(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
Moving On is a series of Q&As with social impact leaders who are leaving their organizations for new opportunities. Here, they share what they learned and where they’re headed.
Philadelphia is becoming known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country and is even hosting the national Better Bike Share Conference this month. But according to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia‘s Katie Monroe, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done before biking in the city is safe and accessible for everyone.
Monroe has been working for the Bicycle Coalition for four years. For the past two years, her official role has been as Better Bike Share Partnership outreach manager, where she connects the Bicycle Coalition and Indego bike share with the city and national organizations “to make Philly and beyond more equitable and inclusive,” as Monroe puts it.
Previous to that, she founded Women Bike PHL in the spring of 2013 — which is perhaps how she is better known, due to the the public-facing nature of the work. What started as a Facebook group for women, trans and gender-nonconforming individuals has grown to an event-heavy program run largely by volunteers.
June 30 is her last day. In her Moving On interview, she talks with Generocity Editor Julie Zeglen about how bikes can be used as a tool to connect people, why the biking community makes Philly a great place to be and what needs to be done to make the city truly bike-friendly for all. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
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Generocity: What’s going to happen to the programs you run in your absence?
Katie Monroe: “On the Indego side, the person stepping into my role is Waffiyyah Murray, who was our Safe Routes coordinator. She’s a native Philadelphian, a Temple alum. She’s really grown the Safe Routes program over the last couple of years and has that knack for relationship building that is the most important thing to have [for this job]. So, I feel really really confident about that work continuing — bike share education and bike education around the city in different neighborhoods, and thinking critically about how we make bike share more inclusive and accessible to more people.
“On the Women Bike PHL side, it’s a little more tricky, but really happy to have someone thinking about it and continuing the work over the summer in even a small, internship capacity. [Editor’s note: The funding campaign worked!]
“I’ll be back in the fall. I’m doing some traveling this summer. I definitely intend to stay involved with Women Bike PHL in a volunteer capacity.”
G: Why are you leaving?
KM: “I saw something in your interview with Erin like, ‘People just need a change, even though they love what they’re doing.’ I would definitely characterize it as that — I just need a change.
“I have loved working in the bike world, I have made amazing relationships in the bike world that I’ll have forever. I have fallen in love with Philadelphia through the bike world. But at this point I feel like I want to take what I know to be true about the power of the bicycle as a tool to accomplish various things and go do something else, and take that tool with me.
“And I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what’s next. There’s a million different ways to go about leaving a job, but I really wanted to take some space and time to travel. My work is so absorbing and love it so much that I want to be in it ‘til the very end, and we’ll see where I land. Putting a little bit of faith in Philadelphia.”
KM: “And honestly, one of the reasons I’m excited to not be working in bikes officially anymore is that I feel like I can allow bikes to be my hobby in a way that I haven’t been able to in the past couple years. I have carved out space that’s separate from my work to sort of process and have hobby time and be excited to follow my ideas about types of bike rides or bike touring I want to do on my own — stuff like that that’s difficult to do when bikes are also my day job.
“It will just be a new phase of the relationship with the biking community and biking. And in terms of what I do next, some of the moments I’ve been most excited in the past couple years about the work that I’ve done with biking has been when it feels like I’m using bikes as a tool to connect people to something else, or engaging in a topic that isn’t just about bikes.”
G: Can you think of an example?
KM: “Absolutely. I did a bike ride that raised money to support Women’s Medical Fund, which helps women who are denied healthcare coverage for their abortions because of the Hyde Amendment and helps them financially access healthcare they need — and this was on my own time, it was not an official Bicycle Coalition ride. We did a ride around Philadelphia talking about reproductive rights and access, and the bike was a way to bring people together to talk about something else.
“And another example is, we did a Fringe [Festival] bike tour the past couple of years — so, using bikes as a tool to get people to a bunch of Fringe shows in one day.”
G: You talked about falling in love with Philly through the bike world. Can share what that community looks like and why it makes Philly a good place to be?
KM: “Some of it is not about particular people, but just about the way that you interact with people in general on your bike. As much as we talk about the negative interactions you can have sometimes with drivers and pedestrians, you pull up at a light next to someone and can actually have a little chat. I feel like that happens a lot, too. I can interact socially with my surroundings on a bike in a way that it’s very difficult to do in a car, in a way that’s not socially acceptable to do on public transportation, so I really love that, being able to interact with Philadelphia.
“But at the same time, what I like to say about Women Bike PHL is that I created it a little bit with the mindset that I have some knowledge that I want to share with people about how to bike in the city, I want to make it easier for people.
“Like many community-based things, I have received far more than I’ve ever put into it. I had a bike crash, and I had an outpouring of support that is one of the only reasons I was able to get back on my bike, and for me, day in and day out, I feel like there’s a community of women that has my back. It’s beautiful.”
G: Philly is known for being a pretty bike-friendly city. But what can the city do to be more bike-friendly?
KM: “I really believe that Philadelphia needs more safe bike infrastructure — bike lanes, protected bike lanes, the type of bike lane that you would see and would inspire you to get on your bike and ride. At the same time, I think that sometimes we undervalue the role that community development and education and community engagement plays in getting people on bikes. The lack of bike lanes are just one of the barriers.”
G: Anything else you’d like to share about your time at the Bicycle Coalition?
KM: “There is so much more work to be done. I’m not leaving because the work is done. But I do trust that there’s amazing folks that are continuing to push things forward. The work that I think is the most important is work to make our bike community more inclusive of more people, to make more people feel like biking is something they can do, can identify with, to make our events and spaces welcoming and our streets more welcoming, too. There’s a lot left to be done, for sure, and I hope I can still keep doing it in other capacities.”-30-
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