Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and as we turn the corner from Spring into summer, I am turning a corner of sorts as well.
After leaving the working world on July 1, 2011 for destinations unknown, I have new business cards on order as I write this...
I am happy to report that I am now "the sales guy" at Bike Fixtation right here in Minnenoplace. It's seemingly the perfect gig. It's the bicycle industry, the position is solutions-oriented, I work with smart creative people, I work from home, and I have flexible hours. We do business all over the place, including countries where English is not the first language. What's not to like?
I was drawn to this position because I like the business concept. We design, build and distribute public bicycle workstands, high security hand pumps and air compressors, and vending machines specific to bicycle emergency needs (inner tubes, patch kits, tire levers, etc.). The business and the position is creative and entrepreneurial, and each inquiry I handle is unique. The products are cost-effective, secure and durable, empowering, "green" and very high quality, so it's easy to sell. The time is right for this concept, too.
After nearly a year, I still have no desire whatsoever to go back to consulting on What I Used To Do. Despite the pay, professional recognition, prestige and the scope of the projects. I am just so burned out on that scene that I can't even contemplate wanting to get back in the business (and yes, I still have a little over a year on my non-compete/non-solicit agreement, Mr. Nameless-Attorney-That-Monitors-My-Activities).
In the meantime, I am going to ride the waves that are coming in and be the best customer service guy in the bike biz. And I plan to have A LOT of fun doing it.
I spent the better part of the day today outside the convention center, helping to repair bikes for homeless people. Project Homeless Connect aggregates medical and social service providers a few times per year to make it easier for people needing these services to get them.
A significant number of homeless and transitional people rely on bicycles for transportation, and they often ride marginally safe bikes, so appending a bike-repair effort on to Homeless Connect is a good idea. I got involved with this last year because a friend organized the bike repair effort and found herself swamped with demand for these services.
This year we were able to apply a lot of lessons learned and it went much better. Upgrades to our set-up this year included getting about 9 mechanics (including 3 from The Hub Bike Co-Op), more parts and supplies (brake pads, cables, housing, inner tubes, tires, etc.), awnings to provide shade, lunch and a much better in-take process. Kudos to Nickel for figuring this all out and making it happen.
Some of the repairs I did today were truly horrifying. Brake pads worn all the way down to the metal bracket, bikes with no working brakes what-so-ever, tires that should have been taken out of service years ago...
In two instances, I just could not make bikes safe to ride and talked to owners about getting a better ride at Bikes for Change or MMRB, but for the most-part, we got these things much safer and ready to ride. I don't have an official count, but I bet we repaired at least 50 bikes today. This is a really under-served area and more volunteer bike repairs would be a good thing in any city.
The Homeless Connect organizers seemed to really appreciate that we were there, too, which is always nice.
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.