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Women’s (Bike) History Month: Deb Hubsmith

Guest post by Margo Pedroso, Deputy Director, Safe Routes to School National Partnership

As the founder and director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Deb Hubsmith has made it her life’s work to ensure that kids can safely ride bicycles and walk. Paradoxically, she got her start in the bike movement as a driver. Nearly 20 years ago, another driver crashed into Deb’s car, and she swore she would not get another. Following through on that promise proved challenging — her home base in Marin County, California, lacked safe bicycling and walking infrastructure.

This propelled Deb to get involved in bicycle advocacy. In the late 1990s, Deb rode a solar-powered electric bike to schools to speak about walking, bicycling, transit and these connections to health. Public attention from that project snowballed into Deb becoming the executive director of the newly formed Marin County Bicycle Coalition, where she led many campaigns, including securing funding for much of North/South Greenway, which will be a 90-mile pathway along a rail line from Sausalito through Sonoma.

As part of her growing involvement, Deb traveled to Europe to see their bicycle infrastructure and activities and was inspired by the Sustrans Safe Routes to School program. She brought that information back to the states and started working on efforts to get more kids walking and bicycling to and from schools.

Word eventually spread to then-Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), who secured $50,000 in pilot program funding for Marin County to run a Safe Routes to School program. Deb kept in touch with Oberstar, and with advocacy help from the America Bikes coalition, the pilot led to the establishment of the federal Safe Routes to School program in 2005. As a result of that legislation, more than $1.1 billion was made available over the course of the next eight years to all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

At the same time, Deb officially launched the nonprofit Safe Routes to School National Partnership, after more than two years of planning, with help from the League of American Bicyclists. Bikes Belong agreed to host the new organization, and Deb secured additional funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, cementing the linkage between Safe Routes to School and the campaign to reverse childhood obesity. Since then, it’s been a fast ride for Deb.

As director of the National Partnership, Deb sets the vision for the organization and provides leadership, oversight and direction for programs, policies and staff to build a national movement that advances street-scale improvements and shared use agreements through programs, policy change and publicity. The National Partnership now has a $3 million budget, 25 staff and more than 600 organizational partners.

Collectively, the Safe Routes to School federal program has funded more than 14,000 schools, and the movement extends beyond the federal funding to thousands more schools and millions of children nationwide. Schools are at the heart of communities and health for our nation. Building from Deb’s commitment to collaboration and future generations, the National Partnership and its supporters have propelled the movement into a catalytic change-maker, helping the public and policy makers rethink how we design our communities and schools so that they are walkable and bikeable for kids and everyone.

Learn more about the Partnership here.  

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