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Oct112010

« Turmoil in Tyvek! »

Oh, brother. Our Cascade Bicycle Club, the largest cycling club in the country, is in a bit of a tizzy this month.

The board has ousted the long-time executive director, Chuck Ayers, over apparent concerns about the advocacy tone CBC has been taking, with undisclosed "personnel issues" that very likely have to do with Chuck's unwillingness to curb or fire David Hiller, the club's brash, outspoken, often-angry-sounding but effective-with-a-zinger advocacy director.

Conspicuously unhelpful have been the board's comments on the matter, which were lacking in tact and transparency. Worse was the Board Chair's decision to disparage Hiller to the Puget Sound Business Journal, hardly a friendly media outlet in which to air our laundry.

Reading these comments on the CBC blog, it’s not hard to see the clash being acted out at an organizational level between <stereotypes>older, suburban/exurban, club ride, conservative membership and younger, urban, transportational, progressive members</stereotypes>. The former don’t seem to care for aggressive transportational cycling advocacy, and the latter (myself at least) could care less about club rides.

Serotta vs Surly, car-toppers vs car-less. But for me, it was working well enough. I joined CBC last year for the advocacy and support for educational programs and Ride to School Month. Did it feel odd that I was the only one to ride my bike to the Ride Leader Training? Yes indeedy, but I felt like there was plenty of common ground with the others there. You don’t have to come on a Kidical Mass ride, and I can skip the STP. But we all want to be safe and accepted on the roads.

What’s funny is that the non-cycling public can’t seem to tell the difference between CBC and Critical Mass, or don’t care that there’s a difference. But for younger folks who ride bikes, CBC has felt like a distinctly staid, conservative, sign-the-waiver, weekend warrior club, with the exception of more recent aggressive advocacy efforts and some of the kids/education stuff. I’d have them take a long look at the recent membership increases and ask if perhaps that new blood was attracted more by the advocacy/education and less by the recreational aspects.

If Chuck Ayers and (soon) David Hiller are gone, I don’t exactly see CBC moving in a more progressive direction, advocacy or personality-wise. Sure, Hiller has gone over-the-top, on occasion. But sometimes that’s necessary, sometimes that’s effective. Our opposition isn’t pulling any punches. We compromised with Ballard businesses with the interim route of the Missing Link, who sued to block the compromise route anyway. Pick any Seattle Times article, or the Puget Sound Business Journal. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Any backlash we're facing isn’t against Chuck or David. The backlash is against the success we’re having. Could we do a better job framing road diets as being about safety for all users and traffic speeds? Sure. So could SDOT. For members that were upset about CBC’s voice about road diets, vigorous support for the Missing Link completion, Vulnerable Users bills, etc., were they really opposed to those goals, or the voice in which they were pursued? I think there’s room for debate over tone, but I hope the car-topper crowd can see how important those advocacy efforts are to us all.

The only way to keep me happy and involved would be to bring in people like the BTA’s new Rob Sadowski (from Chicago) or other strong, effective advocacy presence. We’ll see. I was myself a bit conflicted about David Hiller's tone. The pugnacious side of me loved seeing his comments in print, and he was great with a feisty sound-bite. But in my personal life, angry doesn't seem to work out so well in terms of motivating change. I'd like to see CBC find an advocacy stance that is muscular, uncompromising when it counts, and effective at reframing so many of the tired cars vs bikes arguments.

  • Road diets aren't about taking room for cars for bikes ... they're for taming out-of-control arterials and making them safer for all.
  • We don't hate cars ... we just think they're the wrong tool for the job, for many but not all people, for many but not all trips.
  • People on bikes don't pay their share? Actually, it's the motor vehicles that are being subsidized heavily by the rest of us.
  • Bikes slow you down? Would you rather we drove? How would that help your commute?

And maybe instead of angry, we could find some room for more humor, or advocacy based on the non-smug-virtuous-green aspects of why we ride. For me, riding my bike feels like flying, like I'm playing my way to work, gives me front-row parking every time, keeps me happier during the day, and has taken 10 pounds off while letting me eat worse. Reasons like that are less threatening than "I'm saving the planet" type stuff, with the implied "why do you hate our children's future" flipside. And (heresy!) I do think we could tone down the safety safety safety sign-the-waiver-after-I-check-your-helmet stuff, with the unsubtle implications that riding a bike on the street is an extreme sport.

There have been some recent cycling advocacy campaigns that used humor and effective motivational techniques, like the "No more ridiculous car trips" campaign in Malmö, or Bellingham's simple phone calls asking folks if they wanted info about riding, and pairing them with mentors (which led to a 35% increase in bike trips!). Let's see more of that from Cascade. But I hope they do keep David Hiller on ... sometimes you need the "bad cop" as well.

Either way, here's a big thank you to Chuck and future departed company for all their years of hard work on our behalf. And here's to hoping that CBC continues to move beyond its Cascade Bicycles On Cars Club image, by continuing to attract, educate, and advocate for the next generation of cyclists.

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Reader Comments (3)

Hear hear on all counts, and you definitely win the headline prize for coverage of this debacle.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBikejuju

Nice synthesis. I think your stereotying of the new vs. oId was probably fair and agree that the framing (as opposed to the advocacy itself) hasn't always been the best.

I'll be interested to see if you provide any follow-up coverage with the re-hiring of Chuck and the board elections, which happened a few days ago, I believe.

Regardless, I hope for all of our sake that things get sorted out quickly. With the Puget Sound Regional Council's (lackluster) 2040 plan moving toward final, major changes in the way US DOT is funding infrastructure, and things going on at the local level all the time. there really is no time for infighting right now.

October 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBurienBrooks

In my town we have two clear cycling groups: a recreation group and a transportation group. We work together on some projects, but other times it's clearly helpful to have separate leadership and events for what can be two rather different relationships to bicycles.

November 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Stosberg

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