Commuter Profile: Bettie Kollock-Wallace

Age? 75

Occupation? I’m the chairperson of Brooklyn Community Board 16, which represents Ocean Hill and Brownsville, and a personal trainer and group fitness coordinator. Before that, until 2004, I was the principal of M.S. 267 [in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn].

How did you get involved in the fight for more livable streets? Going back many years, I’ve been active in my community. Before I was a principal, I was a math teacher and a community advocate and a youth group leader. I was introduced to the Community Board in the 1980s by someone who is long gone now. I first served on the Land Use Committee, and I’ve stayed very active because I’m committed to helping people.

What’s your proudest achievement in your time on the Community Board? The new bike lanes in Brownsville. I like to exercise, and I like to see people be fit and have wellbeing in their lives. The new bike lanes help make that possible. There’s something for each of us, those who want to ride or walk or just get to the recreation center. The lanes help. If you’re active physically, you can keep the mind sharp.

How did you start riding a bike? How? I bought one and got on—a 10-speed with curved handle bars. Now I have too many bikes—a cruiser, a mountain bike, I have them all. I tell people that it’s for the physical wellness of my body. Plus, some people have more than one car, so why can’t I have more than one bike?

Do you ride every day? I ride my bike most days but not with the weather we had this winter. There’s a group of us in Brownsville who ride together most Saturday mornings. We start at about 6 o’clock because the traffic is light. We’ll ride around the neighborhood or maybe to Prospect Park. If any of your readers are interested in joining us, they can contact the Brownsville Recreation Center and ask to be put in touch with me.

In the years you’ve been riding, have you noticed more bikers? Or better behavior from drivers? I’ve definitely seen more bikes over the years, and the new bike lanes are really encouraging people in this neighborhood to give cycling a try. As far as motorists go, I don’t think the respect is there as much as it should be. The streets need to be shared. Like in any community, we want the same respect here. It’s a matter of learning a new way.

Image courtesy of Andrew Hinderaker

Do you think the City could make cycling better in Brownsville? I’d like to see the City work harder to implement the rules about double-parking in the bike lanes. And speeding. I’d like to see more speed enforcement, especially on wide streets with bike lanes. And just like there are speed signs, I want to see bike signs that tell drivers to watch for bikes and to respect bikers. The DOT and police should help us create an atmosphere of respect. I’m sure everyone has a child, a grandchild, a great-grandchild that they want to be safe when they’re walking or biking.

Do you have any advice for people who want to make streets in their neighborhood better? The real question is: Are you satisfied with the conditions in your community? If the answer is not a resounding yes, ask what you can do to make it better. Don’t depend on others. Don’t depend on me. Depend on yourself. Get up and do something and stop complaining. I don’t sit down and twiddle my thumbs, and I don’t spend my precious time with people who do. Attend meetings. Speak up. Greet your neighbors and your postal workers and your trash collectors. You can make your neighborhood better every day.