Remembering Ellen Fletcher, Palo Alto’s Pioneer Bicycle Advocate

Cross-posted from Cyclelicious.

Ellen Fletcher. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/3530827963/##Richard Masoner##

Holocaust survivor, PTA mom, city council member, and bike advocate Ellen Fletcher succumbed yesterday at age 83 to lung cancer at her Palo Alto home.

Ellen escaped Berlin as a Jewish child on the Kindertransport trains and spent her teen years as a refugee in World War II London, where she biked to her factory job.

She eventually ended up in Palo Alto, California, where she got her start in cycling advocacy as safety chair of the local PTA when she saw that the best way to protect school children from their greatest danger was by reducing auto traffic around schools. She revived the Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association (which exists today as the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) in the early 1970s. Ellen pioneered the first bike boulevard in the United States on Bryant Avenue (now named in her honor) while serving on the Palo Alto city council from 1977 to 1989.

Caltrain Bikes on Board Pioneer

If you like bikes on Caltrain, you can thank Ellen Fletcher. Beginning in 1977, she and Daryl Skrabac of San Francisco pushed Southern Pacific to try bikes on board. They finally agreed to a four month demonstration in 1982, when four bikes were allowed in the aisle of the cab car. Southern Pacific refused to continue the experiment. When the Peninsula Joint Powers Board took over the line in 1992, they agreed to make room for bikes, but needed money to make it happen. Cap Thomas of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition persuaded the city of San Francisco to contribute $40,000 to making space for 8 bikes in each cab car.

Ellen Fletcher in 1979. Photo: Palo Alto Historical Society

Her list of achievements and accomplishments could fill a book, but suffice it to write she’s inspired thousands. I first met Ellen in 2006 and even as a retired senior citizen she was super busy parking bikes at Stanford football games and organizing volunteers for bike giveaways. I could count on always seeing her at Palo Alto City Hall on Bike to Work Day handing out schwag and encouraging people.

Frail Health

Although she has never smoked a cigarette in her life, she was diagnosed with lung cancer late in 2008 and was forced to begin driving her 1964 Plymouth Valiant to appointments because her pulmonary therapy required that she be at rest.

She felt bad about driving, even with her ill health, and she continued toodling around town on her bike. Last year she bought a RideKick trailer — this is a little trailer attached to her Breezer bicycle with an electric motor to give her a modest push to help her along. When I saw her with the RideKick she expressed her embarrassment at having to use an electric motor on her bike — even at 82 years old and dying of lung cancer she considered it “cheating”!

Ellen Fletcher will be greatly missed. R.I.P. She wrote “Why I Ride” for the League of American Bicyclists just six months ago.

Ellen Fletcher

  • 1928 Born Berlin, Germany
  • 1938 Evacuated to England on Kindertransport
  • 1946 New York City and reunited with parents, who survived Holocaust
  • 1958 Moved to California
  • 1971 PTA Safety Chair
  • 1973 Revived Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association (now the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition)
  • 1974 – 2012 Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee Member
  • 1977 – 1989 Palo Alto City Council. Supported anti-smoking measures, recycling, commute alternatives.
  • 1977-1989 Santa Clara County Transportation Commission. Promoted bike racks for buses & light rail, advocated for Dumbarton Express bus.
  • 1995 VTA

Awards

* Palo Alto Civic League Citizen of the Year, 1975
* PTA Certificate of Appreciation, 1976
* Metropolitan Transportation Commission Certificate of Achievement, 1979
* Metropolitan Transportation Commission Award of Merit, 1983
* Women’s Transportation Seminar Woman of the Year, 1989
* RIDES for Bay Area Commuters Award of Appreciation, 1989
* League of American Bicyclists Volunteer of the Year, 1996
* American Lung Association, Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Clean Air Award, 1996
* Bay Area Air Quality District Clean Air Champion Award 1997

Thank you to Ellen Fletcher’s family for this information, who have created a memory page for Ellen on Facebook. In lieu of flowers, Ellen requested shortly before her death that donations be made to the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition in her memory.

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