Remembering CalBike Founder Thomas S. Higgins
We are sad to report that CalBike founder Thomas S. Higgins passed away on Monday, July 12th, 2021, after a battle with cancer. CalBike extends its deepest condolences to Tom’s wife Glenda, daughter Alexandra, brother Charles, and his entire family. All those who knew Tom were touched by his exceptional kindness, boundless good cheer, and fierce dedication to public service.
Tom was a longtime Capitol legislative staffer and bike commuter who understood bicyclists’ daily challenges, the potential for bicycling to transform our communities, and the power of organizing for change. With vision and determination, Tom founded CalBike in 1994 and began establishing the organization as an effective representative in Sacramento for all those who love bicycling.
“Tom was a treasured colleague and friend. I hope everyone who rides a bike in California will pause for a moment today and give thanks to Tom for all he did to make bicycling better,” said former CalBike Executive Director Chris N. Morfas.
A love of bikes and travel while working for the greater good
Tom Higgins loved to travel, go on adventures, and help others. Here’s an excerpt from his obituary, written by his brother Charles:
“Tom was known for his warmth, wisdom, and sense of adventure. From an early age, in San Francisco, Monterey, and Marin counties, Tom engaged the world around him and developed a drive to know more and make this life more interesting and better for everyone he encountered.
“After receiving his B.A. in political science from San Francisco State University in 1983, Tom dove into a career of campaigns and public policy that included the founding of the California Bicycle Coalition and work on pioneering legislation to improve the environment, public health, education, and justice.
“While serving as Chief of Staff to the California Senate’s Chairman of the Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness, he developed strategy and legislation for a statewide, groundbreaking effort to promote physical fitness and improve food and nutrition for schools, workplaces, and communities. During his twenty years in the state Capitol, Tom found ways to add adventure to his work. This included a helicopter trip to a floating platform pumping oil from a sunken tanker off the California coast with Senator Torlakson; a private train ride across the Mexican border with Senator Killea; and numerous showdowns with Caltrans and special interest groups about improving conditions for bicycles.”
Tom’s daughter, Alexandra, shared these memories of her father’s love of bicycling throughout his life:
“He loved riding the slow streets in SF during the pandemic. With his wife Glenda, he did a two-week bicycle trip in Vietnam that he often remembered and told stories about. The Halloween Critical Mass rides in past years were some of his favorite SF nights. He loved his Gitche Gumee Gary Fisher commuter and rode it all over Sacramento in the middle of the night, around SF during long stays in the city, and all around the hills near Bolinas.”
A remembrance of Tom Higgins from CalBike’s first executive director
Chris Morfas shared the story of how Tom came into his life — and forever changed it:
“The mid-1990s event promoting a greenway along the Sacramento River was a rather sleepy affair. A colleague and I were staffing a booth for a local environmental organization, but we weren’t seeing much action. There was a table for something called the California Bicycle Coalition. As a recent convert to bike commuting, I ambled over to see what they were all about.
“Tom Higgins and Ed Cox introduced themselves. Tom, a staffer at the state capitol, enthusiastically pitched the idea of a statewide bicycle advocacy organization he was launching that would work to pass legislation to create better places to ride. I shared with him some experiences I had had as a campaign organizer, and soon enough, he had me in the office fundraising off the organization’s then-tiny membership list—bless you all—during my summer off from teaching high school math. The response was favorable, and soon enough, I was hooked. Three themes of my life—bicycling, politics, and ecology— had come together as one in the form of bike advocacy.
“A couple of years later, CBC (as we knew CalBike back then) was ready to hire an executive director. I tossed my hat into the ring, and when nobody else was crazy enough to take the job, I was offered the gig and eagerly accepted. We—staff, board, allies, members, volunteers—had a good run, passing a handful of bills that created the Bicycle Transportation Account and Safe Routes to School Program, which later became key elements of what is now the Active Transportation Program that is investing hundreds of millions of dollars annually to make bicycling and walking safer and more attractive transportation options for all Californians. That’s the stuff of legacy. Along the way, I met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known.
“That’s how Tom Higgins changed my life.”
Memories of Tom from the early days of CalBike
A few people who knew Tom during those early CalBike days shared remembrances:
“Tom Higgins founded CalBike, and I was honored to try to keep up with him as the contract lobbyist. I vividly recall walking the halls in the CA State Capitol with Tom. Bike helmets and bags in tow, we wore bike-friendly suits (skirt for me). Tom loved his community with his vision and drive to lead and succeed when others would not take a risk for right. Every time we create change for good, Tom lives on. Miss walkin’ the halls with you, Dude.”Aimee Rutledge, CalBike’s first contract lobbyist who played an expert role in guiding us to many of our early legislative successes
“When bicyclists in progressive states started organizing advocacy organizations for sustained political initiatives, Tom Higgins was the go-to strategist in Sacramento. His expertise led the fledgling California Bicycle Coalition to some early political wins, creating trust among the founders and momentum for the organization. He was humble, gracious, funny, and smart. Tom knew how to lead leaders.”Charlie Gandy, who played a seminal role identifying and nurturing leaders for the bike advocacy organizations that were sprouting during the 1990s
“When Tom’s leadership led to the formation of the California Bicycle Coalition, there were many people who knew that we had the groundswell, the passion, and the vision to push for greater advocacy at the state level. However, I don’t think we would have gotten there without Tom’s political acumen, ability to bring people together, and patience to sit through long meetings with ornery bicyclists.”Carolyn Helmke, CalBike Board President circa 1999-2000
“Thank you, Tom. We ornery bicyclists will carry on the fight.”Chris N. Morfas, CalBike Executive Director 1997-2003
Honoring Tom Higgins
A celebration of Tom’s life is planned for October 23 in Stinson Beach.
Instead of sending flowers, Tom’s family asks that people make a donation in his name to one of these causes that he cared about:
California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike)
Commonweal Garden – Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine