The office space at Mill Quarter feels almost like the interior of an M.C. Escher drawing: Sets of wooden stairs climb to lofts, and hallways traverse through open-office spaces, and still another set of stairs climbs to yet another office. The space houses several well-known nonprofits—Trout Unlimited, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Cultural Oregon—and it is difficult to know exactly where one organization begins, and the other ends. There is a buzzing energy in the space—and, Jeff Monson, executive director for Commute Options, also located here, likes it that way.
The organization moved into the space nearly three years ago—its offices tucked high into the back corner, and its walls painted a spearmint green.
"We moved by bike," explains Monson, with a youthful enthusiasm and pride in his voice. The organization begun as a program within the Environmental Center, before writing its own by-laws organizing its own board of directors and, in 2002, hiring Monson as its first executive director to offically set up shop as an independent nonprofit. Keeping with the organization's philosophy, volunteers loaded up desks, chairs and computers into trailers attached to bikes for the move.
But, Monson also hastens to point out that the organization is about much more than just bikes. "It used to be that I was always just called the 'bike guy,'" he says, "and I was asked, 'Why are you here, it is a meeting about transportation?'" He continues, "but, in the changing world that we have, more people are wanting 'active transportation,'" which includes bike commuting as well as walking, carpooling and busing.
Monson grew up in Maine, and attended the state university there, majoring in physical education. Eventually he moved down the east coast with friends to Orlando, Florida, where he took as job as the city's bike and pedestrian manager. Several years later, he and his wife hitchhiked through Central America before, eventually, wandering to Oregon, drawn by what he had been told about the area's skiing, rock climbing and outdoor lifestyle. "Before that," he laughs, "I didn't know how to pronounce Or-y-gun."
Monson explains that his job as executive director is similar in many ways to what a CEO does at a private company. "We're running a business," he says. "We're not selling products, but we're bringing in money, from grants. All the things a CEO would do. We're just not trying to make a profit, but we are paying our bills."