Early members spotlight: Amy Carlson

Photo courtesy of Mike Hooning

In 1970, a small group of active cyclists gathered in a basement on Mercer Island. Little did these individuals know that they were going to change the future of bicycling in the Puget Sound region. Forty-five years later, the Cascade Bicycle Club is the largest bicycling organization of its kind in the U.S. with more than 15,000 members, 1,000 volunteers and 36 staff. Here we highlight a few of Cascade’s earliest members, hear how their involvement changed the course of their lives and find out what they’re up to today.

Amy Carlson lived in Europe for a few years and bought a five-speed. She remembers bicycling was “a way of life, just a way of getting around” in the cities in Germany and England she lived in.

When Amy returned to the U.S. she wanted to continue bicycling, but was faced with substantial barriers. She lived in Bellevue and was studying at the University of Washington (UW). The 520 bridge had just opened, but didn’t include a path or sidewalk for biking or walking. Her only option was to take the I-90 bridge, which increased her commute to 18 miles one-way.

Infuriated that the city ignored the needs of people walking and biking, Amy joined Cascade’s Bicycle Action Committee (the then-advocacy arm of Cascade) in 1974. She started coming to the the monthly Cascade meetings, which included a ride around Mercer Island, and a potluck before getting down to business.

“I don’t bicycle as far and as fast as I used to, but I still like to go ride. It still gives me–like when I was a kid–the sense of freedom and going with the wind.” - Amy Carlson, Cascade early member.

Amy was the chair of the Bicycle Action Committee for a number of years. She also served as Cascade’s president in the ‘70s.

She was actively involved in making sure the I-90 bridge included a 10-foot-wide path for people walking and riding across, instead of the six-foot path originally proposed.

Overall, Amy remembers the 1970s and 1980s as “a time of having to fight to make sure that the bicycle voice was heard.”

In addition to advocating for better bikeways, Cascade played a role in getting a bicycle coordinator for the city of Seattle, which shifted the conversation to include the needs of those who bicycle when updating any infrastructure, Amy noted.

When she wasn’t advocating for better bikeways, Amy also rode her bicycle for fun.

She rode the first STP and the first RSVP, and her first century was Chilly Hilly–when the ride used to take participants around Bainbridge Island four times!

Amy said she was not the only woman on two wheels involved in Cascade, “there were a lot of us!” she exclaimed, adding that she is still friends with many women she met in her early days at Cascade.

Amy’s retired now, and she still commutes to the UW(now just 3.5 miles away from her home) to take all the “fun classes” that didn’t fit in when she was getting her civil engineering degree–subjects like history, geology, music and art history.

“I don’t bicycle as far and as fast as I used to, but I still like to go ride. It still gives me–like when I was a kid–the sense of freedom and going with the wind,” said Amy.

Now, forty years later, we are nearing the day when we will be able to walk and bicycle across the 520 bridge, thanks to activists like Amy.

Want to help transform our region through bicycling? Learn more about our advocacy initiatives: www.cascade.org/get-involved.