An Exceptional Commute: Q&A with Madison Olds

girl on bike on gonzaga campus
Madison Olds in front of College Hall

January 16, 2020

The Office of Sustainability had the opportunity this month to speak with Madison Olds, the Higher Education Waste Reduction Educator for Gonzaga University. An AmeriCorps member serving in the Office of Sustainability during the 2019-2020 academic year, Madison is a frequent user of many alternative transportation methods. Madison and I talked about why she doesn’t drive, the downside of not having a vehicle, and why, for her, the pros of not driving outweigh the cons.

What inspires or motivates you to engage in this type of alternative commuting?
“Personally, I love to ride my bike because I find it to be a fun way of commuting that happens to have a few other really good perks. Riding your bike helps to keep you in shape, you never have to stress about parking, there’s no insurance or gas to pay for, you never have to deal with traffic, you get a better view of what’s happening around the city, and you drastically reduce your carbon footprint.”

Why do you choose not to drive? I know that you don’t have a drivers license, but was there something specific that has kept you from getting a driver’s license in past years?
“I’ve never had a deep desire to get one, and to be totally honest, driving just seems scary. Plus, driving is a pretty expensive luxury and I’d rather invest my time, energy, and money into better and more meaningful experiences. Also, my passion for maintaining a low waste lifestyle reaffirms my decision to not drive - maybe one day I will have an actual need to have a car, but so far I’ve been doing just fine without one.”

Your role is unique in that it requires you to work at not just Gonzaga, but multiple other colleges in the area. Since you are regularly moving around the city on foot, bike, or bus, do you feel that Spokane is doing a good job in creating a built environment that is conducive to people commuting like you do?
“I think the city is doing a good job with mass transit, however great improvements need to be made for bike paths and sidewalks to make alternative forms of commuting more appealing. I’ve only seen a handful of designated bike lanes around Spokane and the sidewalks around the city are not always the most pleasant to bike on due to cracked pavement and holes.”

What support (from family, friends, coworkers) have you received? On the other hand, have you had people be concerned or question your decision to commute in the ways you do?
“I’ve had a good mix of support and concern from family, friends, and coworkers. Some of my family members were nervous to send me off across the country without a license (Madison is originally from Ohio), many of them thought it would be a big mistake. However, once I was settled in and handling the city quite nicely using only the STA system and my bike, all worries were eased. People are still a bit amazed when I inform them I don’t have a license, but they tend to appreciate my dedication to biking most everywhere I go.”

What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced as an alternative commuter?
“The only real challenge I face consistently is not having the ability to travel and visit the beautiful nature outside of the city. This always requires me convincing a friend who owns a car to make a trip with me - normally people are always down to go on hikes/adventures, but I do envy people who have the autonomy to make a trip on their own. Nonetheless, this challenge has only led me to appreciate all the city has to offer within its limits and to really value the treat that is exploring the outdoors.”

How have the changing seasons impacted your decision to walk or bike?
“With the arrival of snow, I’ve had to put my lil’ cruiser up for the season as it’s not equipped to manage the snow. Therefore, I’ve been relying on the bus to commute a lot more as well as walking for short distances. This makes my commute times a tad bit longer than my bike commute, but I don’t mind much at all.”

What do you wish more people knew about living without a car?
“How much simpler your life can be without one. I really love not having to deal with all the expenses associated with owning a car and the free time that living careless brings.”

Do you think there is anything Gonzaga specifically could do to get more individuals involved with walking, biking, or using the bus?
“There’s always the common option to offer some kind of incentive, but that option I feel is a bit overused and doesn’t guarantee to motivate people long term. Why do we have to provide rewards to sway people to be decent inhabitants of Earth? People already know how to commute sustainably, but many still choose to drive single-occupancy vehicles because they can’t be bothered to make a slight alteration to their lives. Personally, I would like to see more of a commitment to carpooling from the university. They could have a carpool-only parking lot and turn another parking lot into a green space, which would provide a much more enjoyable experience for visitors, as well as students and employees.

In all seriousness, there are very very few reasonable excuses not to use the bus, walk, carpool, or bike to work. I think Gonzaga could do a better job of consistently promoting these behaviors and how they relate to our Jesuit values.”

Any final thoughts or words of wisdom you want people to know, whether about biking or using the bus or just life in general?
“I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes: ‘We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’”

If you or someone you know commutes to Gonzaga in an interesting way, we want to know about it!
Send an email to and you might be featured in a future profile!