A change in leadership pumps new energy into People Power
Ten years later, Micah Posner has called it quits.
After more than a decade at the helm, and 20 years of being involved, the former People Power director has stepped down from the role to run for a seat on the Santa Cruz City Council.
Taking his place is 26-year-old Amelia Conlen, who has now been working as the fourth director of People Power for a little more than two weeks. Although Posner plans to remain on the steering committee of the organization, which pegs itself as “Santa Cruz County’s advocate for human-powered transportation,” he says he is counting on Conlen to revitalize the group.
“She’s young, she’s high energy, she’s totally committed, totally passionate, [and] totally smart,” says Posner. ”Old hands are going to maintain the organization; Amelia is going to take it to the next level.”
People Power was founded in 1991 as part of the peace movement’s response to the first war over oil, and now comprises around 350 members countywide, according to its website.
“We said, ‘If you want peace, you should ride your bike,’” says Posner. “Then we realized that there were serious impediments to cycling, so we’ve been working to overcome those obstacles. … We’ve been really focused on certain ways society, and especially the government, can make cycling and walking more accessible and more socially acceptable.”
Among the successes at People Power, Posner says one of the most rewarding was earning a silver medal award from the League of American Bicyclists when Santa Cruz ranked in the League’s list of the Top 20 best cities to bicycle in the United States. He says he is confident Conlen will be responsible for bringing the city to gold.
Conlen’s interest in biking was spurred early on by her father, who she says is a “big cyclist.” She has personally biked for transportation, done extensive bike tours and started bike racing this year.
“I think I’m officially the person who has too many bikes in their garage now,” says Conlen.
Conlen grew up in Los Osos, Calif. and moved to Seattle to study urban planning, focusing most of her energy on bike and pedestrian planning.
“That was a big eye-opener for me because the cities in the Northwest are a little bit older and have a little bit less of a car culture,” says Conlen. “There’s more of a cycling culture; both Seattle and Portland have done a lot to encourage cycling. That was really inspiring to me, being from California.”
Conlen says Californian cities are not as advanced as the aforementioned cities in terms of sustainable urban planning—with dense city centers and a more acceptable biking culture—but that Santa Cruz has the potential to be better than most because of the various biking cultures that already exist here.
Conlen’s drive not to drive was further motivated when she studied abroad in the Netherlands, where bicycling is a transportation norm. She says government and advocacy groups have a lot of opportunity to create that kind of environment in Santa Cruz, and that her goal at People Power is “to make the roads more accessible and change our quality of life.”
She plans to begin realizing that goal by making the organization a nonprofit according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), increasing visibility for all types of bikers in Santa Cruz and bringing them together on common issues, and by supporting plans for a large rail trail bike corridor that could span from Davenport to Monterey.
However, she adds that she is still in the early stages of planning.
“I’m still figuring out what the main priorities are,” says Conlen.
She adds that she will be assessing the importance and feasibility of the construction of a “bike boulevard” on King Street—something the City of Santa Cruz has deliberated for years, but that Conlen says has hit a plateau. She says she is “not sure what the next step for that will be.”
As for Posner, he is certain Conlen will do well in choosing priorities for People Power through work with the steering committee. He says he is personally looking forward to maintaining involvement with People Power while starting some new work of his own with city council. He hopes to work on sustainable transportation as well as other projects if elected in November.
“It will give me some new projects and a new focus, which I think will revitalize me as a community leader,” Posner says. “I think the same thing will happen with People Power. We need to get together and think about what our next goals are, and I think those will be more easily accomplished under new leadership.”
Photo: Keana Parker