LAFAYETTE — BikeLafayette’s newly appointed executive director, Monique Koll, has ambitious plans in leading the city’s biking advocacy group, taking the helm two years after being hit by an unlicensed driver in 2012.
Koll is the nonprofit group’s first official employee, signaling the next step in the organization’s push to make Lafayette a safer place for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
“I am incredibly honored to be executive director,” said Koll, a 37-year-old New Orleans native. “I am a veterinarian by trade, but because of my injury, it’s still going to be a while before I can practice veterinary medicine and surgery. This is an incredibly great opportunity for me just to be able to represent bikes this way.”
With the rise in biking around Lafayette, Koll’s appointment was not taken lightly, said BikeLafayette Vice President Jon Langlinais.
“We had an excellent applicant pool with outstanding candidates, and we appreciate everyone that took the time to apply,” Langlinais said in an announcement of the new position. “This is new ground for BikeLafayette, and the fact that we had such qualified people that want to work in the area of bicycle advocacy speaks volumes for our community as a whole.”
Koll said she needs to secure funding sources to hire another employee and for other costs, but once the foundation is built, the sky’s the limit.
Koll also plans advocacy training for members and attending government hearings on anything concerning bikes and pedestrians.
“What’s good for one of those groups of nonmotorized vehicles is good for everybody,” she said.
Cooperation with local government has been great, she said.
“They recognize that as our city grows, you can’t build yourself out of congestion — you have to build up,” she said. “The only way to do that, because we’re not going to be able to add extra lanes downtown, is to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly and to promote that. It’s really great to work with a government that does recognize that.”
Koll began biking as a way to get in shape in 2010, she said.
“I’m a single mom, and my son told me, ‘I know you’re not old because you’re not fat,’ ” she recalled with a chuckle. “I grew up in New Orleans, and even though I love the city I grew up in, we’re not exactly known for our healthy lifestyle. So I had decided to start exercising, eating healthy and so forth.”
From there, Koll started competing in races, but in October 2012, she was hit from behind by an unlicensed driver while riding in Duson.
“I broke his windshield, and he broke my neck, which is the only thing that broke but is incredibly important not to break,” she recalled. “I was wearing my helmet, which is the only thing that saved my life.”
Two years after the accident, she still isn’t able to ride a bike, but she said she has been steadily improving.
“I think it’s will over reason,” she said. “They said I might not be able to walk again, but here I am.”
Upon returning, she began working with BikeLafayette after learning the group held a blood drive in her honor.
“When I got back into town, I was still in a wheelchair, and BikeLafayette found me that way,” she said. “I started advocating for bicycle safety with them, just because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to other people.”