Toward the end of last year, the Twin Cities lost a tireless and graceful advocate for all things transportation—Bill Dooley. A retired lobbyist who was a transportation advocate for over the last decade, Dooley passed away on December 23 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
People who worked with Dooley remember his passion and grace for all things transportation as well as him keeping tabs on the state legislature and ensuring people were kept informed. To honor his legacy, state legislators have introduced a bill on bicycle and pedestrian safety named after him.
Born on April 28, 1949, in Chicago, Dooley went to Northern Illinois University, where he met his wife, Susan, before moving to Minneapolis where he worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for an insurance company and spent time at the Minnesota State Capitol during the legislative sessions. He decided to retire early to lobby for something different: transportation. He became a fixture at the Minnesota State Capitol watching in-person transportation committee hearings and reporting back on his findings to the organizations he was involved in.
“He realized politics is a part of providing transportation corridors for the city and the states,” said Louis Moore, who leads the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, named for the first Black bicycling world champion. “The last 10 years of his life he spent working on these processes, and [that he] retired early to do it gives you an idea of how much dedication he had.”
In addition to spending time at the state capitol, Dooley was also a founding member of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, now known as Our Streets Minneapolis. He was also involved with the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee, a group that opposed building a light rail extension to Eden Prairie through the Minneapolis chain of lakes and supported the extension of the Midtown Greenway over to St. Paul.
He chaired the Twin Cities Shared Use Mobility Collaborative, which develops options for people to get around without driving, such as by shared bikes, scooters and cars. He remained involved to the bitter end; the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota said he chaired their advocacy committee four days before he died.
He frequently sent emails to transportation advocates, professionals and journalists—including this writer—containing links to articles he thought they should read. Although University of Minnesota Planning Professor Yingling Fan did not know Dooley well, she was one of the many recipients of his emails and connected with him on social media.
His colleagues remember how he longed to watch transportation hearings at the legislature in-person post-pandemic. Unfortunately, he never got the chance.
To honor his presence at the state legislature, DFL Rep. Steve Elkins of Bloomington and DFL Sen. Kelly Morrison of Deephaven worked with bicycle advocates to introduce the Bill Dooley Bicycle Safety Act, which would fund building more sidewalks and bike lanes, fund efforts to train children how to bike and walk to get around, and require schools to do the same. The bill allows cities to enact lower speed limits on streets that children use to get to and from school, and allows people on bicycles to cruise past stop signs as in Idaho.
With Dooley gone, the Twin Cities, where Black transportation advocates are few and far between, now has one less. “I’ve been involved in cycling for 50 years as a person of color, and I was out there by myself for a long, long time,” recounted Moore. “So when Bill came along, it was good to be able to have somebody to help support the idea that the Black community could be a part of the bicycling community here in the Twin Cities.”
Outside of transportation, Bill enjoyed jazz, reading, and independent films, according to his Twitter profile. In the 1980s, he was the editor of a Twin Cities Jazz Society publication. He is survived by his wife Susan, daughters Shana York and Laura Glenn, and seven grandchildren. Anyone wishing to honor his legacy may make a contribution to the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota or the Major Taylor Bicycling Club.