Meet Max Hepp-Buchanan, RVA’s newest bicycle advocate

For several years, Max Hepp-Buchanan has helped transform Seattle’s bicycle community and infrastructure. Now he hopes to do the same in RVA.

There’s a new bicycling advocate in town, and his name is Max Hepp-Buchanan. Sports Backers recently announced the hiring of Hepp-Buchanan, who will serve as the organization’s Bike Walk RVA Director, a program started by Sports Backers to support bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly policies, programs, and infrastructure projects.

Hepp-Buchanan arrives from Seattle, WA, where he previously served as the Advocacy Programs Manager for the Cascade Bicycle Club, the nation’s largest member-based bicycling organization.

He realized the importance of transportation beyond driving while an undergraduate at the University of Washington while studying Law, Societies, and Justice in the early 2000s.

“I got around the city on a bike and by taking the bus and by walking,” Hepp-Buchanan said by phone last week. “I never owned a car until last summer.”

His experiences traveling around Seattle made him interested in studying multimodal forms of urban transportation, as well as advocating on their behalf.

“One can begin to assess the health of a city by how people travel through it, and so I began to focus on ‘active’ modes of transportation: walking, biking, and transit,” he said. He went on to complete master’s degrees in both Urban Planning and Public Administration.

He said that in 2007, when Seattle enacted its Bicycle Master Plan, the city had a “vehicular bicyclist mentality,” meaning that bicyclists were encouraged to behave like automobiles while on roads. He said that, while bike lanes and sharrows are helpful, they’re not enough to alleviate safety concerns of those who remain hesitant to ride. “Bike lanes and sharrows don’t really work for them. It’s not going to get them on their bike.”

In 2009, Hepp-Buchanan became co-chair of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, a role wherein he advised officials to coordinate policies, procedures, and programs to foster the city’s transportation options, especially bicycling.

A year later, he became the Advocacy Programs Manager for the Cascade Bicycle Club and created the Advocacy Leadership Institute to encourage and help grassroots-level support for those “who wanted to become better advocates for cycling.”

Last year, he helped lead efforts to update Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan by campaigning for the update and advising officials on “what [cyclists] wanted to see in the new plan.” One focus was on neighborhood greenways–roads that connect and extend through the city with low volumes of auto traffic. “It creates a space on the street that prioritizes bicyclists and pedestrians,” Hepp-Buchanan said.

Sports Backers’s executive director, Jon Lugbill, said that the organizational and advocacy experience of Hepp-Buchanan will help make Richmond more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

“Max’s major focus will be on advocating for and mobilizing support for more safe, convenient, and comfortable places for everyone to ride a bike,” Lugbill said. He added that Hepp-Buchanan’s keystone role will be to develop and maintain essential relationships with City Council, existing bicycle organizations, and Richmond’s first Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails Coordinator, Jakob Helmboldt.

“This is the most important portion of Max’s role because in order to move the needle, we need to work with others,” Lugbill said. “Improving the Richmond region’s bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure will only happen as a result of collaborative efforts. Many local cycling enthusiasts in the region have the same goals, so we need to make sure Max meets them and can complement what efforts they may already be putting forth.”

While he’ll certainly bring ideas and inspiration from the Pacific Northwest to Richmond, Hepp-Buchanan will first size up the city–politically and geographically–before developing specific initiatives.

“Before I take any real action…I really need to get the sense of the political lay of the land,” he said. “I really think pulling everyone together in the near future will be my short-term goal.”

Hepp-Buchanan said Richmond’s tempered climate, relatively flat topography, and growing bicycle community makes him optimistic about the city’s biking future.

“I think there are going to be some great ways to get around the city by bike,” he said.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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