First Fridays, First Memories: Zach

December 06, 2013


Zach enjoys cyclocross races on weekends in Colorado. The muddier, the better.

As a way to introduce you to the people behind PeopleForBikes, we do a short interview on the first Friday of every month. The theme? Bicycling firsts. Last month we interviewed our marketing + communications manager, Kate Powlison. This month, we turn our four questions to our Green Lane Project international programs manager, Zach Vanderkooy.

What is your first memory of bicycling?
When I was too young to ride a bike myself, I rode on the back of my mom’s blue Schwinn cruiser. We’d ride to visit grandma, buy candy, or play in the park. Before I could even count to ten, I was reaping the benefits of getting around my neighborhood on a bike. Once I got my own Huffy BMX bike and ditched the training wheels, it was all about fun; building jumps out of dirt, racing my friends around the block, and seeing how far I could coast without pedaling.

When did you first fall in love with bicycles?
I probably wouldn’t be working at PeopleForBikes today if not for a generous 8th grade graduation gift — a trip to the Netherlands. It wasn’t the canals of Amsterdam or the art in the Rijksmuseum that captured my imagination. It was all the people on bikes and the friendly, kinetic energy of the streets. When I got home, I started riding the three miles to my high school in Portland, Oregon.

In the early 90s, Portland wasn’t recognizable as the bike-friendly city it’s known as today. A bike lane was a rare sight, the term “neighborhood greenway” hadn’t yet entered the popular lexicon, and there was no official place to park my bike at my downtown school (getting a rack installed on campus was my first foray into advocacy). There were so few people on bikes in the city that we all knew each other, at least by appearance. It was just me and a guy with a beard down to his waist riding on North Interstate Avenue toward the Broadway Bridge every morning (a route that now sees hundreds of daily riders). We’d nod to each other as we passed.

Later, I was introduced to mountain biking, road riding, and eventually, racing. Cyclocross is my current favorite. These days, I’m not that fast or serious, but pinning on a number and lining up with friends at local Colorado ‘cross races is a fall weekend ritual that I look forward to all year. I’ve even made a few trips back to Portland to enjoy the lively (and muddy) Northwest race scene.


Zach's first bike, circa 1984.

When did you first know bicycling would be part of your career?

I never made a conscious choice to make bicycling into a career. My educational background is in film theory and urban planning. The common thread between all of my jobs and interests is creating better places for people, whether it’s in neighborhoods, trails in natural areas, or on busy downtown streets. Helping cities build better bike lanes with the Green Lane Project has been the most exciting job I’ve had because I work with the world’s best and brightest on the leading edge of an innovation that’s changing the way streets work. How many people get to do that?

What is your favorite thing about bicycling?
I love how bicycling makes cities feel both more alive and more intimate. When I’m leading American city leaders on study tours in Copenhagen or Amsterdam, the benefit that stands out the most is that bicycling is a really effective tool for creating thriving, exciting neighborhoods that people want to linger in, not just move through. Bicycling isn’t just a great way to get from A to B, it’s a great way to make B the place where you want to go.


Zach riding in Copenhagen.

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