks, mail them to the Bike Alliance or hand them off to me anytime you see me out on the road. We'll make sure they get onto the bikes of deserving folks. Of course, if you see folks in need and you've got the lights, direct action is the way to go.

nollij said...

Nice... you've inspired me Kent! I wrote a full comment HERE. Kent, ever think about turning on the "Links To This Post" feature in your blog. You feature regularly in my blog, and I'm sure there are others who'd like to point back to you...

Kent Peterson said...

Hey Nollij,

I just turned on the "links to this post" feature after having a "so that's what that thing does" moments!


Anonymous said...

I know Planet Bike has a great little set of front and rear kidney-shaped blinkies. Wholesale price is about $5-6. If you had to buy them, it would be cheap enough, but I wonder if Planet Bike would simply donate 50 or 100 sets for a worthy project like this.

Kent Peterson said...

We actually opted for slighty more powerful lights from Planet Bike to get things with very good runtimes, pretty good visibility and most importantly, commonly available AA and AAA batteries. Planet Bike gave us a very good deal (basically the same that they did with Portland).