California’s New Advocacy Organizer: Passion for Safe Routes

Jeanie Ward-WallerPhysical activity has been central in my life since I learned to run and ride a bike as a kid. Though my career military parents moved my family often, they always prioritized living near a neighborhood school so that my sisters and I could walk or bicycle. I relished the freedom and responsibility of walking and especially bicycling to school, and still treasure those memories. In school I joined every sports team I could. Those physical activity experiences imprinted on my life, and as an adult I still walk and bicycle for transportation, participate in sports and get outside as often as possible.

I started my career as a civil engineer on building projects, but while working as an engineer and during a few years in graduate school I was increasingly drawn to land use, transportation and environmental issues. This spring I took a deep dive into bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, leading a team of four women on a bicycle tour across the southern US. Our goal was to advocate for Safe Routes to School and bike friendly communities in every community on our route, specifically targeting the 20 major cities across the south that rank the lowest in bicycle and pedestrian commute trips. As a walker, runner and cyclist I have always been pretty fanatical about road safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and my passion was galvanized on this trip. Our team had the good fortune to meet Deb Hubsmith in Sacramento at the end of our tour, conveniently right at the time when she was looking for a new California advocacy organizer!

I am very lucky to be joining a strong Safe Routes Partnership team, working in a state with an incredibly rich history of Safe Routes to School. I am particularly excited about meeting, learning from and working with our vast network of partners across the state, and connecting with new partners around our common goals of health and social equity. I have joined the Safe Routes Partnership at a pivotal time, as our organization and partners strive to keep the federal Safe Routes to School program as successful as it always has been. I couldn’t be more committed and motivated to working toward our network policy goals! They are focusing on leveraging funding for bicycle and pedestrian construction projects (including the award and obligation of federal Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements funds), promoting Complete Streets and street-scale improvements and advancing joint-use/shared-use policies – all with an emphasis on lower-income communities. My vision is that every child might have the same opportunities that I had to get outside in his or her neighborhood and enjoy physical activity.