RTC Mourns the Passing of Friend and Bike/Ped Advocate Deb Hubsmith

Posted 08/19/15 by Marianne Wesley Fowler in Policy, Success Stories

Photo courtesy Love Healing Deb

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague Deb Hubsmith on Aug. 18, 2015, after a two-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia. She was 46.

Deb was a passionate, persistent and amazingly gifted champion for the many advances the nation has seen in trails and bike/ped policy and practice over the past 20 years.

From her position and experience as a leader of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition in California, which she helped found in 1998, Deb worked with the late Congressman Jim Oberstar and other advocates to craft a legislative agenda to advance walking and biking nationwide. Building on federal transportation legislation, she helped define a number of programs that would carry the bike/ped movement beyond the individual project stage to one of safe active-transportation systems for people of all ages and abilities.

Deb and the late Rep. Jim Oberstar in Washington, D.C., in 2007 | Photo by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland

In 2000, Deb worked tirelessly on the implementation of the Safe Routes to School Pilot Program in Marin County (one of two participating sites), which incorporated the Mill Valley-Sausalito Path—one of the nation’s pioneering rail-trails—into its plan. Deb’s dream to ensure a fully funded national program would follow in 2005 with the passage of a Safe Routes to School Program in Congress’ SAFETEA-LU transportation legislation.

She was also vital to the passing that same year of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), for which Marin County served as one of four test communities, and helped form and serve on the NTPP working group charged with guiding the initiative to completion.

Marin County NTPP efforts included the restoration of the 1,100-foot Cal Park Hill Tunnel as the lead project, closing a regional network gap between San Rafael and Larkspur and providing expanded access to the San Francisco Bay Ferry. Opened in 2010, the Cal Park Hill Tunnel stands as a national model for how the recycling of old rail facilities and innovative designs can help reconnect America's communities.

NTPP—borne from visionaries such as Deb—would ultimately be responsible for averting 85.1 million vehicle miles traveled between 2009 and 2013, and now serves as proof of the way in which active transportation can change lives—and entire communities.

"Deb was a friend and tireless advocate who never relented in her drive to make Marin County and all of America a healthier place," said Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President Keith Laughlin. "I have fond memories of working closely with Deb and the late Rep. Jim Oberstar to create both the federal Safe Routes to School Program and the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. While Deb departed this earth far too young, she leaves a legacy that most humans could not hope to achieve in 100 years."

Deb’s persistence and gifts in the field helped lead to the founding in 2005 of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, for which she served for many years as executive director. Under her direction, the group evolved from an all-volunteer organization to a coalition with 30 staff across the country, a $3 million budget and more than 700 partners. Safe Routes to School programs now operate in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and more than 15,000 schools have received federal funding for these programs.

To honor Deb’s work as one of the world’s top bike advocates, PeopleForBikes has launched the Deb Hubsmith Legacy Fund with a goal of raising $50,000 in 30 days as an unrestricted gift to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. 

There are few for whom it can be claimed that they were “necessary” to the advocacy efforts that brought walking and biking to the fore in American communities.

Deb Hubsmith stands among them, and she will be missed.

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