Mayor's bicycle committee is cycling's lone political voice

By Rob MacLeod

As with any sport, to follow bicycle advocacy you need to know who the teams are. Perhaps a better analogy would be to say that to follow politics, it helps to know who the parties are. For bike advocacy has a lot to do with politics. This article will cover the major Utah teams in bike advocacy, so you will know who to root for and why.

Just as all politics is local, all real bicycle advocacy happens in your neighborhood. National organizations are nice and serve a crucial role, but it is the home team that does most of the work on the ground. So who are the local groups you need to know about?

At the present time, the answer is simple, because there is only really one team in town, the Salt Lake City Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, or MBAC. There was once a Salt Lake County bike advocacy under the courageous leadership of Peter Netke. However, lack of community interest combined with negligible support from the commissioners were too much for the group to overcome.

The University of Utah has twice hosted a Bicycle Advisory Committee, but they each delivered extensive reports and then disappeared. The reports have gone largely ignored, or at least unimplemented, but U-cyclists are not easily discouraged and more and more commute by bike each year.

There are bike groups within the Sierra Club and the Wasatch Mountain Club, but their activities have been largely limited to putting on rides, much like the BBTC, or any of the other bicycle racing clubs in the state. Great if you want to ride, but not the folks you turn to when your favorite bike lane is blocked or you wonder why you cannot lock your bike safely.

So, at the moment, it is the MBAC or nothing. Fortunately, the MBAC is a whole lot better than nothing. I have been a member of the MBAC for about seven years and vice-chair for perhaps five, so my conflict of interest is obvious. But I think there is a record of performance and service of the MBAC that no bias can seriously distort.

The MBAC was founded in prehistoric times, sometime in the early 1970's, as a forum to discuss bicycle transportation needs and solutions. The Mayor's office has always supported the MBAC, but there is a healthy distance between the two entities. The MBAC is an independent group made up of interested citizens with a broad range of experiences and agendas. The MBAC does advise the Salt Lake City Mayor's office, and enjoys the assistance of members of the Mayor's staff and many agencies within the city government. But the MBAC is not an arm of the city nor does it pretend to represent the city in any matters.

Now this may all sound very nice, but what has the MBAC done for the average Utah cyclist recently?

Well, for starters, there are many components of the city's bicycle lane network that have come to pass because the MBAC identified the routes, applied for the funding, and worked with the SLC Dept. of Transportation to make them happen. Members of the MBAC assisted UTA in writing the application that resulted in the first bike racks appearing on buses (now, almost all UTA buses can carry two bikes).

The MBAC also proposed to the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles that the Driver's Handbook be changed in include more bike friendly information. Two years ago, the first editions of the bike-savvy handbooks hit the streets. The MBAC sponsored part of the costs of the lower section of the bike path through Popperton Park and blew the whistle when the upper section of the trail was constructed with 28 percent grades.

Bike events are also a big part of the MBAC agenda. They have run the May century ride for as long as it has existed, from the First Security Bank, through the AIB, to the Cycle Salt Lake Century. Dan Mayhew, the present chair of the MBAC, has personally put together the last seven editions! These events are probably responsible for more "first centuries" than any ride in the country. The annual Mayor's Bike to Work Day is also a co-production of the MBAC and the Mayor's Office.

In fact, the whole Cycle Salt Lake week has for the last two years been the work of the MBAC. This event was created by Julie Eldridge, the SLC Alternative Transportation Coordinator for several years (a role the MBAC lobbied for and helped create). But the event was dropped by the City soon after the ATC position was chopped from city budgets. It fell to the MBAC to pick up the baton and carry the overall coordination of this week long bike festival forward.

The present agenda of the MBAC reflects the diverse needs of the cycling community and, most important, reflects the interests and energy of its members. There is a long standing tradition within the MBAC to let the program be driven by the ambitions of its members. What this means in practice will become clear in future editions of this series, when we tackle the task of identifying where bicycle advocacy is today.

If you cannot wait and want to find out what the MBAC can do with your help, please check the Calendar of Events for the time and place of the monthly MBAC meetings. They run the second Wednesday of every month at 5:00 pm in the City County Bldg., usually room 325.