Unified bike advocacy

The news is out that the three major American bike advocacy groups — the League of American Bicyclists, the Alliance for Biking and Walking, and Bikes Belong — plan to merge.

The planned merger is widely hailed as a good move that makes sense. A unified voice and consolidated resources will strengthen the bike promotion message.

What do you think?

Maybe they’re nits, maybe not, but a couple of things that strike me right away about this merger.

  • Competition. When the founders of The Alliance for Biking and Walking (“The Alliance”) met at Thunderhead, Wyoming in 2002, the League of American Bicyclists was a moribund group of graybeards plagued with infighting and politics. These Thunderhead upstarts, in my opinion, gave the LAB the kick in the seat they needed to inspire them to action. Perhaps this proposed merger is an acknowledgement that their work is done, and it’s time for another phase of advocacy.
  • Will this be a cyclist or industry organization? Bikes Belong is an industry group. Personally, I think it’s wonderful that the bike industry has funded political action and advocacy through Bikes Belong, but there’s still a big suspicion in the back of my mind about what might happen if Trek’s goals conflict with those of Specialized in some way, or if the overall industry’s interests might conflict with those of the bike riding population in general. Tim Blumenthal is an excellent choice as acting CEO of the merged group, but is it a wise move to have an industry person serve as a mouthpiece of cycling in the United States?
  • Member vs Board. The Alliance has done good work, but it’s important to remember that this group is controlled by a fairly small group of people, with a board selected only by the Alliance leadership. The League of American Bicyclists is (still) a membership organization, with a portion of the governing board elected by the general membership.

    Bikes Belong board is composed entirely of executive staff from the bike companies that provide funding for them, who all have a financial interest in selling more bikes, more expensive bikes, and all of the various pricey accessories that go along with “go fast” riding.

  • Disparate purposes. The Thunderhead Alliance exists to empower people and bike clubs to advocacy primarily at the local, regional and state level. Bikes Belong promotes bike use by advocating for Federal policy changes. The League of American Bicyclists runs programs for cyclists — they’re the primary driver behind “Bike To Work” events, they support Safe Routes programs, they provide training and licensing for bike safety education, and the LAB administers the Bike Friendly programs. LAB also still supports things like local road riding clubs.

    There’s also some potential concern that an advocacy group that advocates for walking (such as the Alliance does) may not effectively advocate for cyclists.

Just a few things to think about regarding this merger. I’m not necessarily saying these things are bad, just saying that’s what they are. Bikes Belong has kept the LAB on life support the past couple of years, and it appears Bikes Belong also provides a lot of funding for the Alliance, so perhaps this merger just formalizes the de facto reality? Or, a little more perniciously, perhaps Bikes Belong and their industry sponsors told their beneficiaries that they would pull funding?

I’m interested in your thoughts about this too.

21 Comments

  • Kevin
    February 22, 2012 - 4:49 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like a wonderful idea… I’d like to see more state and city bike advocacy groups join forces so the political clout of bicyclers will grow even stronger.

  • MikeOnBike
    February 22, 2012 - 5:18 pm | Permalink

    The $64,000 question: Will this new organization advocate for cycling education and cyclists rights?  The bike industry ought to be outspoken on those points, but so far has shown little interest.

  • February 22, 2012 - 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Good question.  The LAB includes these in its platform but seems to be spending its energy elsewhere.

  • February 22, 2012 - 6:06 pm | Permalink

    LAB has disappointed me for a few years now.  That Bikes Belong “has kept the LAB on life support the past couple of years” just shows how disappointing the organization has been to some members.

  • Anonymous
    February 22, 2012 - 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I think a lot of us will look forward to see how this develops – for good or ill…

  • BikeWriter
    February 22, 2012 - 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Agree with most of what you say, Richard. Walking needs to take a hike — well, maybe not so harsh, but the advocacy is not always the same and they need to be out on their own. Tim Blumenthal is not really an “industry guy”; he comes to us via IMBA and sports journalism. I think he’s got the intestinal fortitude to whip the industry types into a cooperative stance. Hey, if milk, eggs, and the auto industry can form lobbying and promotional alliances, why not bike advocates? Hopefully we can keep “People for Bikes” (REALLY effective campaign), Bike Driver Education, insurance for local bike clubs, and the influence of a few bipartisan politicos — .OK, more than a few. What we need is CLOUT. Can a merger help us attain it?

  • February 22, 2012 - 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Concur with Steve A. Need to see how this plays out, and hope it plays out for good.

  • Anonymous
    February 23, 2012 - 1:05 am | Permalink

    I thought Corinne Winter was just named to the LAB Board…

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  • February 23, 2012 - 7:37 am | Permalink

    Overall I think this is a smart move. It should present a more powerful and focused message to policy makers.

  • Anonymous
    February 23, 2012 - 8:32 am | Permalink

    These are important questions that the leadership of the three organizations is taking seriously. While it’s not accurate to say that Bikes Belong has “kept the League on life support”, it is certainly true that industry support for bicycling advocacy at all levels has dramatically increased in recent years.

    The three organizations have individual strengths but a very consistent objective: to make bicycling better in the U.S.. We’ve been hearing loud and clear from our members and other engaged bicyclists that the large number of national groups working in slightly different ways for the same ends is confusing, exhausting, and cumbersome (e.g. so many email alerts!). That’s why the reaction to this news has been so overwhelmingly positive. Personally, I think it’s perfectly legitimate and understandable for League members to have questions about the process and the results – keep asking them – but I think that we will all be happy with where things end up.

    Note: I’m a League staff member, but just writing my opinion.

  • MikeOnBike
    February 23, 2012 - 10:28 am | Permalink

    I think the biggest challenge may be how to handle the “Walking” part.  The needs of pedestrians and cyclists are quite different and often in conflict.  Examples: choosing between bulb-outs and bike lanes.  Dog walkers snagging cyclists on paths.

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  • Peter
    February 27, 2012 - 7:47 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, LAB no longer has any venues where members can discuss these potential changes. For instance, the “moderator” quit letting any discussions of these changes in the LAB LCI listserver I think they long ago quite being a member-driven organization

  • Karen
    February 27, 2012 - 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’m primarily a transportationcyclist so often I am walking for part of my journey as well. Perhaps the issue is less one of conflicting needs than a lack of consideration on both sides.

  • MikeOnBike
    February 27, 2012 - 10:21 am | Permalink

    LAB still takes comments at their blog.

  • February 27, 2012 - 2:10 pm | Permalink

     There has been a lively discussion going on at the LAB Blog about this topic. Dive right in, Peter.

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