Meet Our Spring Super Commuter - Vivian Ortiz

Meet Our Spring Super Commuter - Vivian Ortiz

Posted on Apr 30th 2024 | bike life, quarterly dispatch, super commuters,

Our spring Super Commuter is Vivian Ortiz. In contrast to Paul Revere’s historic ride through the streets of Boston on horseback, Vivian opts for her faithful bicycle as her steed of choice. She found her passion for cycling a bit later in life, but that hasn’t stopped her from being a powerful advocate and inspiration for others to join her on a bicycling journey. Known throughout the city as the “Bike Mayor of Boston,” Vivian champions the bicycle as a vehicle to create a more healthy and livable community.

Vivian’s childhood was marked by frequent relocations due to her father’s military career. As a kid, she does have a fleeting bicycle memory of a summer of sharing a bike with her siblings, but then the family moved once again, and the bicycle was left behind. While in middle school, Vivian’s family settled in El Paso, TX where she stayed for most of her young adult life using her car for transportation. At 44, Vivian moved to New York City, got rid of her car to lighten her carbon footprint and started relying on the city’s public transit.

Following a relocation to Boston, Vivian was persuaded by a friend to attend a women’s “learn-to-ride” clinic. This was the start of her biking journey and she continued to dabble in cycling on a donated 32-pound three-speed bicycle for a few years. She fondly recalls the “extreme patience” of her cycling companions as she crawled up the hills and chugged around town. Her casual interest blossomed into a passion after being introduced by her friend Alex to the Boston Bike Party—a festive monthly ride through the city’s neighborhoods, attracting as many as a thousand cycling enthusiasts. The sense of freedom she experienced on two wheels and the camaraderie it fostered quickly captivated her. 

As a novice in urban commuting, Vivian often felt marginalized by trucks zooming past, tempting her to retreat to the safety of the sidewalks. After attending several of the Bike Party rides, Vivian learned the art of road positioning from fellow cyclists friends who she fondly refers to as her “bikeys.” As she grew more confident and consistent in applying her new skills, motorists acknowledged her presence, allowing her more room on the road. This shift was empowering for Vivian; she had claimed her rightful place among the city’s bustling traffic. Reflecting on this change, she realized, “I stood my ground, and they realized I wasn’t going away.”

Adapting to Boston’s unpredictable weather was a stark contrast to the 300 plus days of sunshine annually that Vivian was accustomed to in El Paso, the “Sun City.” Yet, she courageously faces all weather conditions with a particular fondness for the summer. During these warmer months, the Neponset River Trail becomes a hub of friendship and active adventure for Vivian and her friends as they cycle together. This 13-mile path offers a quick getaway from the city’s hustle and bustle and it’s just three minutes from her front door!

Vivian has a natural knack for being a driving force in her community. Known affectionately as the “Bike Lady” throughout Boston, she became one of seven spokesmodels in the 2015 “I Bike! Boston” campaign. This initiative promoted bicycling as an active form of transportation among Boston’s Black and Brown communities. Vivian’s likeness became a familiar site, adorning city buses and billboards, with one prominently displayed at the entrance to her Mattapan neighborhood.

In 2020, Vivian’s commitment to active transportation was recognized when she was nominated by leaders of the Boston bicycle advocacy community and became one of only six “Bike Mayors” in the United States. This designation, bestowed by the Amsterdam-based global NGO BYCS (Link) tasked her with being the human face and voice of cycling in Boston. Her rich background and life experiences make her a natural fit to connect citizens and changemakers within the city to promote bicycling as a solution to the city’s complex urban challenges. Vivian also works as an outreach coordinator for the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School program, serves on the League of American Bicyclists board and on the board of the friends group working to maintain and extend the Neponset Greenway.

Like many bicycle commuters post-pandemic, Vivian has adapted her bike commuting routine to accommodate her hybrid work schedule, which now includes both office and remote hours. Despite these changes, she remains committed to incorporating cycling into her daily life. As Vivian moves about the city, she often engages strangers with the question, “Do you ride a bicycle?” While the responses vary, she uses these interactions to engage with her fellow Bostonians and spread her excitement for cycling by inviting them to ride with her or join one of her “learn to ride” clinics. “I’ll likely never see them again” she admits, “but either way I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the conversation the next time they see a person riding a bike down the road and give them space.”

When you’re next in Boston, keep your eyes peeled for Vivian. Whether she’s navigating the streets on her commute, featured on a billboard, or pedaling along the Neponset, she’s likely to inspire you to grab a bicycle and join her on the journey. As a fervent advocate for change within her community, Vivian is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to bicycles, the necessary skills to ride them, and safe and supporting infrastructure. She’s making a difference one person, one neighborhood, and one city at a time. Hats off to Vivian, our Planet Bike Super Commuter!