“[Bike share] encourages slower, comfortable, leisurely biking. It's something I can see myself doing every day."
Cyclist of the Month: Holly Houser
Wheels: A 12-year-old Specialized Allez. "It's old and I bought it used but it works and it fits me. I feel like it's an extension of my body."
Occupation: Executive Director of Puget Sound Bike Share
November marks the one-year-anniversary since Holly Houser took the helm at Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS), the nonprofit partnership of public and private organizations working to bring bike sharing to King County.
Currently on track for a spring 2014 launch, PSBS will introduce bike sharing to King County with 500 bikes at 50 bike share stations, and has a long-term goal of 2200 bikes at 220 stations throughout the region. Vancouver B.C. and Portland will launch their bike sharing programs around the same time.
"Based on companies like Car2go and ZipCar, bike share in Seattle and the region is going to be huge," said Holly.
It's perhaps not surprising to learn that Holly is a lifelong cyclist.
Born and raised in the Seattle-area, bikes were always part of life.
"My family biked together growing up; I biked to school, to volunteer at the Edmonds museum, to tennis lessons - we were on the bike all the time as kids," she said. "The bike allowed me to come and go as I pleased. I liked the freedom it gave me and I like that still."
Always a transportational rider, Holly said she absolutely loves city riding.
"I love the adrenaline, I like to ride fast and aggressively, and I like the freedom," she said and admitted to being a fearless yet fair-weather rider.
"I've always ridden by myself, and always to go places. I was never around people who rode so it's been really cool to suddenly be immersed into that world. I bike more now, not because I feel that I have to, but because I'm inspired to. I'm learning more things, I ride socially and I'm learning how to ride in groups."
Interestingly, Holly came across PSBS not through bicycling.
Prior to taking the E.D. position, Holly had been working in commercial real estate and development and served as director of operations for a local real estate development firm. But she'd always wanted to work more in urban planning.
"It wasn't biking that pulled me into that direction but rather the intrigue of starting a nonprofit -- something I had done before -- and how it was going to change how people were going to get around the city, see the city and experience the city," said Holly, who is also the co-founder of Rain City Rock Camp for Girls, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to building positive self-esteem in girls and encouraging creative expression through music.
Upon her hiring, Holly threw herself into learning all about transportation issues, but coming from the outside has actually been a good thing, she said.
"Having that perspective has been helpful in figuring out how to introduce this concept [of bikeshare] to people who aren't already engrained into biking," she said. "When I took the job, I had never seen or ridden Bike Share. I went to Charlotte and D.C. to ride different equipment, and it was awesome. You don't understand how great it is until you experience [bike share]."
Holly said Bike Share allowed her to see the city differently, spontaneously and at her own pace.
"I rode through neighborhoods I would have never seen if I had taken the metro. I could spontaneously grab a bike and go where I needed to go," she said. "I was excited [about PSBS] to begin with but seeing and experiencing it really ignited an extra spark."
Fueled with this spark, Holly and the PSBS board are working hard to get to that first phase of the program-the initial launch-, hashing out laws and looking corporate sponsors.
In July, Seattle Children’s Hospital became the first major Seattle-area employer to invest in PSBS with a $500,000 grant for adult helmets.
Being one of the few Bike Share programs to launch in a city with a mandatory helmet law, concerns about helmets and safety have come up a lot.
To promote law-abiding and safe bicycling, the Bike Share stations will have a helmet vending machine for users that don't already have a helmet.
But when it comes to road safety, Holly said it's a "chicken and the egg problem".
"If we waited for our bicycling infrastructure to be there, we may never launch because it could always be better. We are putting 500 more bikes on the road, and we are hoping it will get people on bikes who would usually be behind the wheel," said Holly, adding that she hopes the new riders will grow Seattle's bicycling momentum.
"In New York City, as of August 27, there were eight reported non-serious crashes in three million rides," Holly stated. "The percentage of crashed involving people on Bike Share bikes versus regular bikes is much lower."
The Bike Share bicycles are not made to go fast or for long distances. They are merely made for short trips, no longer than 30 minutes. They are upright, sturdy and fairly heavy.
"It encourages slower, comfortable, leisurely biking," said Holly. "It's something I can see myself doing every day."
Know a cyclist who deserves some special recognition? Nominate them for cyclist of the month! Send your ideas to Anne-Marije Rook at firstname.lastname@example.org.