2020 Year in Review: Bikes Made the Difference
In a year of pandemic, racial reckoning and economic calamity, bicycles played a pivotal role. Here are some of the 2020 Cascade stories that reflect the triumphs, tragedies and perseverance of the past year. 

This was supposed to be a year of golden celebration for Cascade Bicycle Club, which turned 50 in 2020. The organization was financially strong, our elementary school education program Let’s Go was poised to reach more than 20,000 schoolchildren, including middle schools for the first time. Our events schedule was packed, and our advocacy work was expanding.

You know the rest of the story. 

As the pandemic took hold and Seattle streets emptied of cars in March, we caught an early glimpse of how bicycles would become one of the safest ways to recreate and travel in our post, “Empty Streets and Wide Open Bike Lanes.”

Cascade quickly pivoted to call for more government support for Open Streets, complete bike networks, safe places to recreate, and stimulus that directs funds to biking, walking and transit. “Cascade’s COVID-19 Advocacy Platform.”

The abrupt closure of the West Seattle Bridge previously used by more than 100,000 vehicles daily made us think creatively. Cascade and its partners outlined a plan for the city to make bikes a major part of the solution. We then launched maps and videos to share details on how folks can get around by bike. 

A silver lining of the pandemic has been the explosion in sales of bicycles and electric bikes in Seattle and worldwide. We spoke to some Seattle firefighters who were buying e-bikes and interviewed shop owners benefiting from booming sales in “Electric Bike Sales Catch Fire.”  

Unfortunately, all these new riders could not gather to ride STP with us. The cancellation of our major group rides and many other events not only hit Cascade and its members hard, they also upended the finances of many small nonprofits and rural communities that depend on bike tourism. We spoke to some of these community nonprofits reeling from the loss of more than $100,000 due to the cancellation of STP, officially called the Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland Presented by Alaska Airlines.

In early summer, the Black Lives Matter protest movement erupted in the face of police killings of unarmed Black people. Cascade and its political action arm Washington Bikes joined the call to end violence against Black people and communities of color.

As protesters took to the streets in Seattle and elsewhere, images emerged of people using their bikes to shield marchers from police lines. Cascade was among the first organizations to document this story, “Bicycles Used as Tools to Support Black Lives Matter Marches.”

The Black Lives Matter Movement forced Cascade to reckon with its past silence on issues related to racial discrimination. Our learning curve continues, but early in the BLM movement we sought to elevate the voices of those fighting for change, including Reginald “Doc” Wilson, co-founder of the Peace Peloton, who told his powerful story in our Q&A “Pedaling for Racial and Economic Equality.” 

Sadly, the economic shutdown hit many communities already struggling from inequality in Washington state the hardest--causing a spike in the need for food assistance. Cascade contractor Maxwell Burton co-founded Seattle Pedaling Relief, and Cascade staffers and members responded by using their bicycles, cargo bikes and bike trailers to assist overburdened food banks. 

As Washington’s government eased restrictions over the summer, Cascade cautiously began resuming its Free Group Rides program to give people a healthy way to exercise and relieve stress. We tagged along for a ride in “Two Bike Lengths, Face Masks, Six Riders Max and No Spitting.”

Cascade’s Major Taylor Project, named for legendary Black bike racer Marshall “Major” Taylor, “The Fastest Man in the World,” gained national recognition during the Black Lives Matter movement, thanks to a major grant from the Rapha Foundation.

Photo by Gritchelle Fallesgon

It was a year of virtual meetings for those of us lucky to remain employed. Our Bike, Walk and Roll Summit, postponed until October, was no exception. One of the featured speakers was Marley Blonsky, a self-proclaimed “fat bicyclist,” and new member of the Cascade Board of Directors, who is at the forefront of a growing movement to shatter stereotypes of what bicyclists look like.  

“The Legacy of Cooper Jones” told the story of an 11-year-old boy killed by a car in 1997, and how his death and the hard work of his parents and bicycling activists led to the creation of Washington’s Share the Road license plates, whose sales support Cascade’s advocacy work.

Despite hardship, Cascade staff members did great work in 2020. Claire Martini, a member of our policy staff, launched the Leafline Trails Coalition, an initiative to link 450 miles of high-quality trails in the Puget Sound region. Maimoona Rahim, our advocacy and volunteer coordinator, organized our Walk, Roll, Discover Scavenger Hunts and rallied volunteers to participate in the Washington Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project.

The Education team and Development staff created the Virtual Ride for Major Taylor Project to commemorate a historic victory by Taylor in 1895 and raise money for MTP, which thanks to the hard work of program coordinators Josh Stowell and Hope Grant was able to resume in the fall on a limited basis.  

In October, thanks to the hard work of events staff, Cascade held its first group tour since February with the Lake Chelan Tour Lite. “How Do You Hold a Bike Tour During the Pandemic? Very Carefully.”

Jos Johnson, Cascade’s events and communications coordinator, did incredible work on our virtual Ride in the Rain Challenge. Tamar Shuhendler, our community organizer, successfully pulled off our first virtual Bike Walk Roll Summit presented by Amazon, which attracted a record number of participants.

Laura Garner, membership and fundraising manager, hosted our virtual industry roundtable that focused on efforts to diversity bicycling, and she teamed up with Stephen Rowley, Cascade’s fleet manager, to host our online bike auction to benefit MTP.  

Photo: University of Washington Libraries Special Collections Division.

On Native American Heritage Day, we commemorated the Duwamish Tribe’s last Lake Union chief, in our story “Pedaling on Stolen Ground: the Cheshiahud Loop Trail.”

And our Advocacy team helped rally public support that led to big wins for bicycle infrastructure projects in 2021 including the Georgetown to South Park Trail. 

As we enter 2021, big changes are coming. Cascade will hire a new executive director in 2021, following many months of leadership from Interim ED Christopher Shainin and the Cascade Board, and the past work of former ED Richard Smith. Our events and rides will look different, but many of them are back. Our advocacy team is organizing Statewide Hubs for local bike groups who want to get involved in our shared vision of connected bike infrastructure for all (email tamars@cascade.org to get involved). And our education team is working with schools to adjust its bike safety and skills curriculum as some kids return to classes and others remain virtual.  

Cascade and Washington Bikes sincerely thank everyone who stepped up to support us as we move forward on our new Mission, Vision and Values, and as we work to live up to our Commitment to Anti-Racism

Let’s end with our new Vision, which provides a framework for the work ahead: “We envision a safe and healthy future where bicycles bring people together, eliminate inequity, and create thriving communities.”  

Paul Tolmé's picture
Paul Tolmé