Commuter Profile: Caroline Samponaro

Image Courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

What’s your title? I’m T.A.’s Senior Director of Campaigns and Organizing, which is a new role. It’s a fancy way of saying I work with members, neighborhood activists, business leaders, committees and staff to transform the streets. We’re not thinking about bikes or transit or pedestrians independently anymore, but about how all New Yorkers share the goal of having better ways to get around.

When did you start at T.A.? In 2006, I came to T.A. as a bike advocate. I became the director of the bicycle program in 2008, and my new business cards arrived at the end of last year.

When you’re getting around, what street improvement are you most proud of? Protected bike lanes seem pretty standard now, but they were a revolution in the way people move. The Ninth Avenue lane, the first on-street protected cycle route in the city, was one of the first campaigns I worked on. Looking ahead, it’s bike share. I started advocating for that back in 2007. It’s hard to believe that it’ll open in a few months.

What kind of bike do you ride? I built a commuter bike with the help of my best friend Ezra Caldwell of Fast Boy Cycles. It’s perfect.

You’ve traveled all over the world talking about bike infrastructure, what has impressed you the most? I’m most impressed by the movement. In every town and city I visit, people are advocating for better bike lanes and safer streets. It’s global, and it’s really happening. In 2008, I was staying with an activist in São Paulo who painted his own bike lanes to show they’d work. You could look down from his apartment and see them. Next week, he’s putting me up again, and I’ll be presenting to the city’s incoming transportation commissioner about their bike master plan. That kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens.

  As a figure in the bike community, do you ever feel like you’re on stage when you’re cycling around the city? Yes! And sometimes I wish I wasn’t, but I think it slows me down some and keeps me looking for folks I know. A few weeks ago, I saw Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito in the Second Avenue bike lane. She was a huge part of making that project happen, and I was thankful to be noticed, and to notice her. Totally unrelated: I also find a lot of money on the street—bills, not change—which is one huge benefit of riding slowly.

What do you say to people who don’t understand biking in the city? I usually spend the first ten minutes explaining that I don’t mean riding in spandex. After that, I ask questions, and those always end up at this basic idea: that the footprint of our city isn’t getting any bigger, so we won’t have room for more cars, but we will for bikes. If you really love New York, that’s an important idea because bikes are one of the ways our city can grow and stay competitive and keep its place in the world.

After bike share, what’s the next big thing? It’ll be tackling the problem streets. That means building bike infrastructure on Delancey Street, Queens Boulevard, Fifth and Sixth avenues, Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush. Those huge streets are unavoidable, and they are filled with destinations. If you want to put cyclists on equal footing, you need to make space for them on streets like that.