Do You Know a Commute Champion?


Do you know a UW student, staff or faculty member that models smart commute choices and encourages, educates and assists others in making smart choices too? If you believe you know a Commute Champion we want to know their story and we want to recognize their efforts.

Once a quarter a Commute Champion will be selected from the pool of nominees and honored at a celebration with treats to share with colleagues, a framed certificate and a special reward. Then we’ll brag about them on this website, in campus newsletters and on our Facebook page!

Read about past Commute Champions here.

Commute Champion Cole DeForest

When Cole DeForest went off to college, he didn’t bring a car with him. So he used his feet or a bicycle to get to class.

That was 13 years ago. In the time since, he hasn’t stopped commuting that way. Now an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Washington, he continues to commute by biking or running – rain or shine, dark or light.

“I just kind of fell in love with it,” DeForest says. His devotion to his active commute is why we’ve named him our newest UW Transportation Services Commute Champion.

Commute Champion Ross Howell

Ross Howell is a true multi-modal commuter. He chooses sustainable and active modes to get from his home in east Green Lake to UW where he studies Public Health. You’ll often see him taking advantage of his U-PASS to ride transit, especially in the morning. In the afternoon he’ll usually walk home through the neighborhoods. Ross also enjoys riding his bike to UW - rain or shine! When his research or a class field trip takes him out of Seattle, Ross is usually the one organizing a carpool with his classmates and coworkers. Ross is especially passionate about the importance of healthy built environments and volunteers on a campus urban design committee where he advocates for walkability and bikeability. Ross loves talking about the importance of stairs and how buildings should be designed to encourage people to choose stairs instead of the elevator. At UW and in the wider community, Ross is educating and advocating for a built environment that helps people to feel safe and comfortable choosing to walk or bike their commute instead of drive. Active transportation, Ross maintains, is one of the key steps to improving the health and wellness of the population. Ross has integrated this into his own life choosing to walk whenever he can, bike when it makes sense, and choose transit for longer trips. Ross is a true Commute Champion!

Commute Champion Adrian Hughes

Adrian Hughes started bike commuting in 2007 thanks to a bike savvy roommate who inspired her to avoid a lengthy bus transfer and helped her with tips such as fixing a flat, planning a route and what to wear. She admits that she was drawn to the efficiency of bike commuting as it allowed her to leave her house up to 10 minutes later than her bus commute required and because her commute counts as a built-in workout, she could do other things with her time than visiting a gym. Adrian also appreciates the instant camaraderie with any other Seattle cyclist who braves the rain and the hills. Adrian has embraced UW’s bike to campus challenges. “I realized that there was no team for the UW School of Pharmacy. It was a learning experience as a first time captain, and this year I did it again, recruiting many of my friends to join in and trying to get some happy hours and promoting events as much as our school schedule would allow.” She advises that those who are new to cycling find someone who does it and loves it. “Their energy is infectious and they can help you figure out the details as you go along. I succeeded once I figured out what kind of biker I wanted to be. Make the biking commute work for YOU.”

Commute Champion Doug Ewing

Doug Ewing has been commuting via bus for the last 30 years because it saves him money, saves him the stress of driving in Seattle-area traffic and helps him reduce his contribution to said traffic. As an added bonus, Doug’s bus commute gives him the opportunity to read and nap on his way to and from work; two activities that are not recommended while driving. When his regular bus route became less-than-reliable, Doug decided to advocate for his route with his local transit agency. Over the years he has seen numerous people stop riding the bus because of unreliable service and he did not want to be one of them. It took a fair amount of time and effort on Doug’s part, but he is happy to report that his tenacity has paid off and he is now seeing an improvement in the reliability of his bus route’s service. His experience has made him a firm believer that the only hope for the future of transit is for transit users to support it, use it, vote for it and speak up when they see something that needs improving. His advice for UW commuters who are thinking of taking the bus for the first time is to, “be courteous and keep your personal belongings in your lap or in the overhead rack so that all available seats are open and ready for use. And if you do nap on the bus, make sure you have some friends who will nudge you awake before your stop.”

Commute Champion Laura Harrington

When Laura Harrington’s bus route was eliminated she had to look for another way to commute to campus from the northern edge of Burien. She discovered that taking other transit routes would involve transfers, and ultimately add an extra hour to her commute each day. Buses were no longer the best mode for her commute, so Laura looked for other options and found vanpooling to be the most logical choice. She then researched how to start a vanpool using Transportation Services and King County Metro Transit. Once she understood the process, she went about recruiting riders by passing out flyers advertising her vanpool on the Route 133 before its discontinuation. She soon had enough interested people to fill more than four vanpools! Laura found that once people are pointed in the right direction, it becomes easy to start vanpooling. As soon as she and the other interested riders had basic vanpooling information about rates, the U-PASS vanpool subsidy, routes and how to sign up, they were able to get started quickly and easily. Laura and the other Route 133 riders are an enthusiastic bunch when it comes to alternative transportation. She and her fellow commuters still have U-PASSes not only for the vanpool subsidy, but so they can be flexible with their transportation options and preserve their alternative transportation values.

Commute Champion Chris McKenzie

Chris McKenzie was inspired to start the UW Medicine Cycling Club after seeing how many people at UWMC were cycling enthusiasts. What started out as a cycling fundraiser became a full blown cycling club with the help of Larry Dean and Tara Brown. Thanks to a flyer, an email, and a web-based chat forum, Chris was able to get the word out about the new club to the UWMC community and received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Within an hour of the email announcing the club being sent, Chris’ inbox was inundated with emails asking for more information on the club and how to become a member. Chris currently has 45 club members and 15 pending invitations. Chris’ ultimate goal in creating the UW Medicine Cycling Club was to raise awareness and to build positive relationships through the sport of cycling. Chris believes that cycling is an incredible activity and that more people should be encouraged to do it.

Commute Champion Maya Jacobs

Maya Jacobs got hooked on the concept of bike trains after talking with Portland’s Kiel Johnson and UW’s own David Amiton. She was inspired to bring bike trains to Seattle schools when she learned how multifaceted they are; on a local level bike trains cultivate friendships, build communities and instill confidence in our youth while on a broader global level bike trains address crisis’s such as climate change, childhood obesity and social isolation. Maya worked with two local schools to build her bike train program. At Wedgwood Elementary she helped organize weekly group rides. While these rides were not official bike trains, they did preserve the vital elements of bike trains: namely the social, environmental and wellbeing benefits. At Thornton Creek Elementary, she organized traditional bike trains by plotting the whereabouts of Thornton Creek students as well as the locations of unsafe arterials, busy intersections and safe residential streets. Maya also cycled the area extensively in order to compile topography, ridability and student locations into a collection of safe, efficient and accessible routes for children. Maya says it was incredible to work on a project that had both meaning and implications for each and every child and parent who participated while also bringing our world closer to the sustainable future we all dream of.

Commute Champion Jeff Barnum

Jeff Barnum has been commuting by bus (and occasionally by bike) since he was 13! Wherever he lived or visited, the local transit system was his primary means of transportation. To date, he has commuted by bus and/or bike in Seattle, Portland, Boston, Cleveland, Washington D.C., and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada! As an active duty Lieutenant with the U.S. Coast Guard, Jeff has had to move a lot but wherever he goes the available transit options are always part of the consideration when choosing a new neighborhood. Jeff got hooked on bus riding because, as he says, it’s an oasis of “me” time. While he’s on the bus he has no responsibilities to anyone else and that allows him to get quite a bit of reading done for his classes with UW Law. His commute actually helps ease his transition between work/school and home. His tip for trying your own bus commute; you can never have too much information. Whether that information comes from the OneBusAway app or a fellow bus rider, Jeff admits that knowing when your bus will arrive or whether it’s already passed eases some of the challenges of commuting by bus. Also, he recommends knowing where the different buses stop to help when constructing a mixed-mode commute. So the next time you’re on a bus look for Jeff Barnum and say hi or ask his advice, he’s always happy to help!

Commute Champion Nicholas Plemel

Nic Plemel has been carpooling to work ever since he started working at the UW back in 2005. As if that wasn’t good enough, he began occasionally running to work (from West Seattle) in 2008 and now regularly runs in to work at least once a week and still carpools with 1 or 2 other co-workers on the days he doesn’t run in. He loves his run commute because it gives him the chance to get the training and exercise he needs while keeping his evenings open to enjoy some quality time with his wife and 10 month old daughter. For anyone wanting to follow in Nic’s shoes and try their own run commute he recommends you travel light. He suggests planning ahead and having work cloths and lunch waiting for you at the office. He also stresses the importance of running in highly visible clothing, especially if you’re running in the dark or twilight. He also advises having some snacks at work that will boost your energy once you get there. His go to menu is Chocolate Almond Milk, a little something sweet, and a lot of protein!

Commute Champion Angie Weiss

Angie Weiss can thank her high school for getting her hooked on riding the bus! During her freshman year, her high school gave out bus passes to all the students. This gave Angie the motivation to try the bus and ever since she made that effort she’s loved it. She immediately discovered that taking the bus was easier than she thought and she got hooked on the fact that she could multi-task while sitting in traffic; something you can’t do behind the wheel of a car. When Angie started at the UW, she continued her advocacy for the transit system and worked to get other students involved in the congestion relief charge. She’s received a huge outpouring of support among her fellow students as transportation issues are one thing that effect everyone on campus. As the ASUW Organizing Coordinator with the Office of Government Relations, Angie organized and recorded student testimony, letters, and even helped students attend hearings in downtown Seattle to advocate for the transit system in and around the UDistrict. Thanks to Angie’s efforts, bus routes were saved from the chopping block and students were able to actively participate in the process!

Commute Champion Brian Ferris

Brian Ferris is such a devoted bus rider that he created an app for it! Brian is the mastermind behind OneBusAway, a multi-media tool that provides easy access to real-time transit information for the Puget Sound region. Brian has been car free since he moved to Seattle seven years ago and has taken the bus ever since. He chooses the bus because he doesn’t like sitting behind a wheel in traffic and by being a passenger he’s able to read, reflect, and take some time for himself during his daily commute. Plus between insurance, gas, and traffic he says he has plenty of reasons not to drive. The motivation for the OneBusAway project was born out of frustration; both Brian’s and other riders he met. His goal was to create a tool that would make it easier for people to use public transit by providing easy access to schedule and real-time arrival information. Mission accomplished Brian and thank you for both your dedication to bus riding and your support of riders everywhere!

Commute Champion Claire Levy

Claire Levy started walking and riding the bus because she didn’t own a car and didn’t want to. She didn’t want to pay for parking and since she lived relatively close to the UW campus she decided to starting walking for her daily commute. She knows the bus is always there as a reliable way to get around the City but she enjoys making physical activity a normal part of her everyday life since her work requires a good deal of sitting. Claire says her walk also gives her the chance to get outside and enjoy nature and the beautiful scenery that Seattle has to offer. She inspires and encourages those around her to make walking a regular part of their commutes through her dedication to a no-car lifestyle and by demonstrating that alternative modes of transportation aren’t as inconvenient as you might think! Her advice if you’re on the fence about a walking commute is to try it when you don’t have a schedule to keep. She points out that if you’re not worried about a time frame you can get a more realistic idea of whether or not you’ll enjoy a walking commute as much as she does!

Commute Champion Michael Meng

Michael Meng has been commuting to work on the bus since his first day at the UW four years ago. Michael was initially hesitant to try a bus commute since he thought it would mean giving up the freedom of his car. But after a few trips he was hooked! He now loves his bus commute with U-PASS because it’s convenient, faster than driving alone, saves him money on gas and parking, and keeps him out of the congested Seattle traffic. He has even started taking his kids on the bus on weekends to help teach them the importance of being environmentally friendly. To Michael, his bus commute helps him be a role model for his children. The thoughtfulness and determination behind his decision to continue to commute by bus is an inspiration to everyone around him. And for those who are on the fence about taking the bus, Michael says, “just try it!”

Commute Champion Beverly Wessel

Beverly Wessel is a 30 year UW bike commuter and an eight year Ride in the Rain veteran. She received the bike that she uses for all those rides back in 1985 as a wedding present from her parents. Beverly says her favorite thing about bike commuting is the daily opportunity to be outdoors and connect with nature and her community. She admits that riding in traffic can be intimidating so she likes to stick to side streets. She encourages anyone who is on the fence about becoming a bike commuter to do what she does; don’t be afraid to go off the main road to find a route that feels safe and comfortable. She knows from experience that riding around cars gets easier with every trip. Her advice and wisdom have helped countless colleagues become confident bike commuters year after year!

Commute Champion Eric Shellan

Undergraduate Eric Shellan has been commuting either by foot or by bus since his first year at the UW. As a senior next year, he will mark four years of not driving to school. Eric grew up in Mount Vernon, Washington where driving constituted the majority of trips. Since moving to King County he’s found that King County Metro service provides him with a convenient and easy to use alternative to driving. He likes being able to hop on the bus when he’s running late or if it’s raining and then walk when it’s sunny. Eric thinks it’s important for people, and students especially, to be aware of their different commute options so they can save themselves time and money.

Commute Champion Denis Martynowych

Denis Martynowych has been commuting to the UW on his bike since 1992. He’s always enjoyed cycling, so when he was hired it just seemed like the natural thing to do. After that much time on 2 wheels, Denis is a confident rider but he always makes safety a priority by wearing a helmet, using good lights, and choosing routes that he feels comfortable with. He encourages new cyclists to try bike commuting, even if it’s only for part of their trip. He feels the important thing is to give yourself the opportunity to experience the joy of cycling because, as Denis says, “it just feels good on so many levels.” Thank you Denis, for being an inspiration to UW cyclists of all skill levels.

Commute Champion Jess Lundin

Jess Lundin bikes nearly 7 miles to work every day and is a regular participant in UW bicycling events. On the rare occasions when she doesn’t bike, Jess takes the bus. She models smart commuting both by biking and by wearing a helmet and using good lights on her bike. Jess serves as the catalyst for cyclists in Earth and Space Sciences. She is a top recruiter getting other grad students to be on the department’s teams, then sending them encouraging emails and looking after them. When people need bike help or commute advice, she is always there helping with everything from route planning to changing tires and tightening brakes. Thank you Jessica, for taking the time to share your bicycling skills and provide inspiration to your colleagues as they explore cycling.

Commute Champion Yang-Sook Choe

Congratulations to Yang-Sook Choe, our first ever Commute Champion! For nearly 20 years, Yang-Sook Choe, Program Manager for Area C Custodial Division, woke up at 3:00 a.m. to make her drive-alone commute from Edmonds and get to campus early enough to help shuttle some of her staff from the Northlake Building to their clock-in site at the Old Fisheries Building. About three years ago, Yang-Sook joined the U-PASS vanpool program and it has changed her commute forever. Now she can sleep in an extra half hour and still cut 10 minutes off of her commute time by using the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

Yang-Sook has become such a vanpool advocate that over the past three years she has helped almost every new Custodial Services employee join a vanpool. This means that Custodial Services can now boast of having 11 vanpools with more than 70 participants.

Yang-Sook says that the most common question new vanpoolers have is how to fill out the required paperwork. She has taken it upon herself to help her fellow employees fill out their vanpool paper work correctly and fax it to the appropriate transit agency. She’s also assisted with scheduling for each new vanpooler’s vanpool orientation session. Yang-Sook is so good at helping people set-up vanpools that most new employees assume she works for the transit agency as a representative for vanpooling. Keep up the great work Yang-Sook and thank you for being a Commute Champion!