Bike Convoy With Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price
FORT WORTH — On the same day that the world’s elite cyclists embarked on their annual race along the winding roads of France, Mayor Betsy Price was front and center in a pack of more than 120 riders outside a popular local restaurant, poised confidently on her 18-speed carbon-fiber racing bike.
This was a scaled-down Texas version of the Tour de France, named the Tour de Fort Worth. Following Ms. Price’s ambitious pace, the cyclists stretched out along a 21-mile course under a brilliant midmorning sun, eventually regrouping back at the restaurant parking lot.
Ms. Price, who is 64 and a longtime cycling enthusiast, created the event three years ago as part of a “FitWorth” initiative to promote healthy living in a place more commonly associated with barbecue and thick steaks than with carrot juice and kale. Now one of her signature programs, the Tour de Fort Worth — which includes more than a dozen such rides through July — is just one component in her two-wheeled style of community outreach.
Credit Cooper Neill for The New York Times
The mayor regularly swoops into the city’s disparate neighborhoods on her bike to conduct “rolling town-hall meetings,” taking City Hall to the people. Residents bike up next to her to discuss a variety of issues and grievances, like zoning, potholes and trash pickup.
“Every time we go, somebody talks to us about their issues,” Ms. Price said, recalling how fellow riders will sometimes pull out sweat-drenched notes from their pockets in asking her help. “For me, it’s about community engagement. In a big city, it’s hard to connect with people, and this is a great way to connect with people.”
Ms. Price’s out-and-about approach has yielded results. At a rolling town hall in one neighborhood last year, residents complained about a malfunctioning street lamp that burned incessantly. A staff phone call corrected the problem the next day.
Pam Cannell and Hollace Weiner, members of a local swim team, rode with the mayor in 2012 and expressed their concerns about an alarming rise in drownings. Further research by Ms. Cannell found that Texas led the nation in swimming pool deaths. The conversations led to the creation of a citywide drowning-prevention program that educated more than 500 participants last year and is on track to reach up to 700 this year.
Ms. Price also conducts “walking town halls” and “caffeinated town halls” — over coffee — but the rolling town halls set her apart from other urban mayors.
“Plenty of mayors ride to meetings, ride to work on bicycles,” said Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wis., who is in charge of bicycling issues for the United States Conference of Mayors. “But I don’t know of anyone who does quite what the mayor of Fort Worth is doing.”
There are signs that the concept is catching on. One of Ms. Price’s colleagues in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Mayor Oscar Trevino of North Richland Hills, has duplicated her practice in his community of 65,000 and echoes her observation that rolling town halls go a long way in promoting community involvement.
Ms. Price has been an avid rider for more than 25 years, a passion she shares with her husband, Tom Price, an insurance agent. Along with her public cycling events, she gets out on her bike early in the morning, logging more than 100 miles weekly during the summer.
Her embrace of bicycling and energetic living has seemingly played well in culturally diverse Fort Worth, which has grown from a cattle town in the 19th century into the nation’s 17th-largest city, and one of the fastest growing, with a population of more than 792,000. With Dallas, it anchors the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan region.
Ms. Price, a fiscally conservative Republican, served for 10 years as the county’s tax assessor-collector before winning the nonpartisan mayor’s race in a runoff in 2011. She won a second two-year term in 2013 without opposition.
Not everyone in Fort Worth shares her enthusiasm for cycling. Some motorists honk in annoyance when the mayor’s security detail holds up traffic for one of her bike rides.
Her push for more bike lanes has also been criticized for shrinking capacity for automobiles when city leaders are under pressure to reduce traffic.
But there were no dissenting voices among the cyclists who gathered at Joe T. Garcia’s, a renowned Mexican restaurant, for the July 5 start of the Tour de Fort Worth.
“Are y’all ready to ride?” Ms. Price asked after arriving. She wore a yellow helmet and a bright yellow-and-blue jersey with an outline of the Fort Worth skyline.
In contrast to the shorter and slower rolling town halls, the tour was designed for more advanced cyclists, and Ms. Price is known for a no-nonsense pace. She started at the front of the pack but later dropped back to talk to fellow cyclists.
Back at Joe T.’s, as cyclists refueled on burritos, Ms. Price made the rounds, visiting with constituents. Many talked about the ride, but Bill Luten, 66, a retired Army sergeant, had an issue he wanted to discuss with the mayor.
“I want to know why we don’t have any street sweepers in this town,” he said, complaining about grass and trash that pile up in the streets. The mayor promised to look into his concerns.