Economic justice, let alone environmental justice, is rarely mentioned in the bicycling scene, let alone understood, and even more rarely acted upon. So it was refreshing to hear Veronica O. Davis, P.E. speak on the Women’s Bicycling Summit panel at the League of American Bicyclists Summit in D.C. in March and talk pointedly about these issues. In addition to being a civil engineer (rare among women), a black female civil engineer (even rarer), and co-founder and co-principal of the company Nspiregreen, she’s an advocate for getting more black women in D.C. on bikes. I reached out to her to learn more about her work and, in particular, the role she sees business and economics playing in the bicycling world.
AE: How did you get involved in bicycling, both personally and professionally?
VOD: Personally, I fell into biking. Between the gas prices increasing, the introduction of the Capital Bikeshare program, and investing all of my savings into my business, I started biking to save money. I recently went car free as part of the “trade my car for a bike” at the inaugural Tour de Fat hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company. I was able to purchase a really nice bike as part of the winnings and I have to document living car-free for the next year at dizzyluv25.tumblr.com.
Professionally, I started my career at the Federal Highway Administration on the Air Quality Team. One of the programs I worked on was the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, which provided funding for activities that got people out of their cars to reduce air emissions. Many of the programs funded were for pedestrian and bike improvements.
AE: Yes, I noticed you’ve worked for both the public and private sector. What made you decide to start your own company?
VOD: We started Nspiregreen because we wanted to work for a company that shared our core values. I wanted more control over how I spend my time. Most importantly, I wanted the freedom to be creative and innovative. Taking the leap was scary at first, but I made the right decision.
AE: What does your business do, in general and in regards to bicycling?
VOD: Nspiregreen LLC is a sustainability and environmental consulting company. We specialize in bringing the people element back into civil infrastructure projects. Three attributes that set Nspiregreen apart are: One, through the creation of our Listen, Engage, Analyze, Feedback (L.E.A.F) model, we seek to translate technical data to communities in a way that allows them to participate in a sustainable and meaningful way. Two, we integrate technical expertise with our passion for community by providing broad based strategies that are inclusive of community for the environmental and transportation sector. Three, we “Nspire” sustainable growth through our personal commitment to being good stewards of the environment and allow our walk to serve as a testimony to others who think “being green” is not attainable for them. We walk the sustainability walk through our company practices and policies. For example, we share office space with a variety of other small businesses, offer telecommuting, provide bike share as well as shared car memberships to employees, and recycle.
Related specifically to biking, we work at the grassroots level to promote biking as a form of sustainable and affordable transportation and linking it with other modes of transportation. We are developing two products. One is aimed at helping “newbies” become more comfortable with biking in DC. The other product will assist all cyclists with commuting to work. Since we are still in the development phase, I can’t go into too much detail, but stay tuned.
AE: You are based in D.C. What’s it like being a bike advocate in a city without statehood?
VOD: It’s challenging not having statehood. Congress is making decisions everyday that affect our lives yet we have no vote and we barely have a voice. For example, watching the Congress play politics with the transportation bill was very frustrating.
AE: What do you think about the bike share program in D.C.?
VOD: I love the bike share program. I have been a fan, supporter, and agitator since day one. I advocated for more stations east of the Anacostia River, which is a predominately black community. I do hope that the usage in these communities will increase, as more people understand how the program works and the connectivity benefits.
AE: What are your main goals for the U.S. bicycling movement and what type of work are you doing in this regard?
VOD: My main goal for the bicycling movement is to increase the number of black women who cycle for transportation, recreation, health and wellness through Black Women Bike founded in 2011. I really hope that black women can see the economic benefits of biking as a mode of transportation. I also hope it encourages more women of all ethnicities to create biking related businesses.
April Economides is the principal of Green Octopus Consulting. She created the nation’s first bike-friendly business district program for the City of Long Beach in partnership with four business districts, as well as “Bike Saturdays” – the largest citywide discount program for bicyclists in the nation. She gives talks on The Business Case for Bicycling and helps create bike-friendly business districts throughout the U.S. and Canada.