May 4, 2012

Farewell, Advocacy

After lots of effort, considerable thought and reflection, admittedly some frustration, and futther deliberation, I am throwing in the towel on bike advocacy. At least in any kind of leadership capacity - I might still get in on a protest ride or badger some store for better parking, but otherwise I am hanging it up.

Calling it quits.

Cashing it in.

I've been actively engaged in a number of efforts, including

  • Comments and criticism of the Marq2 Project; 
  • Early formative meetings of the group that became the Minneapolis Bike Coalition; 
  • Planning of the RiverLake Greenway; 
  • Planning of the Southern Connector bike boulevard; 
  • Bike parking at 48th and Chicago, and;
  • Probably a few other things that I am forgetting.
None of these have been particularly rewarding but there are some results to report: 
  • Marq2 was a F'ing Gong Show and a real loss for cyclists (that project should be added to the list of URS projects [I-35W Bridge and Sabo Bridge] that screwed Minneapolis). We lost north-south bike lanes in the heart of the MPLS Central Business District while The City was congratulating itself on how "bike friendly" they were. 
  • The Minneapolis Bike Coalition is doing some good things but not in the direction or fashion I was thinking; 
  • RiverLake is in and successful, which is great;
  • The Southern Connector looks like it's going to be built, so that's potentially one for the good guys, and;
  •  Bike parking at 48th and Chicago is a cluster fuck and has been an exercise in wasted time - all of the businesses are for it (as long as it's entirely free, delivered to them effortlessly and in no way compromises existing automobile parking capacity).
Additionally, I've tried to get into a few other areas but never gotten traction. These include:
  • Bike Alliance of Minnesota advocacy committee;
  • Minneapolis Bike Coalition, and;
  • Minneapolis Bike Advisory Committee

My outsider's perception is that BAM is pretty ossified and those seats are... established. The MPLS Bike Advisory Committee had "openings", but they weren't actually all that open - I applied for a ward position, but lost out to a person that has been on this committee for a long time and means to stay that way. The MBC is actively looking for volunteers but the organizational/leadership structure doesn't work for me and I don't see much growth there. That being said, I firmly believe that MBC does good work and I support them in word and deed. I just don't want to be part of their scene.

Here's what I have concluded.

Living in a really strong Bike City is great for a lot of reasons - we have a lot of good bike amenities (which benefit local residents and pedestrians - not just cyclists), we have a lot of very talented and dedicated people that are working to improve those amenities as well. Additionally, we have  base of motivated people willing to volunteer a little time and effort to move things along for those organizations.

What that means, though, is that this particular pond is pretty crowded. It's like trying to get into Science Club at MIT or something. Good luck, Chuck.

Therefore, if one wants to make a difference, it would be economically rational to focus on some other under-served area and not pile-on with the over-served issues (such as bike advocacy). I'll still support MBC projects that make sense, keep active with cycling education by exercising my LCI credential and make a stink with the City when it matters, but otherwise the general cycling advocacy is getting shoved to the back-burning for the foreseeable future.


  1. I hear you.
    I'm a traffic engineer, and trying to skew my career as far towards bike/ped planning/engineering as possible. But I'm not sure this is really working out for me very well. The more I work on bike projects, the more frustrating it becomes. In theory, most agencies genuinely want to provide great bike/ped infrastructure. In practice, it requires them to make tradeoffs they just aren't willing to make. As much as they want to be bike friendly, they want other things more. That leaves me feeling unfulfilled (sad trombone).

    Maybe I need to be a bridge engineer instead?

  2. It's funny - I've gotten an email or two agreeing with this as well. I suspect that more than a few people have felt this way,but saying so might not be comfortable.

    I have tried to articulate it before but never quite pulled it off. I guess for me it comes down to feeling a little like a pawn on somebody else's chess board with some of this advocacy stuff. I was really on board with some of the MN Bike Alliance legislative agenda last year and did not agree with a few other things, but the agenda is the agenda.

    I recognize that no organization is going to things that I happen to agree with 100% of the time - that's a given. The upshot for me is to get involved only with those things I can get behind. I am not about to "pay dues" to support an advocacy group. I have seen that happen in other organizations and it seems to be a rare occurrence when those dues result in some form of higher position or more responsibility.

    I can see the hypocrisy issue that you touch on as well - more so dealing with the public/store owners/city employees than with cyclists. That certainly put me around the bend on 48th and Chicago; everyone was emphatically for more bike parking but no one would take the next step to actually get a rack installed.

    I am going to pick and choose my activities and be pretty discriminating in what I get involved with going forward.