If you’ve ever been connected to a Safe Routes to School program or cared about safer streets, chances are you’ve been influenced by the life and work of Deb Hubsmith. After surviving a 1996 car wreck in San Francisco, the bicycle became Deb’s primary mode of transportation as she vowed to never replace her car and began her lifelong work in grassroots transportation advocacy.
She served as the first Executive Director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and launched a local Safe Routes to School program. After spreading the movement throughout California, Safe Routes to School garnered a national spotlight after Deb partnered with the late Representative Jim Oberstar, a staunch supporter of bicycling. She helped lead the effort that resulted in the passage of the first federal Safe Routes to School legislation by Congress. Since 2005, more than $1 billion has been granted to Safe Routes projects in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
In anticipation of the federal funding, Deb founded the Safe Routes to School National Partnership in 2005. She founded the organization as a part-time executive director with support from Bikes Belong Foundation (now PeopleForBikes), which hosted the National Partnership as a program of their non-profit organization. With her contagious energy and enthusiasm, Deb was able to guide the development of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership from an all-volunteer organization to a powerful nationwide coalition with more than 750 partners, a $3 million annual budget and full-time staff dispersed throughout the country. Deb’s commitment to safe, healthy, and active living directly led to her organization’s extraordinary growth, influencing thousands of communities across the country and benefiting millions of children.
In October of 2013, Deb was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Despite this tremendous challenge, she remained dedicated to her vision of creating a more walkable, bikeable, and healthier world, especially for children. Even after stepping down as executive director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership in September 2014 in order to focus on her health, she remained an active board member. After a brave two year battle with leukemia, Deb passed away this August.
Though Deb may no longer be with us in person, her spirit and legacy lives on in Safe Routes to School programs throughout the country. While many people are familiar with Deb’s story and all of her amazing work in California, they may not know that she has “Jersey roots,” having grown up right here in the Garden State in Woodcliff Lake. This September, Deb’s legacy was remembered and celebrated in New Jersey as part of Netcong Elementary School’s Walk and Roll Club. During the September “Turn Over a New Leaf” walk, Kyla, Deb’s cousin who is a 6th grader at Netcong Elementary, recalled Deb’s passion for walking and bicycling and dedicated her walk to school to her “Aunt Deb.”
As we continue to mourn Deb’s passing, as Kyla did, let’s celebrate the legacy of her life. The greatest tribute we can make to Deb’s life is to ensure that we are continuing her work by doing all that we can to foster safe routes to school and walkable, active communities for everyone.