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An Interview With Bill Nesper: 20 Years Working at the League
This month, executive director (ED) Bill Nesper celebrates 20 years of working at the League! Bill started out with his first title of membership assistant in 2002 and went on to direct the Smart Cycling and Bicycle Friendly America programs before being appointed ED in 2017. We think two decades of turning a passion for bikes — and the people who ride them — into a career deserves a reflection. That’s why we sat down with Bill for a work anniversary q & a…
Q. What made you apply for your first position with the League?
A. Biking has always been a part of my life from that first takeoff on my street with my dad running behind me to BMXing with my friends all over my hometown. College is where I fell in love with biking again as a beautiful, simple, frugal, healthy way to get around Gainesville, FL. When I moved to Arlington, VA, for graduate school I had a roommate that worked at the League. He knew I was looking for a job and loved bikes so he mentioned the opening for a Membership Assistant. It was a perfect fit. I got to talk to a lot of people about biking and building a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone, all while learning about the history of the League and the passion of our members.
Q. What is the favorite part about being Executive Director? What excites you most?
A. My favorite part is still the people that I get to work with both internally and externally. We have an incredible staff that never ceases to amaze in their dedication and creativity. And as a team we get to work with the members and the awesome network of local changemakers who are on the ground improving lives and strengthening communities through bicycling, from local advocates and League Cycling Instructors, to state and local organizations, to business leaders and other decision-makers.
I’ve worn many helmets during my time at the League, working in almost every program, which has made me fortunate enough to connect with and learn from a great number of people. It excites me most to see their work and do what we can to showcase and support it — to see the bike network developments they create, the new riders they teach, the experiences they create through rides and events, and the growth of a bicycling movement that aims to be as inclusive and representative of all of our communities as possible.
Q. What do you see as the League’s biggest accomplishments since your start in 2002?
A. There are so many that I am proud to have been a part of in my time at the League. Most recently we worked hard at organizing and amplifying the voices of biking advocates in our work on Capitol Hill and saw the passage of a federal transportation bill that includes a great deal of funding and better policies toward improving safety and connecting communities through biking. Also, I worked on the Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) program for most of my time at the League and I’m so proud to see it develop as a roadmap for improving communities across the country. We have some exciting new updates to the program that I recommend checking out!
Q. What is your biggest hope for the bicycle movement in the next decade? In what ways do you expect the movement, and/or the League itself, to grow?
A. Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make investments that better reflect our values. We know the joy and well-being biking brings to people’s lives. We know that biking is part of the solution to many challenges we face in our communities, country and world, such as climate change. My biggest hope is that we will continue to grow as a movement by finding ways to join more of the conversations surrounding these challenges and by doing more to welcome new people into the movement and better make the case together that bicycling should be a real option for everyone, no matter where they live. Together, we can do more to help others experience the joy of biking and then speak up for the investments in our communities that will make it safer and easier for all.
I expect the League to continue to grow in numbers and in influence both here in Washington, DC, and in support of the work happening in communities nationwide. Right now, about 28% of Americans live in a BFC and only 11% live in a community rated Silver or above (our highest award levels). BFCs have twice the bicycle ridership of the average American community, and Silver or better BFC have three times as many people riding. Let’s work together to get that number to 20% of Americans living in a Silver or better BFC by 2030!
What’s surprised you the most about the past 20 years of bike advocacy?
A. The thing that consistently surprises me about bike advocacy is the instant positive feeling people have about biking — almost everyone has a story, they remember the feeling of the first time riding. I guess it shouldn't be that surprising, as marketers use images of bicycles and people bicycling to sell everything from banks to clothing to housing developments. That free feeling of flight shouldn’t be confined to a dream or a vacation. It should be accessible whenever, wherever and to whoever. Tapping into that belief that life is better for everyone when more people can ride bikes is really needed to make progress in our advocacy work.
Q. Who has inspired you along the way?
A. I am lucky in my job to meet a lot of inspiring people, members, club leaders, mayors, business leaders, and more. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with my friend Charles T. Brown, the winner of this year’s Bicycle Friendly America Leadership Award. That Bike-Side Chat will be available on the League’s YouTube Channel soon so stay tuned. Charles is the founder and principal of Equitable Cities which is an urban planning, public policy and research firm focused at the intersection of transportation, health and equity. He is also an adjunct professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and a certified League Cycling Instructor! He and his work are inspirational and educational, challenging us all to do more. Here is his keynote speech from the 2021 National Bike Summit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUKQLobwJQk
Q. What’s the best piece of cycling advice you’ve received in your time here?
A. I have to make the plug for the Smart Cycling program. Like many, I learned a lot by taking a class despite decades of biking (and thinking I knew it all). I recommend checking out and sharing the new Smart Cycling videos which are available in English and Spanish.