When Boston Bikes gave Jessica Mink the Lifetime Advocate Award earlier this year, we weren’t kidding. From campaigning to bring bikes on the T in the 80s, to working to develop bike paths across Massachusetts in the 90s, to serving on Boston Bikes’ advisory board today, Jessica has been a leader in bicycle advocacy for most of her life.
The past three decades have seen some major changes in Boston’s bicycle culture and in Jessica herself. When Jessica started cycling in Boston, she was a student majoring in planetary science at MIT. Used to biking the rural roads of Dundee, Illinois, where she grew up, it was months before she ventured onto Boston’s city streets.
And even then, she almost didn’t.
“I was going to buy either an inflatable kayak or a bike,” she says. “It was about the same amount of money, but I decided that if I didn’t have a bike, I couldn’t bring an inflatable kayak anywhere.”
Eight years later, she turned her hobby into a lifelong passion for bicycle advocacy when she attended a meeting of the group Boston Area Bicycle Coalition. She immediately volunteered for an archival secretary position, a responsibility she still holds today.
Since that first meeting, Jessica has been involved with – and often lead – as many bicycle groups as you’ve heard of, and some you haven’t. There’s Boston Bikes, Bay State Cycling, Boston Natural Areas Network, Boston Area Bicycle Coalition, Bikes on the T, Bike Weeks – and that’s just the B’s!
Jessica’s focus is on bike paths and open space. She has campaigned for bike paths across Boston and been on the board of multiple East Coast Greenway projects.
“I think biking is the best way to experience open space, because you can cover a lot of ground, and it makes you see a lot,” Jessica says.
She names several recent experiences cycling through nature: racing a bumblebee down the Jamaicaway Bike Path, visiting a heron at Leverett Pond, watching the sun set over Jamaica Pond and the moon rise near Longfellow House.
Although Jessica says that she has often faced difficulties in her advocacy – everything from a lack of sponsors to low attendance to bad weather to the bureaucratic process – her love of cycling keeps her going. And in 30 years, she’s seen some concrete changes to Boston’s cycling culture, especially recently. She names the creation of bike paths, bike lanes, and changes to allow bikes on the T as just a few victories.
The past few years have also seen some major changes in Jessica herself. Jessica is transgender: after living most of her life as a man, she transitioned to living as a woman about a year ago, at age 59.
Cycling has been a constant throughout everything, and Jessica says that bike community is part of the reason she waited to transition.
“I think I partly waited to transition so I could keep working on this. It’s one of the most important things in my life, working to try to make a place for people to ride a bike,” she says.
Today, she enjoys riding what she calls her “princess bike,” a white Fuji with gold handlebars and a “swoopy” frame. She’s still working to make a place for people to ride a bike – and succeeding.
But despite all the changes she’s helped make in Boston, Jessica says her proudest accomplishment is her 22-year-old daughter’s newfound love of bicycles.
“All through high school, she refused to ride a bike, it was too geeky. She didn’t want to be seen with me on a bike,” Jessica says. “But when we took her to college, she said, ‘Daddy, will you get me a bike?’”
“That’s one of the things I’m proudest of and happiest about,” Jessica says. “Seeing it go on to another generation.”
You can read more about Jessica on her website, masspaths.net.