A Culture of Cycling
Adapted from an interview with Dakota Parks
I graduated in 1991 with my degree in architecture from the University of Arkansas and got my first job in Pensacola. I’ve had my own firm since 2006, and I love what I do. I have an incredible business partner and a good team, and we believe in impacting our community, one building at a time. My life is consumed by work and fathering my sons, Jamie and Oliver. I love mentoring my sons to love this city and to love the people in it. If I’m not working, I’m with those boys, and if I’m not with those boys, I’m busy with church or mentoring at Big Brothers Big Sisters. We live behind Aragon Café, and my office is only a three-minute bike ride from the house. I don’t ride to work often because of meetings, and I walk my kids to school every day from their mother’s house so I can see their faces and give them a big hug.
The kids are young, and this time is precious and rare. Pretty soon they’ll be gone out of my house and I’ll be riding my bike every day. Occasionally the boys and I have gone to the UWF bike trails and the Blackwater bike trail in Milton, but most of the time when I’m on my bike, I just enjoy the peace. I think a lot of people ride a bike for the health benefits, but when I’m riding the bike, it’s a beach cruiser with a drink in my hand. I don’t ride to burn calories—it’s about relaxing way more than exercise.
I first came across Bike Pensacola years ago by watching a slow ride from my porch. I saw them ride past and knew I had to be a part of it. There is nothing more fun to me in terms of community making than being on a slow ride. There are countless people in their yards and porches grinning ear to ear as you ride past just waving and saying hello while cyclists ring their bells. Every time, I think to myself, I can’t believe I live here. Riding a bicycle is the one time you can be a grownup adult and still feel like a kid again. There are not many things you can do at 54 years old and just instantly go, oh my gosh, I feel like I’m 10 again.
I believe that biking in a community is one of the maybe top three most successful qualities of a community. We finally have a vibrant downtown that makes you want to ride a bike, but the list is endless for improvements to make it a safer and even more bike-friendly place. Go look at Amsterdam in the 70s; it looks like Pensacola does today. Everyone thinks that Scandinavia has been bike friendly since the beginning of bikes, but they’ve been working hard to make it that way for the past 50 years, and that’s what we can do too.
The architect in me has little pet peeves that would make riding a bike more pleasant— like removing what I call “bumblebee striping” and adding trees and plants. As a result of opening the street grid and eliminating one-way streets, we added yellow “bumblebee stripes” to streets that signals not to park there, but it’s a sign that plants belong there instead. I also think the recent successes of the Woonerf by the YMCA and the roundabout by the bridge will help us build more bike-friendly streets. But we have to go farther than just painting green on the roads for bike lanes and also educate drivers behind the wheel about bike safety and the rules of the road.
We have to build a culture of cycling in our community that promotes bike riding through slow rides and more events like Ciclovía. What if that was once a month instead of once a year? The more success we have in building a culture of biking means that we’re also building a vibrant community and increasing our economy—more jobs, people, and prosperity. If we want our kids to grow up in a place that we love and to stay here, we have to build a vibrant community that does just that. If people can go on a bike ride and say, “That was awesome. I want to do it again!” then you’re doing something right.