San Diego Bicycle Coalition Retreat: Fail

I was invited to provide input at the San Diego Bicycle Coalition Board Retreat last weekend. The purpose of the retreat was to get more people involved with the coalition as well as more, young people.

The meeting was four hours of mind numbing back and forthing. My head is still aching from the meeting. Long meetings where nothing really gets done tire me out.

Therefore, I’ll refrain from going into detail on the meeting, but here’s an executive summary.

The retreat was a failure.

Oh, the retreat did succeed on some levels. It was the kind of consensus building format where everyone gets to voice all their opinions and only what everyone agrees on is done. Which is to say nothing is done because a small group of close friends can’t agree on pizza toppings. Thus, consensus leadership doesn’t work.

If the bicycle coalition wanted to get only things done that didn’t offend anyone, they need not exist. Everything new change can be offensive. Therefore, an effective bicycle coalition will offend _more_ people.

Needless to say, my remarks were so offensive, they were completely ignored.

My request was that the bicycle coalition start acting like every other advocacy group in that it had a long term vision of what success looked like. I also thought that they should advocate things. That is, ask the government to do things that aren’t being done all ready. I also suggested that for San Diego to
be a leading city; following other cities wasn’t enough. Even if we did everything that the leading bicycle cities did, we’d still be a follower. If we want to be a leader, we need to do _new_ things other that places aren’t doing.

Last weekend, with no push back from government and no complaints from motorists, the coalition decided that we are going to spend 2010 as followers.

With this predictable outcome, I feel that I should not have attended this meeting. My time would have been better spent on a bicycle ride that just happened to occur at the same time as the meeting: the Tweed Ride.

While the people at the coalition droned on about fun, the Tweeders were having it.

The coalition even mentioned the Tweed ride, and said, “We need to make maintenance fun.”

This was in response to the false dilemma that we spent half an hour debating. We went back and forth over whether we should focus on new infrastructure or maintenance. They, of course, chose maintenance. There’s nothing sexier than wasting our time trying to get the government to do what it is supposed to do.

I can see the slogan now, “San Diego: World Class Bicycle City; We Sweep Our Streets”.

I realize that in one year, we will not get everything we ask for. However, I don’t think that should be the goal. In any negotiation, you ask for more than you think you’ll get then back off from there.

The coalition seems to think that we should avoid disappointment at all cost by asking for as little as possible. In fact, instead of asking for new things, they feel it’s best to ask for a fraction of what is legally ours all ready.

I just can’t get excited about fighting a rear guard action. I can’t get stoked about diminishing returns. In fact, the State of California, in legislation is ahead of San Diego with its Complete Streets Act which the city has yet to begin to implement. Did the coalition think that we should try to get the city to get up to standard code?


They are happy with fixing stuff that we had before complete streets.

Their reasoning? The city streets have sucked for a long time.

After the Tweed ride and the coalition meeting, both groups met at a Western Themed bar in South Park.

Here, we saw the stark duality between the coalition and the rest of the cycling world.

The coalition arrived at the bar first. They joined us at a long picnic table. For half an hour, I sat and listened to my ideas get shot down, once again. Then I got up and mingled with the Tweeders who were all over the place.

The times I did glance back, the coalition members were all still
sitting at the table.

I joined various groups of Tweeders. They were all polite and happy to talk. Many listened to my voting cheat sheet idea, and some even wanted to get involved. Many voiced ideas that were far more profound than anything we came up with at the stale coalition meeting. The conversation was stimulating and exciting. Still, no sign of the coalition, who’s backs were literally turned on the people who were most active in cycling.

How did the Tweeders get to the bar? They bicycled. Meanwhile, most of the coalition members drove the short distance from the meeting to the bar.

Neither groups really mixed. No ideas were shared. Another opportunity to meet with the community was lost.


One Response to “San Diego Bicycle Coalition Retreat: Fail”

  1. Njord Noatun Says:

    Nice — albeit depressing — writeup!

    I forgot you had a blog; shame on me – I am now a RSS subscriber!


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