By Dave Campbell
The bike advocacy movement has lost a visionary leader. Deb Hubsmith passed away, at a young age, but after living an accomplished life. As the leader from across the bay to the north, Deb and Bike East Bay worked together a lot, and we learned so much from her.
Deb formed the Marin County Bicycle Coalition in 1998 and helped create the National Safe Routes to School Program shortly thereafter, as well as bring a fresh new approach to the Bay Area’s annual Bike to Work Day promotion in May each year. She also worked closely with Jason Meggs of the Bike the Bridge Coalition to gain a bike path on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. We are comforted to know that this bike path is coming in 2017.
I can remember standing on the waiting platform for a Larkspur Ferry back in 1997, after having ridden in what may have been Marin County’s first critical mass. I was with Deb and Jason, and remember Deb saying to us, “I’m going to form a bicycle coalition in Marin.” Deb had recently launched the Go Geronimo program, an early community rideshare system that helped residents in San Geronimo get to San Rafael. Deb had her sights on much bigger things.
In 2002, I attended my first Thunderhead Retreat, the precursor to the Alliance for Walking & Biking. The retreat was up in Leavenworth, Washington, and was a real eye opener for me, to meet other leaders from around the country earning a living at this, and learning more about what it takes to make change. But what I remember most was dancing with Deb Hubsmith, and with Gayle Stallings of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. Those two must have learned how to dance together. It was half aerobics, high energy and lots of sweat. Even Chris Morfas of the California Bicycle Coalition was dancing. Only Deb could get Chris and I out on the dance floor like that.
In 2003, the California Bicycle Coalition hosted the first Walk Bike Conference in California right here in Oakland. On the final day of the conference, Ole Ohlson of Pittsburg told a charming story of bicycling up a hill somewhere with a Caltrans’ bicycle planner, and then Mayor of Oakland Jerry Brown wandered on to the stage from his nearby office and said a few nice things about bikes. But Deb stole the show, and literally set the stage for why we would all be doing what we do in years to come. Deb gave the closing speech, and it was full of energy and motivation for sure, but most of all its was from her heart. Passion is what Deb brought to us and our work.
Later that evening was one of the few times I think Deb actually took my advice. She was ready for a vacation, but was worried how her Marin County Bicycle Coalition would fare with her gone for an extended absence. Having just returned from a 3-month journey myself through southern Mexico, I told Deb that she would be doing her Coalition a favor by taking some time off–it would force their Board and members to step up and show how Deb had built up a good team around herself. Vacation she did, and thrive did MCBC.
In 2010 I attended the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC and there saw Deb at her best. She worked the crowds of politicians and their staff, and all other leaders at the conference, in the halls of Congress. She was in her element with full command of a unique set of skills and laser like focus on what she intended to achieve. The Safe Routes to School Program has survived every attempt by car-focused politicians nationally to end it, and that’s because it has succeeded in getting so many kids to walk and bike to school. Having not had kids herself, these are Deb’s kids.
More recently Deb attended a meeting at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to discuss how to open up the shoulder of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge as a pathway. Deb was sick at the time with leukemia but back on her feet and back at work. She remembered every detail from years of advocacy around this issue and was more persuavive than anyone. Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to open up the pathway.
She was a pleasure to work with, an inspiration, and someone I always looked forward to seeing again soon. Good bye Deb, and thank for all you have done for us.