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Take me to your Reader. Erik Reader

Erik_Reader_0029-2In 2013, Erik Reader wrote about walking in Pekin, specifically walking to the grocery store–a simple task 100 years ago but more challenging in the 21st century due to consolidation in the food industry. (The fact that we call it an industry points out another change in the grocery business.) Consolidation–the loss of the corner grocery store–reduced the number of stores, increasing the distance between people and their grub.

A walkable catchment, or ‘ped shed,’ maps the area one is willing to walk to get to their destination is a good tool for looking at the reality of the situation,” he wrote in 2013. “A 1/4 mile radius equals 5 minutes and a 1/2 mile radius equals 10 minutes. Generally, once you get out of that range you’re more prone to taking something more convenient than your own two hooves.

He walked 14 minutes that day and turned that walk into a question for his readers: How far would you walk for food? It was a rhetorical question–the answer is pretty clear: Most people will walk to their car.

And today, it will take them about as long to drive to the store as one hundred years ago it took to walk–which can be discouraging if you think about it long enough.

Perhaps, say, during a walk.

Today, Reader, president of Bike Peoria, continues to exercise shank’s mare, but organizationally he’s more focused on travel by bicycle, a form of transportation with its own unique challenges. “Personally I’d rather have a walking movement and more walkable communities, but that’s not as exciting as biking. Walking number one, biking number two, bus and train three followed by driving.”

And that’s why we met at Two25 downtown to talk about bicycles and Bike Peoria, not about walking and Schnucks. The pizza was pretty good, too.

Tell me a bit about the Bike Peoria journey.

We really hesitated from making this a formal organization for such a long time because of existing membership groups trying to get people to ride bikes. Additionally, there were so many different people with such a variety of different viewpoints involved, which gave us many directions to consider.

150We think we’re filling a gap where other organizations weren’t quite tackling the advocacy side of things. So we were able to insert ourselves immediately into something that wasn’t there. But with doing that comes expectations, some fair, some otherwise, but things had to be more organized for the sake of growing the movement.

To me, it seems like there’s still that traditional consensus that things have to be organized in a manner that other people can understand for them to participate, donate, etc. And so you can answer questions like, “What does a more bike-friendly Peoria look like and what areas are you serving?” You have to be able to explain the mission and vision–aside from we all like to ride our bikes and be around other people who ride bikes.

So we took a lot of raw energy and formalized it, which is interesting with a lot of creative different minds and personalities. You have people who just want to get out and ride, people who really just want to do advocacy work, and other people who want to work on bikes.

Getting the foundation built is extremely important for sustaining success, but it’s not much fun. We’ve done a bunch of legal, financial and planning stuff behind the scenes. I’m a glutton for punishment.

962Yes, Bike Peoria now has legal non-profit status. What does that mean?

bike peoria logo smallOur non-profit status legitimizes and adds credibility to the movement, but it also allows people to donate to us and get that tax exemption, just like when you drop off a bunch of clothes at Goodwill. We are able to apply for grants for bike-related infrastructure, host events, and receive funding which will keep the wheels of progress moving.

So the focus is the city of Peoria?

For simplicity’s sake I think we have to focus on Peoria, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t care about other areas. Even from an advisory standpoint it helps to be in the mix. Some of us live in different cities and work in fields professionally that could help make changes possible.
For example, two of our board members work for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. Our eyes and ears are open to things going on around the region, but because there’s so few of us we have to concentrate our efforts at the moment.

What are your hopes for 2015?

A couple of well-structured events that have Bike Peoria continuing to collaborate with other organizations and get more people on their bikes for everyday purposes. A big opportunity is the Bike Peoria Co-op, and we’re trying to program that with more workshops and educational activities.

The city-wide bicycle master plan should be completed, but the biggest thing I want to see is the public works department continue to implement some of the things we’ve wished would happen. Things like bike lanes, signage and racks. Slow progress is what needs to be made. Continuing to build off each year’s progress is going to be crucial the next four to five years.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I was always riding my bike as a kid. To practice, a friend’s house or downtown where I grew up in Geneva.

However, spending a semester abroad in the Netherlands kind of shaped what I thought could be possible. It was something of a novelty to me 10 years ago, but later I recognized how the way they did things could transform how you function daily.Leeuwarden

They made a decision, in the sixties, not to be so car-reliant, and when I was living there I didn’t have a car. It was easy to walk everywhere. When we first got into town they showed us where we could rent a bike. For $25 you could rent a bike for the semester. You could ride to the bar, ride to school. It was natural.

They also had great public transportation in their bus and train systems. It made it almost effortless to not have to get into a car. There, we used a car maybe five times in five months. Here, people use the car for every little occasion, whether it’s going to the grocery store or getting your hair cut.

You live in Pekin but you’re working on Peoria. Why?

Even crazier is that I moved from Dallas to Pekin to work in Peoria. My wife is from Pekin and the transition there made sense at the time. Peoria has its issues as a post-industrial city but still has many assets. I see it as a blank canvas to work on with a lot of things. 

In Pekin I tried, but we’re not there yet. Culturally speaking that is. They’re working on Court Street right now, they have a trail going out to the east part of town. Pekin’s known for the park system, but they haven’t figured how to connect all the dots with an overriding leisure and recreational lifestyle with infrastructure that builds it into your everyday life.

So when there was activity about starting up a group like this in Peoria, I wanted to get involved. People are the ones to push policy makers to understand its importance. For me, it’s not about hating cars but simply trying to build more equitable, easy-to-get-around cities.

How can someone get involved in Bike Peoria?

We can get you plugged in to where you want to be, whether it’s planning an event, raising awareness, working on bikes or leading a ride. The public is welcome to come to our first Tuesday meet-ups where we talk business and bikes. Visit us virtually at, then email us at Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to join the conversation.


Why I Ride

Erik Bike

Post by: Erik Reader, President, Reader Area Development

I have been waiting for the right time to drop my own post on the Bike Peoria site for a while. It’s not that I haven’t had the words, I just haven’t had the time. But isn’t that the age old excuse. For those of you who are unfamiliar, I usually do my blogging over at Reader Area Development dot com. Sure, that’s some shameless self-promotion for myself, but what the hell, I’m an administrator on this site as well.

Like most, I grew up riding my bike around the neighborhood after school just to be outside playing. That evolved into riding to school, downtown, to baseball practice, a friend’s house, or wherever my legs could motor me. Somewhere around that pivotal age of 15-16 it became clear that it wasn’t cool to ride a bike. As we all know, the most exciting thing for every high-schooler is getting their driver’s license.

I remember my parents telling me that I would have to get a job in order to afford a car. So at the ripe old age of 14 I got my first real job – at McDonald’s. Yep… first you have to be humbled before you can be cool apparently. Needless to say, I saved up enough to buy a 1990 Chevy Beretta. How I kept the ladies at bay was a mystery, it just naturally happened.

At a time with $0.88/gallon gasoline (1998), I made my way to the bowling alley, movie theater, cross town to friends houses, to school and a few side trips my parents don’t need to know about. That was all fine and dandy, but I still had to work here and there to afford my new-found responsibility. With no other obligations to my name, this wasn’t a huge drag, but the real sticker shock would occur in the 15 years since.

The cost itself wasn’t just in the form of driving from A to B, it was everything else it represented. Gas, car insurance, maintenance, the occasional ding or scratch, countless hours staring through a pane of glass, and the hours working a job I hated to afford it all. I grew up outside of Chicago in the far western suburbs and that meant LOTS of driving. Want to go to a baseball game? Drive. Need a job? Drive across the ‘burbs. Thinking about visiting friends? More driving…. you get the picture.

In college, I had an opportunity to study abroad in the Netherlands. Leeuwarden, a northerly city of 90,000 people exposed me to a different culture that has taken years to decipher what I really learned. The Dutch are widely regarded for their over-the-top biking culture. I didn’t really “get it” until my semester abroad started.


We were told that we would probably want to rent a bike. The few Americans in the group looked at each other like it was a joke or something. Even me, I hadn’t ridden anywhere on a regular basis for several years didn’t understand it. We have cars … duh?  All kidding aside, they were serious. The best way to get around town is by bike. The town, which is hundreds of years old, is perfectly laid out for it. No bike? Well, walking is just as easy. Riding to the bar as a 21-year-old was probably the most freeing feeling you could imagine. You mean I can go do something stupid and follow it up with something responsible afterward? No shit…

Unless you’ve been, I have a real hard time of putting it into words and trying to explain it. That’s the reason why downtown Leeuwarden remains as my website header. To serve as a reminder that this other place exists.


After my tour abroad ended, it was back to Geneva, where that quaint, charming downtown existed but the biking culture didn’t. I was dying to bring back what I thought to be a slice of heaven back with me.  No one else felt the same. My excitement to ride faded as my jobs would take me here, there, and everywhere by car. It got to the point where I was filling up for gas twice a week. It became a repetitive and vicious cycle. I’d seen my Dad fall into it, and I knew it was killing him too. Spending hours in a car everyday isn’t healthy for you. That’s a no-brainer. So why do we get stuck in the proverbial rut?

We somehow accept this as our reality. We know in order to find work, we must drive. In order to find food, we must drive. In order to live, we must drive. After a year of life on the road, my then girlfriend, now wife, Danielle and I moved to Dallas, Texas. A change of scenery was interesting, and it provided the initial stimulation we needed. But something still seemed off. Gone were the Main Street’s and downtown’s of Illinois I was used too. Everything is bigger in Texas, even their big-box stores which dominated the landscape. Six-lane residential thoroughfares were the norm. Big hair. Big trucks. Big stereotypes. We enjoyed our stay, but after 5 years it was high time to head out.

Before we did, I came across a little biking movement that was taking over a south Dallas neighborhood. The Oak Cliff neighborhood was quickly becoming the “bike part of town.” I was curious, as I hadn’t heard of such a thing. Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, was one of those things that I needed to see at just the right time. “Ok, so there are people who have thought the same thing as me and feel the same way…” This wasn’t about racing, an extreme off-road excursion or loading up the bike for leisurely stroll at a park. This was about riding your bike for day-to-day things. I get that.

When we left Dallas for Peoria, I decided I’d like to take a slice of what I thought was a great citizen-led movement with me. We moved to Pekin, which admittedly, isn’t the biking capital of the world. I would talk about the Dutch, Dallas, and what I thought could be a bike movement in Central Illinois. The only thing more out of the ordinary than seeing someone without a DUI riding their bike in Pekin, is someone talking about “Bike Friendliness.”

Behind Bars

Back to the subject of stereotypes. The same freedom, liberation, and mobility I felt in Leeuwarden could and should be applied in Pekin, Peoria, or anywhere for that matter. Why is it that people think you must have done something wrong to be riding a bike in broad daylight wearing anything but lycra? To be fair, there are a good amount of those riding with some legal troubles, yes, but that’s why it is imperative for low-income, low-educated towns like Pekin to adopt a new transportation strategy. One that is equitable for all of its citizens. And for those who don’t want to hear my previous statement, I’m sorry, the 2010 Census blew your cover [DATA].

Whether you’re young or old, need affordable transportation, wanting to stay fit, or wanting to exercise your right not to drive, you should have that opportunity. So that is why, when a fate meeting with some other like-minded individuals early this spring brought us to the table looking to create a “biking movement” I jumped at the chance.

Erik & Danielle

My ride last night finally knocked loose what I was looking to write. I ride as much as I can right now. I wish it could be more, but you know, I have to drive to Peoria for a job. I am in meetings on opposite sides of town. I am renovating a house after all of that and need to carry random odds and ends around. I have seen more people out there who are curious. Those are the people who will help shape the future of Peoria. Having only lived here for two and a half years, I see an area that is dying for a breath of fresh air. We, as everyday, ordinary people can give that to the area we call home – one bike ride at a time.

For more of Erik’s musings, check out his blog at, follow him on Twitter @RADincorporated and Like ReaderAreaDevelopment on Facebook.

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