Back Story

Meet Paul Selden

Bike Friendly Kalamazoo
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Paul Selden, Bike Friendly Kalamazoo

© 2021 Encore Publications/Brian Powers

The next time you are out bike riding on a local bike route, you might whisper a thank you to Paul Selden.

In 2010 while riding his bicycle on D Avenue, a car swerved into the road's shoulder where he was riding, hitting his bike's left pedal and rear frame with enough force to break the frame. The driver fled the scene.

"It sounded like a gun had gone off," Selden says.

Shaken but luckily still upright, Selden yelled "Hit and run!" and pointed at the fleeing car. A Good Samaritan followed the car and phoned it in to the police, who were able to apprehend the driver.

Selden decided to "turn that negative into a positive for the community" and formed Bike Friendly Kalamazoo, a nonprofit organization that advocates for safe bike routes, and to educate drivers and bikers. The organization is holding its annual Fall Bike Celebration and Multi–Charity Bikeathon on Sept. 18.

Selden, who grew up near Detroit, pedaled his bike to school up to seventh grade, and rode one around campus both at the University of Minnesota and Western Michigan University.
His biking decreased as he raised his family and went into business. In 1978, "back when computer screens were still green," he founded Performance Management, a company training users of corporate computer systems.

He has since retired and his time is now devoted to BFK efforts.

Do you remember your first bike?

It was a Schwinn... Hurricane? It was a name I thought was cool, I remember that.

What was your first memorable bike ride as a kid, when you first thought, "This is the transportation mode for me"?

When I discovered I could ride farther than I ever thought I could ride. We lived in the (Detroit) suburbs at the time. I could ride an entire mile until I came to a road that I thought was too busy to cross. Was it Telegraph Road, Ford Road? I just remember that it felt like an adventure, and it was just so easy to go places I had never seen before.

When did you rediscover this as an adult?

I think that sense of adventure is something that I felt again, very, very strongly, as an adult. After my kids were out of the house, I thought, "You know what? I'm gonna see if I can ride my bike." Almost every week I picked a destination that was a little bit farther.

First, it was, "I'm gonna ride my bike from where I live, in south Portage, to the beginning of one of the trails." Then, "I'm going to ride my bike to mail a letter at the Portage post office." And from there it just kept going.

I thought, "I think I'm going to ride to the county line." St. Joseph County — wow! I hit a county line! It felt like I was the first man on the moon. Or like Davey Crockett, exploring places I'd never been before, having adventures.

It was that sense of adventure, coupled with the knowledge that it was good for my health.

What was your age then?

It was about ten or 11 years ago, so I was approaching 60.

We see a lot of older folks on bikes. Is this something one can do until you can't do it anymore?

The thing about having a bicycle is, for most people, you can go right out the front door and you can ride your bike and get to a lot of places. You can actually learn to do it safely on the roads, too. A lot of people think roads are very dangerous, and yeah, sure, they're filled with the same risks that a pedestrian faces by and large. But if you follow the rules of the road and pay attention, it's just as safe as walking or running on the roads. Once you learn to do it, you can ride right out your front door and you've got your adventure.

How are you working on a friendlier environment for bikers in Kalamazoo?

We meet with local governmental officials, community leaders and bicycling stakeholders to listen to their ideas and explore what can be done to make Kalamazoo more bicycle friendly. Out of those meetings we concluded that we have to increase awareness–building and have better education for motorists and bicyclists. And we have to develop better infrastructure to support bicycles in all its forms.

Our work with municipal and community leaders has always been as collaborative and collegial as we can make it, understanding that not everybody is ready to move at the same pace at the same time. Progress is a little bit uneven, but we're getting there.

Is Kalamazoo bike friendly?

Yes. And getting more so. It's always a matter of degrees. Could it be more bike friendly? There's always room for improvement.
Biking hasn't been your only adventure...

I became a certified deep sea diver, and up to the pandemic, I had done over a thousand dives around the world, and written about those for diving guides and newsletters.
Deep sea diving is something folks always thought would be cool, but then we saw Jaws.

(He laughs.) I usually trust that the local guides usually aren't going to be sending you to be eaten up — their business wouldn't last very long! It does give bragging rights, though, "Ooo! You dove and you saw a shark? Ooo!"

Could you be described as an adventure seeker?

Uh, yeah? I don't know if that's because I'm half Norwegian or what. Maybe it's that Viking blood in me.

Interview by Mark Wedel, edited for length and clarity.

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Learn more about how Bike Friendly Kalamazoo is impacting the safety of bicycling in Kalamazoo here:

Bitten by the Biking Bug: Groups, civic leaders work to make area more bike-friendly