“Everything changes and nothing stands still.”
Heraclitus summed it up nicely, don’t you think? (You remember him--the Greek philosopher who said, "You can never step in the same river twice."
Three and a half years ago I made a big leap. From Spokane to Seattle, from the security of work as a public employee to the responsibility of leading a nonprofit, from a city where it felt as if my network gave me one and a half degrees of separation from everyone in town to a major metropolitan area known for its “freeze” reception.
And it all worked out just fine.
The move: First to a borrowed condo in the heart of downtown, situated right on the duck boat tour route and they play the same song at the same point Every. Single. Time. But we could walk to Pike Place Market, bike along Elliott Bay Trail through the Myrtle Edwards Sculpture Park, and find good coffee on every corner. (It’s Seattle, after all.)
Next, north to a Lake City rental on a little side street near a park. Walking distance to great falafel and sushi, express bus service or an hour’s bike ride to downtown. Nothing special but a really functional layout when it was just the two of us. When we had all four of our adult-sized children with us and one bathroom, not so much.
This summer we bought a house in an untrendy neighborhood near White Center. “Untrendy” can be translated as “within our price range in a crazed red-hot real estate market.” Great house, great layout, great yard, and three whole bathrooms. (You can come home now, kids.) I shortened my bike ride to work, with the bonus that 6 of the 8 miles are on either a separated path or a bike lane with sidewalk option. We still have access to restaurants with cuisines from around the world, we’re only two miles from my older brother and his wife, and we have easy access to the highway connections and airport I need for work travel.
The job—big change again. When I came to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington as executive director we had a great track record that was relatively unknown beyond the circle of people who watch bike advocacy closely.
We’d led work in Olympia for nearly 3 decades, producing a dozen laws for safety, education, and enforcement. Our communication work hadn’t kept up with our policy work, and I set out to change that.
We stepped up our social media game big time. Today we have over four times as many Facebook followers and nearly 10 times as many Twitter followers, with high engagement on both fronts. We increased our blog content production, giving us more to share on social media, and saw the results in our site traffic. And we rebranded to become Washington Bikes, an action-oriented and easily remembered name that lends itself to all kinds of programs within our mission. As we liked to tell people, "When our work succeeds, Washington Bikes."
The effort to build a large and engaged following paid off time and again as we worked for even more policy wins. Each year we achieved a new high in state funding for biking and walking. We passed policy bills. We expanded the base of support for bike investments by positioning bike travel and tourism as economic development assets, particularly for small towns and rural regions that need it most.
When it came time for the state to put together a transportation revenue package, we had enough legislative support in both houses and on both sides of the aisle to see bike/walk investments actually increase during the final negotiations, to end at around half a billion over the next 16 years--the biggest investment in state history. That’s Billion with a B. That revenue package then faced the threat of executive action that would strip our dollars. We led a bold campaign with the help of the allies we’d been partnering with to shape and spread our message framing, and we won.
Alongside this effort we were engaged in exciting conversations about the possibility of merging with Cascade Bicycle Club. They focus on the most populous region of the state with a larger staff than ours, making them a significant partner in many ways. Their executive director Elizabeth Kiker, who came to Seattle the year after I did, became a friend and colleague right from the start.
The discussions over the course of the summer and fall hinged on whether their board and staff understood what it meant to us to be the statewide bike nonprofit—not just in Olympia, but around the state, connecting with, seeding, and supporting local advocacy efforts that lay the foundation for legislative success. We articulated and discussed what matters most in our work and saw how much alignment our missions already had, along with the increased efficiencies we could gain from a merger.
Ultimately both boards voted in favor of the merger on December 8. The Cascade board embraces the Washington Bikes mission, staff members look forward to learning what it will mean for their work as it evolves, and we’ll be able to do more over the long run for the people who care about better bicycling and safer streets. Together we constitute the nation's largest bike nonprofit.
So on January 1, 2016, I’ll no longer be the executive director of Washington Bikes. The name still exists, and I’ll serve as Chief Strategic Officer for both Washington Bikes and Cascade Bicycle Club. Our stellar statewide policy director, Blake Trask, will become Senior Director of Policy for both entities, aligning advocacy work in the Puget Sound with state work.
I’ll continue to lead communications, with the exciting new challenge of shaping two brands that need to be complementary and connected and with more staff to support the effort. As the statewide ambassador of the merged organization I'll keep working to strengthen the relationships we have with groups and individuals all around Washington. And in this first critical year of the merged organization I'll be stewarding the history and vision of our organization as we blend our programs with Cascade's and plan together for what the future will look like.
As for the network I had in Spokane, it’s still there. It’s been extended to include friends from Bellingham to Port Angeles to Wenatchee to Vancouver to Tri-Cities to Pullman, and even beyond that, to Texas, California, New York, Georgia, Iowa, Florida, Oregon, Idaho. It doesn’t feel quite the same as seeing the same faces every month at a meeting of Greater Spokane Incorporated or welcoming city, state, and federal officials to an event for WSU Spokane, but it has its own rewards.
With my change in duties and the larger organizational infrastructure to work with, I’ll finally have time to pursue some of my interests outside work that have been shelved while I focused intensely on extending our presence. That will further enrich my circle of friends and connections. I expect continued opportunities for professional growth at the same time I restore some much-needed balance.
The past three years have held changes and challenges. Beyond those listed here, to list just a few:
My children have matured to become young adults. Eldest Daughter lives and works in Spokane, Second Daughter lives in New York while she attends college and pursues her musical theater ambitions, and my husband's two teenagers are with us on a schedule constrained by school and other obligations so we're practically empty-nesters much of the time, except when we're not.
My dad died just a few months after we moved to Seattle; my mom died a year ago just after Mother's Day; my husband’s father died unexpectedly later that summer.
In May of this year my husband crashed during a race and broke multiple facial bones (with full recovery), I had a heart health scare that turned out to be nothing (but boy, is it ever expensive to figure out "nothing").
To quote another wise sage, Roseanna Roseannadanna, "It's always something. If it isn't one thing, it's another."
And now it's time for another thing.