Q&A: Philly’s Waffiyyah Murray steps into national bike share role

by: Stefani Cox

Waffiyyah Murray City of PhiladelphiaWaffiyyah Murray isn’t new to bike share equity, but she’s been making big strides lately within the field.

We checked in with her to find out what it’s like to move from local to national work, and why improving public accessibility is one of her biggest professional goals.

You’ve seen a lot of career movement over the past year — tell us a little about where you started and where you find yourself now.

Sure. First, I was the education programs manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, where I focused on education and outreach programming. We did rides, classes, and community engagement. Then, I transitioned over to the City of Philadelphia, as the Indego community coordinator. I was doing a lot of the same work as before, such as reaching out to community organizations and scheduling events. That made the transition a lot easier, and I was able to continue to grow, while aware of Better Bike Share and Indego’s mission. Now I have moved into the program manager role.

What are your current responsibilities and projects as program manager?

The main shift is that I have more of a handle on the national focus of BBSP. In my previous positions, it was more local-based stuff, specific to doing outreach in Philadelphia. What I enjoy most now is not just doing work in Philadelphia, but also doing the national work. I also work with other systems that look to BBSP for how to incorporate equity into their programming. That’s the main shift, the coordinating role. It really is a partnership, because there are so many different entities. I help make sure that all the partners are working together managing the various aspects of the project.

The mental transition hit me a few weeks ago, once we had the final celebration for the Indego ambassadors. It was a good time to step away, getting to close out that cohort, and to hear their support of me in the new position. I can’t really walk away from it completely, but we are currently hiring a new Indego community coordinator as a replacement.

What brings you to your work in the field of transportation equity?

My passion is access, helping to provide equitable access to the community. The playing field is not always equal. I care about programming, and other things that bridge that gap. Whatever I do, I need to have that entry point of access. That’s what motivates me. In the past, working with Safe Routes to School, I helped provide access to kids going back-and-forth to school safely. Now, I help communities access bike share as a tool that’s useful to them.

Through BBSP, we’ve been doing that access work for a long time. It’s time to sit back and reflect, and see the impact that we’re making. It helps motivate me, even when you have those days where there’s a lot to do.

What is it like to work for the City compared to working for a nonprofit, like the Coalition?

Being able to work with the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, we’re able to connect Indego with other transit safety projects, like Vision Zero, education programming, and other City initiatives. We’re also able to use the ambassadors to help us get feedback on other projects and city programs. It’s all about replication, and replication around community engagement as a whole. It’s about listening, and learning, and finding out the needs of the community you’re trying to serve.

What are you most passionate about when it comes to bike share accessibility? What are the biggest challenges you see to that vision?

That definitely ties into finding out different ways that bike share can be accessible to people. A lot of people see bike share and think it’s only about transportation from point A to point B. In reality, some people are doing it for physical fitness, or to bond with family and community. It’s about finding the access needs for people to connect with. I love the work being done integrating bike share with transit and other modes of transportation, such as in Pittsburgh. I really like the way that conversation is going.

I’m also excited about our initiatives with high school students — they are the future of bike share. I enjoy working with youth and helping them learn about the safety tips of biking at an early age, so it’s really a part of them. As you learn more, it becomes second nature.

There’s also endless possibility to connect bike share to other issues, such as workforce development. It keeps you on your toes.

The challenge is definitely with the dockless systems; we’re still trying to figure them out. It’s coming; you can’t act like it’s not coming. But if they are going to be here, we have to figure out ways that the bar is set high. They need to understand the importance of equity in their programming. It’s still very new, and we’re all still trying to figure out what it’s going to look like, and what the operators are doing.

What is your superpower skill that you bring to transportation equity work?

I would say it’s something around really being able to understand. It’s like having super hearing or super understanding, where I can go into a room and automatically know, “This is your access point.” It’s not just listening about what their access point is, but also knowing how to best engage them in the process going forward, whether that’s being able to attend a meeting, giving feedback, or coming out to support a program. It has to be fitted to your needs and your skills.

What city do you know best and what do you love about it?

What I love most about Philadelphia is the walkability and accessibility. I don’t have a license, and I hate driving (though I do want to learn how eventually for emergencies). As a kid, I loved walking and biking, and physical transportation as a whole. I love to be able to experience my city in that way, and to work in the field of transportation in Philadelphia.

Do you have any bicycling memories you’d like to share?

It took me a while to learn how to ride a bike, which, in turn, helped me be patient in leading learn-to-ride classes. My earliest memory of biking is that freedom as a kid of not have to worry about needing Mom and Dad to drop me off. When I went to Coalition, it was my first time getting back on the bike. I had to remember, “How do I ride this?” and how to catch my balance. I used that experience to connect with others while doing outreach.

Anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

I’m really excited to be in this position, and a lot of that comes from the awesome work that Carneisha Kwashie did in this role. She really took the idea of bike share and took it to another level. I’m motivated to continue on the great work that she started.

The Better Bike Share Partnership is funded by The JPB Foundation as a collaborative between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write stefani@betterbikeshare.org.