As a rule, I make a point of not criticizing other bike advocates.
Even when we may disagree, we’re all working towards the same goals of improving safety and increasing ridership, even though our vision of how to achieve that may sometimes vary.
Though clearly, not everyone agrees with me on that.
But when that so-called advocacy runs counter to the interests, safety and desires of the overwhelming majority of California cyclists, I feel I have no choice but to speak up and point the finger.
Especially when it purports to be done in our name.
That’s exactly what happened this week when CABO — the California Association of Bicycling Organizations — successfully opposed AB 819, a bill in the state assembly that, in its original intent, would have allowed California counties and municipalities to implement advances in bicycling infrastructure that have been proven to work in other places.
Things like separated bike lanes, cycle tracks and bike boxes that have been proven to work in places like New York, Chicago and Portland, but are currently considered experimental under Caltrans’ antiquated guidelines.
In other words, why re-invent the wheel when we already know it works?
Unfortunately, CABO took the position that such innovations are still unproven and potentially dangerous — despite their inclusion in the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide.
And CABO successfully lobbied the State Assembly Transportation Committee to require that any bikeway designs considered nonstandard under Caltrans guidelines must be studied and approved by Caltrans before installation — potentially adding years of delays and needless additional costs to the design process.
Or risking denial by one of the most conservative, foot-dragging and anti-bike transportation agencies in the nation. After all, this is the same massive bureaucracy that, along with the CHP, successfully encouraged Governor Jerry Brown to become just the second state governor — along with current GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry — to veto the state’s three foot passing law.
Something else that CABO initially opposed, before later switching sides.
And earlier this week, the Transportation Committee voted to gut AB 819 by adopting CABO’s proposed wording.
Wheel, meet endless study and bureaucratic delays.
But, you may think, if the original wording of AB 819 was opposed by one of the state’s leading bike advocacy groups, they must have had a darn good reason.
Yeah, you’d think.
However, that presupposes something that just isn’t true. Despite their protestations to the contrary, CABO isn’t the state’s leading bike advocacy group. Or even one of the leading groups.
In fact, I suspect they are a fraud.
Their name may have been accurate when they were founded in 1972. But they have long since ceased to represent the state’s leading bicycling clubs and advocacy organizations.
The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) is not a member of CABO, nor is Bikeside LA or the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, by far the state’s largest bike advocacy group. Fosuch as the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, the Orange County Bicycle Coalition and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition have left the organization, as have a number of other groups that have allowed their previous memberships to lapse.
Also missing from their membership are such prominent riding clubs such as Velo Club La Grange and former members Los Angeles Wheelmen.
No wonder the CABO doesn’t list the groups that support them on their website.
In fact, a list of active member organizations, as of November, 2010, named only 12 cycling groups as then-current members, as well as six individuals.
Short of contacting each of those clubs individually, there’s no way of knowing which remain members of CABO 14 months later. But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the total number of cyclists they represent is less, perhaps far less, than that of the LACBC alone.
And it’s certainly significantly less than the number of cyclists represented by the California Bicycle Coalition (Calbike), which supports AB 819 in its original form. And which drew hundreds of riders from throughout the state to their recent California Bike Summit.
And that’s the problem.
Calbike conducted dozens of seminars over the Bike Summit weekend to gauge the interests of organizations and individuals representing tens of thousands of California cyclists. And the sort of innovative infrastructure that would be allowed under AB 819 in its original form ranked very high among their desires.
So while CABO’s opposition to AB 819 may or may not reflect the desires of its members, it’s far from the desires of most bike advocates in the state, as well as that of most mainstream cyclists.
Yet CABO continues to lobby state officials and legislators, purporting to speak on your behalf, while actively opposing your interests.
And those lawmakers and bureaucrats listen, having no idea that CABO actually speaks for just a fraction of the state’s cyclists — mostly the tiny minority of exclusively Vehicular Cyclists who actively oppose separate cycling infrastructure of any kind.
Let alone understand the conflict between Vehicular Cyclists and more mainstream riders, who may ride vehicularly when appropriate, but prefer effective infrastructure over sharing uncontrolled streets with dangerous motor vehicles.
I have no problem with CABO fighting for what they believe in — even when it goes against my own interests, as well as the majority of riders in the state.
But I do have a problem when they imply — if by name only — that their positions reflect anything other than the small number of riders they represent.
It’s time to speak up.
And tell your state representatives that CABO does not speak for you.
And you want AB 819 passed in its original form.
Update: Sam Ollinger of the excellent Bike SD contacted the Channel Islands Bicycle Club, which wrote back to say they are not, and never have been, members of CABO. Instead, they support the California Bicycle Coalition and the League of American Cyclists.
Also, Sam made a suggestion I should have thought of – contacting the members of the Transportation Committee directly to let them know that CABO does not speak for you, and ask them to reconsider their ill-advised changes to AB 819.
Update 2: Jim Parent, Chairman of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition — which I mistakenly referred to as the San Diego Bicycle Coalition — reports they are members of CABO, as well as the CBC.
I had promised that I would look at the startling stats behind last years Southern California bicycling fatalities this week, after remembering the names behind the numbers. But an usually heavy workload has kept me from being able to do that; I’ll try to get it in the coming days.