Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When - or is it ever - time to stop supporting local biking/cycling advocacy?

I've debated for some time now about whether or not to write about this topic, but it's on my mind so I'm going to attempt to sort out my thoughts and hope for the best. I have attempted throughout my life to support the things I believe in and to walk away from (though I will always listen) the ideas I just can't get behind. That said, it doesn't mean I don't change my mind as information becomes available (or that I may have just discovered even if it's been around for a time), nor that I won't have a change of heart as time goes by. The topic on my mind at present is whether or not to help support the local cycling-advocacy organization.
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I know there are locals who sometimes pop in to read here, which has been a part of my debate about whether or not to discuss this topic. I never want to discourage anyone from supporting a cause or organization s/he believes in, but I also think this is where personal research, beliefs, and thoughts come in to play. I would encourage anyone unfamiliar with their local groups to look into things for themselves and not depend on anyone's opinions (because, after all, that is what this is - my opinion). It is my opinion that there are many local cyclists who don't even realize that this cycling advocacy group offers "membership" within its organization, and/or that the group even exists.

As with nearly anything in life, the organization itself is neither all good nor all bad, but when one side outweighs the other, I start questioning what I'm doing and whether or not I want to continue to offer my very small portion of financial assistance and my physical time to the organization. As I have stated in the past, I don't live in a large city. Denver is fairly close at hand (not by bicycle, but certainly by motorized means of transportation), but this is a relatively small community and as such depends on locals (and visitors, of course) to help sustain business and local enterprise. Having my own business of sorts (I don't have doors to open and close each day, but I depend on local dollars to keep me afloat), I understand that without that support, it is a near impossibility to remain functional. I also believe that a business has to offer items or services that the local population wants to see, have, and support. If that meeting ground doesn't happen, it's difficult to sustain any organization/business.

Okay, so the local bicycle advocacy group is not necessarily a "business" in the true sense of the word, but they really do need to operate as such in order to remain efficient, offer the support/services needed, and if they wish to remain part of changing times, they have to keep up with technology advancements and means of communication. This particular group has a board with officers who keep track of funds and such, and are hopefully spending this money appropriately in the cycling community (though I sometimes question who keeps track of those "keeping track" of such matters).

There are many aspects of this group that could be phenomenal events and resources to the community, but over the years of my awareness of this group, it seems as though very little effort is put into spreading the word about what is available to the community. Some of the many great programs include:
- Farmer's Market (and other summer events) bicycle valet service
- G'Knight Ride, which is a huge event for cyclists of all ages and abilities, that concludes with a large festival of bands, food trucks, beer, etc
- Bike Night which is a cruiser ride in the summer each Wednesday evening (again, for kids and all levels of cyclists)
- Holiday Kids Bike Program providing bicycles to local children during the holiday season who might not otherwise have the financial means to own their own bike

The one exception to the "lack of effort to promote" seems to be the G'Knight ride for which it is difficult not to know about this event if you are a local. Weeks before the event, flyers are posted nearly everywhere, and if you are a part of the e-mail group, information is sent about tickets, how/where to purchase, Facebook and Twitter messages abound, local news articles appear, and so on. During the few years this ride has taken place, it has turned into quite an event for those who ride only on that day, and for those who ride their bikes regularly. Which in turn only proves to me that this organization is in fact capable of promoting events when it sees fit and/or appropriate.

My question becomes, why aren't all of the programs supported in this same manner? For example, I volunteered a couple of summers doing Farmer's Market bicycle valet service. I was happy to do so, loved meeting the people, and even checking out their rides as they shopped for fresh, local food. However, I learned quickly that the list of volunteers was quite small. In fact, it was so small that I felt obligated to show up nearly every Saturday to help park bikes because no one was volunteering. It became exhausting to feel as though I "had" to show up. It was such a fun experience until it became a job, a chore if you will. I was giving up time for long weekend rides to help out because I wanted to do so, but I just couldn't understand why there weren't more people volunteering. We parked hundreds of bikes each week, so there are definitely resources to be tapped. There was no objection to having kids help park bikes either, so it could even be a family event for an hour or two once a month in the summer - but, that never happened. Instead, the few of us who were volunteering often ended up working 5+ hours every Saturday. By the end of the second summer, I was burnt out and no longer wanted anything to do with the valet service - or, if I'm entirely truthful, the organization for that matter.

I can recall one summer during which a valet service was supposed to be available to event-goers at another location, and the only message ever appearing on Facebook/Twitter was one stating something close to this - Since no one wants to volunteer, the valet service is canceled. I don't know if this is the best message to send out, particularly when I'm not certain anyone ever saw a request for help at all. I recall saying something like if I had known about the event, I would've been happy to come and help for an hour or so. The reality is, there seems to be little consistency in advertising for assistance as well as when it comes to promoting events, nor does there seem to be effort to find new ways of reaching people.

Their website is yet another issue. Often times it goes without updates for many, many months. Sam offered his help at one point to get the site in better shape and was never contacted. He offered again to the president directly at another juncture almost a year later and there was still no attempt to get in touch. There are a lot of "techie" people in the area, so it's not that Sam needed direct involvement, but in our digital age, websites are frequently the main source of information disbursement. In fairness, I have noticed that the site has at least been updated at some point in the recent past, but it is still severely lacking in information and updates. As of the moment of this draft, the home page still shows the 2013 Holiday Bike Program on the main page. I suppose I just expect a little more of the group in terms of keeping on top of things. I don't think instant updates are a necessity, but at the same time it only makes sense to have the next upcoming event at the forefront, I would think.

My intention is not to bash the local advocacy group, truly. I understand that running any non-profit or group such as this is no easy task. I want to believe that the intentions are good, but the effort level to promote the group and its programs seems sub-par. Most people don't have endless hours to donate, but I think many people are willing to give up an hour or two over the course of a year to help support a good cause or group...They just need to be reached. Perhaps a better PR/Marketing person on the board of directors could help with this?
Although I don't have the answers, I am frustrated to know that there is a local cycling advocacy group and to simultaneously realize that there doesn't seem to be enough effort to promote it and the causes it is intended to help, promote, run, and support. In answer to all of this, I decided last summer not to renew my membership with this group. The renewal itself is a small amount of money and of little significance to the overall picture, but I am finding it difficult to support this group recently because of my personal experiences and opinions. I find it particularly painful because of my love of cycling and of this community - and because I want to see this community truly be known as "Bikemont," as the stickers they put out a couple of years ago proclaim.

I suppose in all of this I simply don't know how to respond or to act. I have offered my time and money only to see if go unappreciated and seemingly to a lost cause. I don't expect personal recognition for anything I do or give willingly, but I would like to know that the efforts are not in vein and that it is going to support advancements in our community. What do you think? Would you continue to support a group that doesn't seem to be keeping up with the needs of the community, hoping that matters will change down the road? If you are a local and are brave to comment, what do you think of (or were you aware of) our local advocacy group? For those of you out of the area, do you have a good local bike-advocacy group and/or do you have suggestions for improving a group already in place?

4 comments:

  1. Hey, why don't I get the ball rolling?

    Dear BL,

    The eloquent reasons above, and many other's are why I broke up with you nearly one year ago. I am still somewhat affiliated with you, through a sponsored riding group. However, I hate your leader, I hate the way you do things, I want to say nice things about you to new people in the area, but I just can't, because I know they will be disappointed. I loved the beginning, the Farmers market, the new people/faces, the Friday night rides, I can practically feel the hot summer sun, the sweat, but we were driven away by poor management, top to bottom. You know who I am. Come and tell me I'm wrong, or fix the problem. Bring it!

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    1. I definitely know your feelings on this topic. :O) "Hate" is such a strong word though, so I personally wouldn't go quite that far... I have strong dislike at the present, definitely.

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  2. Thank you for speaking out about a very important issue. This is the start of what I hope will be healing for you. Perhaps public sentiment will help point this unfriendly organization towards a new beginning. We would all love to stand behind a supportive and appreciative local bike group, but when the organization develops internal problems it's difficult to do so. I don't have any suggestions other than to recount what's happened to our local group. There was a time when our group here in Burlington was stretched too thin, starting too many events and projects, which put their finances in the red for two years. Now that they've scaled back, bike advocacy is back on track. However, through all the growing pains, their communication has always been topnotch.

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    1. It's therapeutic to be able to speak ones mind, I think. I am always hesitant on this topic though because I don't want people to be discouraged or not to support groups like this. It's just so frustrating to want to see it improve and not see that happening. I know there are many reasons for it, but sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one who feels this way. It's nice to know that there are others who have had experiences with groups that have found (at least somewhat) resolution and have moved forward, so thank you.

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