news Alisha Oloughlin: Keeping Advocacy Projects On Track
Cycling infrastructure in Marin County has a lot of moving parts. Former Policy and Planning Director Alisha Oloughlin has been key in helping MCBC keep projects on track and ensure that agencies follow through on their plans and promises. Whether wading through reams of documents on public projects or representing cyclists and pedestrians in committees and meetings, Alisha managed to balance the strategic vision and the practical needs of MCBC members.
After five years with MCBC, Alisha has become the new Executive Director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. Before she pedaled north, we got a chance to sit down with her for some highlights from her time in Marin.
Former MCBC Policy and Planning Director/Special Projects Director – Now Executive Director, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition
While in Marin County, I spent most of my riding time traversing the North-South Greenway, fully enjoying all of the amazing bike/ped facilities in Marin, including the Cal Park Tunnel, Lincoln Hill Path, and now the incredible Central Marin Ferry Connection Bridge (CMFCP). I also experienced first-hand how important it is to close the remaining gaps in our bike/pedestrian network in order to fully appreciate and benefit from all the great work that’s already been done. For example, it was always very challenging exiting the Cal Park Pathway and Tunnel, only to be dumped out in Larkspur Landing onto East Sir Frances Drake, or hitting the end of the MV-Sausalito Pathway and wondering how best to navigate city streets, traffic and the steep terrain to get safely to the other side (and without being sweat drenched). Bicyclists and pedestrians are joyously celebrating the CMFCP which closed one of those gaps; reopening the Alto Tunnel will close the other.
It’s so exciting to see how close we are to a having a seamless, low-stress bicycle and pedestrian network which all ages and abilities can benefit from and enjoy.
Marin is such a beautiful place to get around by bike. My favorite rides are along our scenic paths. The two that I ride (rode?) most frequently were the Corte Madera Creek Path and MV-Sausalito Path. I never tire of looking out at the beautiful creeks and wetlands, breathing in the fresh coastal air, with lovely birds and wildlife all around me, and Mt. Tam towering in the distance.
It’s so peaceful and serene. I also really enjoy having the opportunity to smile and exchange friendly “good mornings” and such with other path users. You don’t get the opportunity for those types of friendly exchanges when you’re in your car.
The entire MCBC staff wishes Alisha the best of luck and success – and we know she’ll continue to advance the interests of active transportation in Sonoma County.
To wrap up the interview, we asked Alisha a few questions from our recent BTWD interview series.
How many years have you been riding?
Since I got my first (Pink Panther) bike at 5 yrs old. For commuting & purpose of replacing car trips- since 1996 when I began commuting by bike/BART to my job in the financial district in SF from Oakland. It was so much more convenient, affordable and fun than driving. It seemed so absurd to sit in rush hour traffic, pay a toll to drive over the bridge, then deal with finding parking and paying top dollar just so my car could sit all day. And, I had fun and got exercise riding my bike! This same logic followed me to college and to every job since. I realized how much easier it was to get around by bike to run errands, go shopping, get to work, you name it! I felt a sense of pride that I was one less car on the road, doing my part to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.
What bicycle do you like the best?
I’m not choosy. I like anything that’s functional, comfortable to ride, and gets me safely from point A to point B.
What do you like best about the benefits of riding your bike?
I like knowing I’m helping to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, consuming less oil, and am living a healthy lifestyle. I’m also very proud to be instilling this same sense of shared responsibility, active lifestyle and “can do” attitude in my daughter.
What would you have liked someone to tell you when you started?
You don’t need a high end bike and a bunch of expensive gadgets or special clothes. Just make sure you have what you need to be comfortable and safe, like a bike pump and an extra tube, or a light if you’ll be riding at night. You’ll quickly learn what additional items you need (or want) like a pannier, milk crate, whatever.
Why would others like to ride in Marin?
It’s so convenient! When you factor in time lost driving in traffic (not to mention the stress), you can get almost anywhere you need to go in Marin by bike in not much more time than it would take to drive. I remember my husband and I leaving Fairfax at the same time, him in his car and me on my bike, and I got to our destination in San Rafael only three minutes after him, and unlike him, I really enjoyed my time getting there. I also timed my commute from Mill Valley to Fairfax (car verses bike), and because I almost always hit traffic when in my car, it took me only ten minutes longer to ride my bike. And, it was the most beautiful bike ride!
As you head north to take your new Executive Director position with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, are there any other thoughts you’d like to share?
In the future, I hope to see a breakdown of the bicyclist and driver stereotypes. I often tell people that I’m not a “bicyclist,” I just ride a bike. Almost every person who rides a bike also drives a car and is a pedestrian. I am optimistic that, as members of a community, we can begin to recognize all people as people, despite whatever transportation mode we’re using. As someone who drives a car, I can usually understand why a driven takes certain actions, but if you’re someone who never rides a bike, then you may not know why people on bikes do some of the things they do.
For instance, when on a bike, I may not get over right away to allow a car to pass if there is not enough space available for the car to pass me safely. I know that it’s in my best interest to “take the lane” until there’s a chance for me to safely move to the side without fear of being sideswiped by the car. I want to make it home safely to my family each night and sometimes that means inconveniencing a driver for a short period.
I’ve also been in a car driving behind a bicyclist feeling eager for an opportunity to pass, but I ask myself if an extra minute or so is worth a life. I try to remember that the person on the bike or in that car could be my sibling, child, or best friend. We all need to look out for each other when we’re sharing our roads and pathway.
Looking at our problems through an “us” against “them” lens only creates divisiveness, which in turn makes all of us more vulnerable.
From the northern border of Marin County, the entire staff of MCBC wishes Alisha all the best in her new position, and look forward to strengthening the bonds between our organizations! We’ve enjoyed the ride so far, and look forward to the miles ahead!