Davis resident Maria Contreras Tebbutt received high honors last week for realizing her goal of persuading people to use “greener” transportation.
The Sacramento Area Council of Governments celebrated her accomplishments, along with those of nine other organizations and individuals, at its 14th annual SACOG Salutes Regional Awards Program in Sacramento. Champions of transportation, smart growth planning and air quality were honored last Thursday.
Tebbutt, 55, was recognized for her dedication to Woodland’s Bike Campaign, which makes bicycles and training available to get Woodland residents out of their cars and onto their bikes.
The practical solution is one that the longtime Davis resident came to through her own experience as an elementary school commuter. At the age of 12, she hopped on a bike and made herself responsible for getting to school and back every day.
“It was flat-out fun,” she said. “It was freedom … To be able to do it by myself, of course, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. It’s right about that age when you want to shake your parents off a bit. ‘Mom, don’t drop me off in front of the school, drop me off two blocks away!’ ”
While having a good time is part of it, Tebbutt’s mission is firmly embedded in a larger movement to dissuade people from their reliance on emission-producing vehicles and introduce a cleaner alternative to getting around town. Even on her trip to the award ceremony, she took the environmentally friendly route.
“It was a wonderful (bike) ride,” Tebbutt said of her commute to the SACOG event. ”I strongly believe that Maya Angelou says it best, ‘When we know better, we do better.’ Information and education about the bicycle is invaluable; we just need to share it with our neighbor.”
After working for three local nonprofits, including a suicide prevention and education organization, Tebbutt found the conduit for promoting an eco-friendly transportation message in the Woodland Bike Campaign.
Her inspiration came from her observations at Woodland elementary schools. She said lines of cars often would surround the schools, at places that were easily accessible to bikes.
“Here’s these enormous vehicles idling away, people wasting at least $5 a day driving their kids to school,” Tebbutt said. “I knew what the statistics were; 50 percent of those kids were Latino, and many at the poverty level.
“There’s a different way; it’s just that they didn’t have the information or had never been encouraged. I picked the Hispanic population of Woodland as my audience, but it really encompasses everybody.”
The first hurdle, she said, was that many Hispanic adults were unfamiliar with riding bicycles themselves.
“Parents don’t generally encourage their kids to do something that they’re afraid of or don’t know how to do,” she added. “This goes all the way across the board, to encouraging your kids to go to college … same pattern, same gap.”
Tebbutt helped establish a cycling workshop through Woodland Adult Education, and used a wide array of activities to teach the rules of the road. Her involvement has resulted in more than 300 residents receiving training in safe biking in urban areas.
The next step was supplying bicycles that the now-prepared riders could use. Tebbutt collected donated bikes in Davis and had each restored with the help of volunteers, thus bringing free bikes and helmets to well over 100 residents.
Her focus on the Hispanic population has eased their burdens; specifically, the time and money required to travel everywhere in a car. That community has made her effort worthwhile in return, she said.
“I’ve learned a lot from the Latinos of Woodland about really caring about each other, and everyone having something to contribute,” Tebbutt explained. ”It’s not about charity. I feel like I’m on a constant high from this work. I feel younger than ever doing this, and it’s a lot cheaper than a face-lift.”
The Woodland Bike Campaign has a worthy list of accomplishments, including developing a bike map of the community, facilitating construction of a new 5-mile bike loop and installing bike racks at Woodland Community College.
The work is not yet complete, she said, as many local businesses still need to find easier ways to have bike racks installed. Though nothing is concrete, she discussed the possibility of the campaign expanding to Winters, or to other parts of Yolo County.
Tebbutt made it clear that it’s an ongoing process, and that the campaign will not end until biking can find its way into the lives of everyone — no matter their background.
“There’s a lot of community connection that comes with the bicycle that we’re losing,” she said. “We’re losing it as we look down all the time at some piece of technology. It’s something that bothers me, and it disturbed me to the point where a picture came to my mind.
“I firmly believe that the bicycle is the answer to just about everything — from obesity to oil wars. When you really think about it, if we could make life attainable on a bicycle, it would positively impact most of the people around us.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052.