Megan Rosenbach, the Deputy Director at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, is “advocating for every cyclist and every neighborhood.”
“I’ve been there for almost eight years, so my position has changed a lot,” she notes. “I mainly oversee our education efforts and I am intricately involved in the program that impacts 100-plus youth a year that uses cycling as a tool for youth development.”
Everyone deserves to be protected on the road.
She is concerned with matters of equity, and her job revolves around making sure that Bicycle Coalition’s mission and advocacy are driven by such a virtue. She advocates for “not just the folks that people think of as cyclists.”
The Bicycle Coalition is the leading advocate group for Philadelphia’s Vision Zero program. Vision Zero is a campaign to end road deaths in Philly by 2030. The idea behind it is that every road death is preventable. People shouldn’t be killed by driving their car, walking on the sidewalk, or biking.
Megan is involved “to prevent deaths like Emily Fredericks who was killed while riding her bike on Spruce Street last month.” To help save “a mom with three kids killed on the Boulevard.”
Over 100 people lose their life driving, walking, and biking in Philly. Most people are in cars, but there is an upward trend for pedestrians and cyclists. The program is rooted in making infrastructure safer and more usable. Other towns in the country show that this is possible. New York and Chicago had high rates, but they are physically changing their streets, investing capital for protected intersections, raised sidewalks, protected bike lanes.
“Our focus is the vulnerable road users,” she says. The most vulnerable are bikers and pedestrians. It’s hard to navigate these waters. “The tricky part is the enforcement part,” she notes. “If you look at the city’s high-injury network, it is disproportionately in low-income neighborhoods.” Megan and the Bicycle Coalition advocate for prioritizing street improvements in low-income neighborhoods; if it’s just increased enforcement, it presents problems. So Megan is carefully navigating advocating for the safety of low-income neighborhoods in ways that are more nuanced than simply more law enforcement.
Safe commuting led to education advocacy.
Megan’s passions extend beyond safe commuting. She started out coordinating Safe Routes Philly, a local expressions of a national initiative to try to get kids to walk and bike to school. In the 1950s lots of kids did walk or bike to school, but our infrastructure problems and priorities changed that.
Her work in Safe Routes to Philly made her aware of education in the city too. Megan says, “There are incredibly lovely schools that never get talked about.”
“I was struck by how negative the rhetoric around public schools was,” she says, “I wanted to change the rhetoric.” Whereas a lot of white transplants want to “fix the schools,” she really just wanted to listen. She would ask what people’s experiences were and what their needs were.
“For people without children in public schools, it’s a problem of ignorance, in part; negative assumptions are made, and people write up their neighborhood school before even entering it.” “The needs are great, the assets and the amazing things happening in the schools are also great and they’re just not being talked about as much,” she says.
Megan did her part at her local elementary school, in partnership with Circle of Hope. “I started For the Love of Childs (now called NICE) as a [Circle of Hope] Compassion Team.” We had a connection with the art teacher and Megan and her team collected art supplies via a fundraiser. She raised $1,000 at the first art show; on Easter, she notes, the congregation at Broad and Washington was covered in 650 pieces of art.
“All these parents and teachers and officials from the School District showed up,” she says. She realized that thing had some legs.
The next project they took on was renovating the library. They raised $5,000. “To this day, [the library] is functioning and used by students every day,” she noted.
Megan is self-aware as a so-called “white gentrifier,” who listens with humility and builds consensus as opposed to “bulldozing” her way through. Having a parent involved in NICE was one way to change this typically ineffective dynamic.
Megan came to Philly to serve in Teach for America. She parted ways with much of TFA’s politics. “The charters that took over Frederick Douglass did a lot of good things,” she says, “but it’s a misguided model to keep growing your charter school network.”
“My belief is that there is a misperception that charter schools are automatically better and safer schools,” she bluntly put it. “It takes away resources from District-managed schools.”
She notes that charters say they are for everyone, but they may not be. For example, she says, “it takes students from the district who have stronger support at home.” In order to apply for Charter schools, you need a stable family just to get through the bureaucracy of applications and mandatory meetings.
Megan moved to Philly to be a teacher, was humble enough to learn from her surroundings, but also resourceful enough to practically address the needs of students as commuters and as learners. Her work today is bountiful and powerful.
-Jonny Rashid, writing