BEST People: Marianne Nolte

By Claire Roth
August 19, 2020
Marianne Nolte
Marianne Nolte
  • Marianne Nolte says that biking is the way to go.
  • She was BEST’s Transportation Options Coordinator for two years while earning a degree in planning from the UO.
  • Now she is on the BEST Board of Directors while working as a planner for Lane County.

Ever since age 16, Marianne Nolte knew that biking was the way to go.

Growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, Nolte first became interested in biking when she realized that it was cheaper and more fun to bike to work than it was to drive. She also noted the changes that better bike infrastructure brought to her hometown.

“I lived in Salt Lake City, and I saw over the years what happens when a city makes a conscious investment in active transportation,” Nolte explains. “When I started riding, there was one bike lane down a busy road and I was literally the only rider on it. Now, lots of people ride and motorists are friendly towards active users. Shifts in transportation can happen quickly, and that is part of what makes it so exciting.”

In summer 2018, Nolte moved to Eugene to begin graduate studies in the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management at the University of Oregon.

“I chose Eugene for a couple reasons,” Nolte says. “I was really interested in living in a smaller community, and getting to know a new place. I came to visit Eugene before I enrolled in the program, and I really loved how easy it is to get around by bike and by bus. I also love Oregon’s famous Urban Growth Boundaries, which cause cities to end at neat borders, and open space to begin. Coming from Utah, where sprawl is the name of the game, it is such a nice change to be able to get away from urban areas.”

Nolte also began working with BEST as Transportation Options Coordinator. During her time in this position, she worked to improve and expand our transit system, foster new options such as bikeshare and ride-hailing, and further the integration of transportation modes, especially for residents with the most limited transportation options.

In June 2020, Nolte completed a Master of Community and Regional Planning degree.
“My program placed a lot of emphasis on the policies that shape how our environment looks and feels. I learned that the transportation choices available to us are, to a large extent, the result of choices that municipal, state, and federal leaders make,” Nolte explains. “I think the takeaway there is that, if we want to have more choices for transportation, we all need to support policies that help get us there. Individuals can make changes, if they are willing to engage in the process.”

Though Nolte recently moved on from her position with BEST to accept a job in the Land Management Division at Lane County (congratulations, Marianne!), her view of BEST still holds strong.

“I think BEST does a great job of staying on top of policy work, while also keeping an eye for what the community wants. BEST really lives its focus on being ‘better together’ and pushing for solutions that are affordable, accessible, and that keep the community engaged in a productive conversation.”

Though Nolte no longer works for BEST, she is now a member of the BEST Board of Directors and also serves on LTD’s Strategic Planning Committee. This, Nolte explains, helps keep the two organizations working together: BEST can keep connected with major efforts of LTD, and she is also able to come to LTD with ideas about what the community may be interested in seeing more of.

The need for safer and better transportation is pressing, and is most apparent in modern cities. “Our reliance on the personal car as our default mode of transportation has created cities that are spread out and difficult and dangerous to navigate,” Nolte says. “This has major physical impacts, as well as impacts on our health and our pocketbooks. If we focused more on active transportation and public transit, it would create safer, more connected communities.”

Changes to the way we get around come from a few different directions, and one of the biggest is funding priorities. Nolte explains, “Unfortunately, our current funding models focus on building roads for cars. It’s really difficult to get federal dollars for anything but expanding highways, which creates more drivers and more traffic. We really need to change how states and municipalities get dollars–it should be for projects that decrease sprawl, increase safety, and decrease pollution and the reliance on fossil fuels.”

As for what Nolte would like to see locally, it all starts with choice to eventually create a societal norm.

“I would love to see more people switching their default mode. Rather than automatically jumping in the car to run an errand, I would love to see the car saved for times when a car is really useful–long trips, big carloads, and those days when it’s raining sideways icicles. If it’s pleasant and safe to walk, take the bus, ride a bike, skate, or scoot, more people will do it, and more people will feel those are the ‘natural’ ways to get around.”

BEST People takes a closer look at the individuals who make up the fabric of BEST. From volunteers to board members to staff, this series highlights the people behind our push for safer and better transportation.

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