An Interview with Amelia Neptune: 10 Years Working at the League
This month, Bicycle Friendly America Program Director Amelia Neptune celebrates 10 years of working at the League!
Amelia started with the title of Bicycle Friendly America Program Specialist in 2013 and has since spent over a decade building the BFA program to incredible new heights. We sat down with Amelia for a work anniversary Q & A to reflect on 10 years of building a more Bicycle Friendly America for everyone.
Q. How did your journey with the League start?
A. I love this question! Before I worked at the League I was living in Urbana, Illinois and working as a Campus Sustainability Specialist for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). My job covered a range of sustainability topics like battery recycling, compost in the dining halls, getting funding for a new solar farm on campus, and of course sustainable transportation. A month or so after I started working there, UIUC received the feedback report in response to their 2011 application to the League’s Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) program, which was a brand new program for the League at the time.
UIUC had applied in the very first round of BFU applications just before I was hired, and my boss at the time handed me that BFU feedback report and asked me to see how many of the recommendations I could implement. Over the next few years, I worked steadily to implement the League’s recommendations, including developing UIUC’s new campus bike plan, launching an annual bike census counting effort, growing their bike month activities, improving bike parking, and much more. That BFU feedback report was an invaluable tool and resource, and I was even able to use it to make the case for a job title and description change for myself: from general campus sustainability to focusing specifically on bikes as UIUC’s first official Campus Bicycle Coordinator. In the fall of 2013, when the BFA program specialist job opened up at the League, I was SO excited to apply to be on the other side of the BFU program. … And the rest is history!
Q. How has the Bicycle Friendly America program evolved since you started here in 2013?
A. The growth of the BFA program since 2013 has been just incredible! I looked up some stats for this interview, and in December 2013 when I started, there were 291 BFCs, 632 BFBs, and 75 BFUs.
Compare that to today’s numbers: we have 506 BFCs, 1,451 BFBs, and 220 BFUs. And I always like to remind people that this is not a participation trophy: 63% of first-time BFC applicants do NOT get an award the first time they apply to the BFC program – but everyone gets feedback and encouragement to improve. So in terms of the number of applications we’re seeing and giving feedback on, the numbers for each program are even higher.
We’ve also done substantive updates of all 3 BFA applications since I started working at the League, including a big overhaul of BFB in 2015, of BFU in 2021, and of BFC in 2022, when we added the new Equity & Accessibility section.
Q. What is your favorite part about leading the BFA program? What excites you most?
A. Getting to actually review BFA applications and read about all the amazing and inspiring work happening on the ground around the country is by far my favorite part of working on the BFA program. There are just so many cool stories about large and small efforts happening thanks to local bike advocates, bicycling champions at local governments, and people working tirelessly to improve their community, business, or campus for bicycling. It never gets old! And being able to see the progress in places that are returning with a renewal BFA application after several years of these kinds of efforts is ESPECIALLY inspiring. When places tell us how they’ve used our feedback and made improvements that we suggested, and now they’re seeing real impacts like increased ridership, safety, and bike culture… It’s just incredibly gratifying to hear those kinds of success stories.
Q. In the past ten years of this work, what successes have brought you the most joy?
A. Three things come to mind, which I’ll share in chronological order:
First, I remember in 2015, when we passed 1,000 BFBs and were featured by Forbes for hitting this major milestone. I was incredibly proud of that because it felt like such a sign of bicycling becoming more normalized and mainstream.
Second, last year we released the first major update to the BFC application in over a decade, with the addition of the new Equity & Accessibility section and criteria for Bicycle Friendly Communities. It’s been incredibly gratifying since then to hear from communities that this update is already proving to be helpful in informing their Equity & Accessibility-related work and in making the case for prioritizing these issues in communities’ transportation and bicycling efforts.
And then third, earlier this month we released a new publication called the BFC Ideabook and that was super exciting because it was a chance to be able to share some of those on-the-ground stories that we get to learn about through BFA applications with a much broader audience. It’s something I always think we could do more of, and that we strive to do more of, and I’m really proud of the collection of stories, examples, and resources that we highlight in the Ideabook.
Q. What drives your continued dedication to the BFA program?
A. A little-known fact about me is that before I started working on bicycling issues for my previous job, I was solidly in the “interested but concerned” camp of cyclists. I had previously been living in Washington, D.C. and was completely car-free (primarily for environmental reasons) for over 5 years at that point, but I mostly walked and relied on transit to get around. I owned a bike, but had to be convinced to go for a ride. Over time, I slowly started biking for transportation more and eventually became a daily bike commuter around the same time that BFU feedback report landed on my desk.
To be honest, over a decade later I am still not a “strong and fearless” rider but I’m a lot more confident (thanks in part to many LCIs I’ve met along the way!) and I consider myself lucky to have experienced first-hand the joy, freedom, and power of the bicycle. But I also still understand and empathize with the huge portion of the population who don’t see biking as a real option when they’re making decisions on how to get around their community, and I want to be part of the solution to fix that. I now have two kids and we’re still a car-free family, but I know we’re incredibly privileged to live in a walkable, bikeable neighborhood in a Gold-level BFC – making it an easier choice for us.
Biking truly is the simplest solution to SO many of the world’s problems, and if we just made it easier, safer, and more accessible for more people to choose to bike, by prioritizing it in our transportation systems, life really would be better for everyone.
So, all of that motivates me to keep doing this work through the BFA program. I believe in the League’s mission and I want to create a world where everyone feels like biking is not just an option for them to get around, but that it is among the easiest and most obvious options, because it is so safe, accessible, and reliable. We have quite a ways to go for most places in the U.S. to feel like this – but that’s what I want to see.
- What is your biggest hope for the bicycle movement in the next decade?
The goal of any nonprofit or advocacy movement should be to put themselves out of a job, by succeeding at their goal. I’m not sure I see us getting all the way there in the next ten years, because we know this work takes time, and we also know it’s an uphill battle to combat over a century of car culture and dependence.
But my hope is that, thanks to our partnerships and common goals around health, wellbeing, climate, equity, and liveability, the bike movement becomes so mainstream that we’re not arguing whether to make investments in better bicycling, but are just fine-tuning exactly how to make those investments – to build out connected networks of low-stress facilities, to create programs that help increase access to bikes and bike education, and to make sure everyone, regardless of how likely the are to ride a bike, sees the value in creating a more Bicycle Friendly America, for everyone.