Q & A with Eric Iwersen

Last week, I interviewed Eric Iwersen, a Transportation Planner for the City of Tempe. He’s one of the employees who addresses a lot of bicycle-related concerns. Here’s what he had to say about his experiences with bicycling in Tempe and working for the City:

How did you get involved in bicycling?
I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where biking is how a lot of people get around, so that’s what I did growing up.

So how was it when you started to bike in Tempe?
Well, I’d never been here before. I was basically dropped off with a bike and a skateboard and a class schedule, and then went from there. When I first started bicycling around Tempe, it felt really unsafe. There were very few bike lanes anywhere. It was really different from Boulder, where biking is a regular part of the culture. At that time, I stayed pretty local and took buses a lot, and did most of my hanging out around Mill and the downtown Tempe area.

I hear there’s an interesting story to how you got your job with the City. What happened?
Well, when I was a senior at ASU, I started to organize Critical Mass rides—I think I organized four rides in total during the spring of ’04 (January through April). At the first ride about 25 people showed up, but by the last ride, over 300 people showed up. As a result, I got on the news and was interviewed and in the paper. At that point, I went to the City and talked to different staff members and the Transportation Commission and introduced myself. I didn’t want there to be any animosity between my group and the City—I was trying to do good things for the community. I had a couple of specific goals at that time, mostly to get bike lanes put in on University, Apache, and Mill. I made some people angry but then the City turned around and ended up offering me a position.

So what kinds of things do you do for your job?
As a planner for the City, I work on long-range planning policies (like developing standard details for bicycle racks for businesses), for projects to be implemented over the next 20-30 years. These policies address things like how wide we want our streets to be, as well as how we want our land use to support transportation.

I am also involved in short-range project management—that includes projects at the funded, buildable stage, like the Rio Salado bike path, which I’ve been involved in getting funded and built.

How quickly do such transportation projects get built?
At the very fastest, two years. But usually, from the concept to the construction, the process takes around ten years.

So let’s say someone has a particular question or a brilliant idea about transportation infrastructure, what’s the best way for him or her to work with the City to make things happen?
Well, the quickest and best way is to get political. Talk to your elected officials about the idea. If you’ve got an idea, call the Mayor and ask, why don’t we do this? The Mayor might then suggest talking to the transportation staff. But the real benefit of going political is that even if a staff person ends up handling the response, the Mayor and City Council have an awareness for a citizen’s desire for some kind of change. Elected officials have the most control over what happens with the City, and they need to know what Tempe residents want and what their vision is.

On top of that, you can always volunteer for positions, go to City Council meetings, go to Transportation Commission meetings, and do things yourself. So there are a lot of ways to get involved.

Thanks, Eric. Lastly, how about a fun question: What’s your biggest biking pet peeve?
Uncomfortable government clothing. Someone should really do something about that. I wish we could wear shorts.


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