Carrying on the group's proud legacy of improving lives -- and Birmingham -- through bicycling.
Olivia Hart has just been introduced as the new (3rd ever) Executive Director of Redemptive Cycles, a non-profit organization in Birmingham, Alabama (www.redemptivecycles.com) which does many things – including, but by no means limited to: 1. running an “earn a bike” program which allows individuals to earn a bike so that they can have inexpensive, reliable transportation when they otherwise did not have it; and 2. Leading the Thursday night “Trample” ride in which riders gather together to cycle through different areas of the City.
Olivia’s background is a bit different than that of most Birmingham residents. She was born in New Zealand and then lived in Australia and Papua New Guinea before moving to England when she was 8 years old. She lived in the English cities of Retford and then Bristol before going to college in Salford. There, she earned a degree in physics and space technology and also met her soon to be husband, Alexander (Zander). She moved to Canterbury and worked in the unemployment office while Zander earned his PhD in physics and optics. The couple got married and moved from England to Birmingham, Alabama in 2011. It was Olivia’s first time being in the United States.
Olivia initially worked at the State’s largest law firm, Bradley, in its IT department. However, a few years later when she learned of Zyp Bikeshare launching in Birmingham, she made it her mission to work at Zyp because of her belief in a bike-sharing system. And, for the 5 years before taking over at Redemptive, Olivia has worked at Zyp leaving as its Operations Coordinator.
I asked Olivia what it was like coming to Birmingham and what impressions the city initially made on her. And, her responses were interesting. First, she said that she was struck at the “physical division” in the City. And, when I asked what she meant by this, she told me the interstates which quite literally cut right through the city and its various communities. She was quick to point out that there are plenty of highways in England, but the difference she says, that in England, these roads are hidden and placed underground and that great efforts are made to keep a road from physically dividing a community. The fact that things were different here is something that got Olivia’s attention.
Another thing she noticed upon moving to Birmingham almost 10 years ago is that the city “seemed hollow in the middle.” And for those of us who have been here a long time, things were a lot less “hollow” in 2011 when Olivia got here than they were in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Olivia and Zander moved to Southside, close to where Zander works at UAB. And, Southside was convenient because Olivia is not able to drive a car due to an eye condition so her basic means of transportation is a bicycle. She said that in England cycling simply is a way of life for many people. But, here she battled negative connotations as a non vehicle owner – for example, “you must ride a bike because you cannot afford a car;” or, “you’re riding a bike because you had a DUI and lost your license.” She also got the sense that some people simply did not like seeing cyclists on the road.
Olivia does not mind expounding upon the reasons that she sees cycling as “good” and driving less so. First, she points to the climate crises and the fact that transportation emissions, especially from cars, are a terrible problem. Obviously, more bicycle traffic and less vehicle traffic reduces harmful emissions. Second, cycling is healthier and people cycling to and from work, the market etc., will be exercising and will reap the benefits of better health. Third, owning a bike is much, much less expensive than owning a car – no gas, much less cost to maintain; no insurance or license tag to buy etc. Fourth, cycling can be done by just about anyone, especially with the development of E-bikes (Olivia is a huge fan because E-bikes allow so many more people to cycle). And, fifth, as people live in denser areas, the more people on bikes, the less vehicular traffic, the less the cost of road maintenance and the less the need for private automobiles.
In the almost 10 years that Olivia has lived in Birmingham, she has seen many positive changes and developments. She comments on Railroad Park which has breathed life into the city by being an open green space where people can walk, ride and skate outdoors. She is super excited about the development of trails – for example, the upcoming expansion of the Rotary Trail into Avondale. Although Zyp has come and gone, Olvia believes that it really did introduce more people to cycling – not only as a Saturday afternoon activity, but as a means of getting around. She is looking forward to the City bringing in another bike share and micro-mobility option allowing people with a number of ways to get around town without a car. She has witnessed a number of group rides becoming an established part of the Birmingham scene – not only the Trample, but the Tour de Ham and many other standing group rides. And, she has seen the development of apartments, lofts, condos and the rise of downtown living (including a downtown grocery store – Publix). All of these developments, she believes, will go far toward making Birmingham a more cycling friendly place and an overall better place to live.
Olivia is very excited and humbled to be taking the helm of Redemptive Cycling. She looks forward to continuing the Redemptive mission of transportation justice and to being a vehicle for cycling advocacy in the City. And, in that regard, we all wish her the very best.