Full Name: Clarence Eckerson Jr. Age: gonna be 40 in March! Currently Residing: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Currently Listening to: Right now? "And We Danced" by The Hooters
When I walk around New York City, there are a number of things going on. These things consist of the amount of people on the street, the construction, music, traffic, crazy people talking to themselves...well, it's quite endless. I used to ride a bike when I lived in Richmond and I loved how most of my friends had a bike of their own. Here in New York, I see a number of cyclists, but for me I could not imagine getting on two wheels here. It scares the hell out of me just to walk. Clarence Eckerson, Jr. just may change my mind and my environment.
Clarence Eckerson, Jr. is what I would call the Captain of Transport. In his efforts to raise awareness and create advocacy for those choosing alternative routes of transport, Clarence shoots short films on his public access show, bikeTV as well as his video blog StreetFilms. He is also a main contributor to New York Street Renaissance project. I commend Mr. Eckerson on his journey because his activism will lead not just New York but hopefully other overpopulated cities into a more eco-friendly as well as transport-friendly place to live and it's just a bonus that the people he meets are interesting and diverse individuals who are fellow bike lovers.
What exactly is BikeTV and how did the concept arise?
For years, I'd been watching cable access television and I often thought it would be a very cool to give cyclists a platform to see ourselves and to use as an educational way to enlighten the non-converted about bicycling - to show how much fun you can have and how accessible just about any place in the city is by bike. Eventually, I got to volunteer for two cable access programs, one was named "The Bike Show" and when that folded, many contributors and I formed bikeTV in 2002.
bikeTV is about the NYC bicycle world and beyond produced by volunteers. I call myself the "ringleader". Our volunteers are independent producers and take on whatever stories they like and when they are done they give them to me, and as long as their productions have something to do with cycling, it is fair game for the show. When we have enough materials for an episode, we put it together. We have regular contributors as well as people who give us once or twice yearly submissions in the five boros and - from time to time - even overseas. We get bike vacation stories. Profiles of cyclists. Reports on the big bike rides of the year like Bike New York and the T.A. Century. Stories about advocacy. The list is endless. Anyone can contribute and we are always wholeheartedly welcoming volunteers and contributors.
I read that you've never owned a driver's license? Is this true?
True. People get more curious when they learn I grew up in a remote upstate suburb and went to college in Albany, NY. I have had a couple of learner's permits over the years, but a number of circumstances led to me never getting one: 1) all my friends drove cars, 2) my dad had cancer and it was not a family priority, but most importantly 3) I have always enjoyed getting around by foot, bike and mass transit.. There is a human element to walking a mile to eat or biking five miles just to meet a friend. It keeps you in touch with your inner self and can bring harmony to even the most hectic schedule. Too many Americans are missing that being surrounded by noise, television, cars and their mandatory morning caffeine.
You are very active in providing awareness to traffic in NY and advocate other alternatives for transport...perhaps you could enlighten us on what your vision is?
New York City has far too much traffic. But even more than that - there is an inequity of resources devoted to the people who get around by car versus the overwhelming majority of people who use mass transit and other modes. 80% of households in Manhattan do not own a car. Only 14% of all trips south of 59th street involve the automobile. My vision? More pedestrian-only zones, car-free parks, better and faster mass transit, wider sidewalks and safer bicycling facilities - with an emphasis on protected bike parking so you know your bike will be there when you return.
You've met some famous cyclists and just interesting people along the way. Who was most exciting to talk to?
Enrique Penalosa (the former Mayor of Bogata who help transform his city into a cycling and pedestrian paradise) always makes me swoon. In our field, he is godlike status. When he speaks you devour every phrase he utters like it is some kind of transportation vitamin for the soul.
What's the craziest bike related event you've witnessed?
Tall bike jousting seems a little pointless to me. But it's certainly crazy, fun to watch, and those kids who do it are brave souls.
What is the NYC Streets Renaissance Campaign?
The NYC Streets Renaissance is an umbrella entity in which Transportation Alternatives (TA), The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and The Open Planning Project (TOPP) advocate for more sensible allocation of our public streets and spaces while de-emphasizing our streets as corridors for cars. As Director of Video Production, I have made dozens of short films which attempt to illustrate what is happening on our streets with regards to our safety, quality of life, and lack of public spaces.
How can people become involved in this issue?
These days those who want to get involved are lucky because nearly every neighborhood and community has a group that is now fighting for safer streets and are better educated about things like traffic calming. One way to immediately contribute and make an impact is to document what is going on in your nabe. Take out a camera - snap photos of double-parked cars or record video of cars running red lights, that kind of thing. Once you have compelling video, people will watch and we can post it on Streetsblog (which is everyday required reading!) and on our soon to launch vlog: StreetFilms, Oh, and everybody should be a member of TA.
Do you work on other documentaries that are not bike related and if so what other work are you doing?
I have done a few short films not transportation-related and I really enjoy taking part in these quick, make-a-movie-in-two-weeks-or-less(!) contests. But I do fess up that in the near future I will have to renergize and take some time off to do a substantial full feature. I am a huge fan of quirky, thought-provoking sci-fi, small intelligent films like "Primer", "Code 46", "Pi", and you gotta throw in "Donnie Darko". For a while I have been working on a script for a very original, potential end-of-world scenario called "Purple Church". That's all I'll say about it.
How do you view bike culture and where do you see yourself in this sub-culture?
Bike culture is really interesting because it is such a huge, diverse tent. Some very prominent cyclists in one group may not even know others in another prominent faction. But I confess that sometimes I find it hard to know my place. I met one gentleman recently who said to me he was a huge fan of all my work and enthusiastically called me "the hardest working man in Transportation show biz." That felt nice.
What are some places that cycling has taken you? Which ones were your favs and which ones do you not care to revisit?
I visit the West Coast a lot I love Portland, Seattle and the Bay Area. Each of them in their own way are such amazing and fun cities to be in and bike around, and we need to adopt some of their attitudes towards cycling here. But there is only one New York City. And everywhere I go I start to get bored after about a week. I wouldn't trade the dynamism, the people and the challenge of living here for anyplace else.
If you didn't have one of your senses which one would it be?
Taste. Everything else I need to do the my job. Ask my friends, my food range is extremely limited. I would also probably be a little skinnier which would mean I wouldn't have to work out so damn often.
For much more info on Clarence's work please visit the following sites: