Blame me. It’s my fault the Northwest does not treat bicycling with respect.
How? Bear with me, and I’ll explain.
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Cascadia is, as Washington State legislator Dick Nelson used to say, a “motorhead democracy”—a place where licensed drivers substantially outnumber registered voters and where car-head dominates transportation thought and debate.
No matter how much good Bicycle Respect would do for our health, communities, economy, and natural heritage, it won’t fly in on fairy wings. Bicycle Respect is a political agenda: new traffic laws and enforcement, new budget allocations, and newstreetdesigns.
So winning Bicycle Respect requires political power. When many elected leaders begin to see championing the bicycle as a path to higher office, as Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams does, we will be well on our way. When elected officials fear for their seats if they ignore the needs of the bicycle, we will have arrived.
Fortunately, the political movement for cycling has never been stronger. The North American cycling advocacy coalition Thunderhead Alliance lists 15 member organizations in Cascadia, ranging in size from western Washington’s Cascade Bicycle Club with its 7,600 members and budget of more than $2 million a year, to the all-volunteer Juneau Freewheelers, with 60 members. These Cascadian cycling orgs count more than 19,000 people on their membership roles—far more than ever before. The Bicycle Alliance of Washington, for example, has quadrupled its membership in a decade, to 2,800. Cascadian cyclists are now better organized than their counterparts in most parts of North America: the most cycling-organized city on the continent is the Cascadian resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the headwaters of the Snake River. The local cycling group, Friends of Pathways, has signed up every eighteenth resident, as the Thunderhead Alliance reports. Growing memberships translates into enough staff and budget to exert political influence. Between these organizations, cycling has almost 50 paid staff members and a combined annual budget of almost $5 million devoted to advocating for Bicycle Respect.
Still, organized cyclists remain a paltry band. They have enlisted just 1 in 1,000 Cascadians. Compare them with the membership arm of the car-head movement, the American Automobile Association and Canadian Automobile Association. The AAA and CAA have at least 2.4 million members in Cascadia—almost one sixth of the region’s residents. Their large staffs, which work out of more than 80 different local offices, include full-time, professional lobbyists in each of the state and provincial capitals of the region. Their budgets? The CAA’s BC chapter alone reports a budget of $135 million.
In short, cyclists are catastrophically outnumbered in the political realm: “a fly on the windshield,” says Gordon Black, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington.
In fact, cyclists are so utterly overpowered that the motoring interests hardly even have to show up. In Olympia and Salem, according to leading cycling advocates, the trucking, development, and manufacturing industries lobby fairly heavily on transportation issues. But car manufacturers, car dealers, and auto clubs rarely flex their muscle. Says Black, “They don’t have to show up very often, because they know the government is doing their bidding. They don’t feel threatened. They don’t see us as a threat.”
Because of car-head, anything other than roads or transit infrastructure seems somewhat frivolous. “Nobody’s in our face, but there’s a lot of quiet eye rolling,” says David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club.
Scott Bricker, director of Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance, agrees. He notes, “It’s not that the auto power really works hard at lobbying. There’s more of an inertia.”
Decision makers themselves, like most of their constituents, have internalized the auto-centered world view. “The lobbyists don’t need to be in the room. They are inside of legislators’ heads,” says Black of the Bicycle Alliance.
There’s no way past this political barrier other than better organizing. Cascadia’s bicycle advocacy organizations need to get much bigger, until they become a force to contend with.
Put it this way. For starters, the large number of Cascadians who cycle at least once a month need to be as likely to belong to a bicycle organization as they are to belong to the AAA/CAA. At present, I’m willing to wager, the opposite is true.
I can’t prove this point, but I do have one piece of evidence. I polled Sightline’s staff and board of directors—about as pro-cycling a group of people as you could hope to find. Of the 22 people who responded, 17 belong, or at some time belonged, to the AAA/CAA. I am among them: a former AAA member. Just six belong, or at some time belonged, to a bicycle or pedestrian organization. (I’m not one of them, but I promise to join this month.) That’s right: 17 to 6, even at Sightline.
And that’s why I say, you can blame me. It’s people like me—cyclists who don’t support those who advocate for them and, indeed, undermine them by supporting AAA—who are keeping Cascadia from more rapid progress toward Bicycle Respect.
I’m sorry. Really sorry.
What you can do.
1. Quit the AAA/CAA. Most people who belong to AAA/CAA do it for the cheap towing and road-side assistance service. (That’s why I belonged for two years in the early 1990s.) They probably do not even realize that AAA/CAA chapters spend part of each membership fee lobbying and advocating for driving and cars. The same services that AAA/CAA provides, including insurance, roadside assistance, and travel planning are also available from the Better World Club, which has a strong commitment to su
2. Join a cycling advocacy group. A list follows, from the Thunderhead Alliance
Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Seattle, Washington
Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Portland, Oregon
British Columbia Cycling Coalition, Victoria, BC
Capital Bike and Walk Society, Victoria, BC
Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle, Washington
Juneau Freewheelers, Juneau, Alaska
Friends of Pathways, Jackson Hole, WY
Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, Victoria, BC
Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, Missoula, Montana
Mount Baker Bicycle Club, Bellingham, Washington
Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, Santa Rosa, California
Squeaky Wheels, Bainbridge Island, Washington
Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, Driggs, Idaho
Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, Garden City, Idaho
Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, Vancouver, BC
3. Stay informed.
The very-active Portland biking community finds its online home at the BikePortland blog while Seattle has Bike Hugger and the BikeSeattle blog. And Vancouver, BC, has the spunky print and online magazine Momentum.
(Huge thanks for research on this piece go to volunteer Alyse Nelson (I mentioned her work here). She assembled the data on cycling organizations’ memberships, budgets, and staffing.)
The Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is Scott Bricker, not ‘David Bricklin.’UPDATE from Alan: Oops. I corrected my embarrassing mistake.
For Seattle there’s also Cranked Magazine.
Thanks for motivating me to join the Cascade Bicycle Club today!
I frequently stay at hotels that offer discounts to AAA members. But, because I’ve never owned a car, I’ve therefore never joined AAA and so can’t take advantage of those hotel discounts.I’ve also never joined a bicycle or pedestrian organization. (Not even sure if they have any in the city where I live.) But you can be sure that I’d be highly motivated to join and support such groups elsewhere, if they offered membership benefits like AAA and Better World Club do.Anyone know of any bicycle or Pedestrian groups that offer great membership benefits like that?
I just found a national bicycle advocacy group that’s also affiliated with the Better World Club!It’s called the League of American Bicylists, and it offers membership benefits such as “nationwide emergency roadside assistance for you and your bicycle…” Plus other great membership benefits such as discounts at participating hotels, bicycle retailers, and manufacturers (i.e., Bike Friday).Way cool! Check it out!
Thanks to you Alan, I’ve just joined the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition for the first time.
I joined Cascade, too, though it was a tough choice as there are two great groups in Washington. I picked Cascade only because my daughter used to play soccer with the daughter of Cascade’s director.
OK . . . Y’all have persuaded me to get more locally active, and not just nationally.So, I’ve researched Eugene’s humble offerings:Although there don’t appear to be any Eugene-centered bicycle organizations that one can officially join, per se, advocates can instead simply show up at the various meetings arranged by the City of Eugene and/or the Eugene Bicycle Coalition.For instance, presently the City of Eugene is proposing a Pedestrian and Bicycle Strategic Plan.And, there is an awesome grassroots cycling community that gathers together monthly with the Eugene Bicycle Coalition to ensure a more bike-friendly Eugene: To wit, Eugene has a Blue Lane (as mentioned in the January 22, 2007 meeting) thanks to this progressive coalition!And, as Alan’s post indicates, the state of Oregon has the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, in Portland, with membership benefits for those who officially join.
I’m Board Vice-Chair of WalkSanDiego.org. We worked out a membership discount with FlexCar for our members. Flexcar/Zipcar is very willing to work out such perks for bike and ped group members.
Michelle, most local bicycle advocacy groups have extensive bike-shop discount programs. Here in Chicago, we Bicycle Federation members also get discounts all over the place, from car-sharing to dry cleaning to restaurants to, yes, a few B!I travel pretty extensively and 90% of the time, I can find a better hotel rate than the AAA discount. It might take a bit of searching, though.
Organizations are formed with a common purpose. AAA/CAA have a common core as well. Here is the largest bone of contention from my personal experience. A bicyclist has an accident with a motorized vehicle. Compensation – in a court – is lower than if the bicyclist were riding in a car. If the bicyclist is killed, the onus falls to the survivors and their legal council to show how the bicyclist wasn’t breaking the law.Bicycling insurance? When was the first, last time you heard of a bicyclist getting the level of compensation equal to a motorist?Want to get the politicals attention? Pool the resources, hire a top attorney and go after a trucking company or a wealthy individual where it is shown that a motorized driver has a higher level of responsibility to drive on the same road based upon their ability to inflict more harm. Get enough of a settlement to make people stand up and eventually, you’ll have more bicyclists getting insurance. Win more cases, get more people’s attention. Target an area of the nation. Place your resources where you could win. Move on after success to the next target. Get laws passed. Make insurance an issue for the rider. Affordable, with a high rate of wins. Bias the laws toward first the pedestrian, then a bicyclist(Human Powered Vehicle), then the public motorist with the highest responsibility being the commercial driver/companies.I’ve lived in other countries where this bias works based upon responsibility. It makes it affordable for the lower wage earners to make a decent living without the higher costs associated with driving a motor vehicle.
This is all fascinating to a Kiwi 71 year old who has just had both hips replaced and finding it hard to regain my confidence riding around my local town. There have been many changes in the road and intersection controls in the past year while I have been “off my bike”. I am reluctant to get “on my bike” with the local authority about the lack of consideration for the cyclist however it is hard to be as confidant as I was before the enforced rest. Any thoughts that any of you may have on how to approach the regaining of confidence and dealing with the loud mouths that seem to resent cyclists would be appreciated. At present I try to smile and wave at those who seem upset by my progress and while in some cases that seems to inflame them in other cases have been given a smile in return.