A voice for bikes speaks up for walkers, too

Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition will change name to reflect expanded mission

Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Ethan Fawley looked on as Mayor Betsy Hodges declared Winter Biking Day in 2014. File photo

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition plans to revamp its identity next year as it expands its mission to advocate for walkers and wheelchair users in addition to bicyclists.

The coalition announced in September it plans to unveil a new name and logo in 2017 to reflect an expansion of the nonprofit’s work into the pedestrian realm. A powerful voice for bike lanes and safer streets at City Hall, the coalition will be speaking up for pedestrians more in the future.

“We’ve already been working to support people walking and in wheelchairs, but we want to bring that more to the fore, be more intentional about it and that’s what this move is about,” Executive Director Ethan Fawley said.

Open Streets, possibly the coalition’s highest-profile initiative, is a series of events that temporarily closes city streets to motorized traffic to make room for walking, biking and all kinds of car-free activities. Much of the coalition’s advocacy has as much potential benefit to pedestrians as it does cyclists, Fawley said, specifically mentioning its work on Safe Routes to School and the city’s complete streets policy.

LaTrisha Vetaw, president of the coalition’s board of directors, said the shift would help the organization diversify its membership.

“I do believe this is going to be our connections to communities of color, because more walk than bike,” Vetaw said.

Founded in 2009 as an all-volunteer organization, the coalition now employs 10 paid staff members, and Fawley said they’re projecting a $500,000 annual budget in 2017. That’s a nearly 67-percent increase from 2014, when the annual budget was $300,000.

Slice a few zeroes off of the end of that figure to arrive at the organization’s budget in 2010, its first full year of operations, when Fawley said the coalition worked off of just $300.

As the coalition was planning the change earlier this summer, staff reached out to pedestrian advocate Scott Engel, who recently completed five years on the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Engel said he was “frustrated” with the pace of pedestrian improvements and expressed his hope that pedestrians would soon more strength at City Hall.

“The bicycle coalition has just done an amazing job over the last multiple years really influencing how the city functions and making the city welcoming for bicyclists,” Engel said. “A comparable or similar group just doesn’t exist for pedestrians and walking, and I think they’re filling a void.”

With other members of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Engel launched a Minneapolis Pedestrian Alliance group page on Facebook, which he said was up to about 400 members. The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition claims 1,300 active volunteers in addition to paid staff.

“The bicycle coalition has this infrastructure and capacity in place already,” Engel said. “It’s just going to move things forward so much more quickly.”

Fawley said the coalition plans to spend the months leading up to the name-change engaging with its members and others before setting priorities for its pedestrian advocacy.

“We want to do that in a way that brings new people in, to make sure that we’re serving the full range of our city and that we’re not leaving people out who have a lot of needs and interest,” he said.

Fawley noted several other organizations that started with a focus on bicycles eventually expanded their work to include pedestrians. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, founded in 1985, made the shift in 2008, when it changed its name to the Active Transportation Alliance.

Vetaw said the alliance was a model for a successful transition.

“We need to be on the same team,” she said. “It’s the same streets. We’re walking the same streets, we’re biking the same streets.”

The coalition took public input on the changes at several recent events and is offering another opportunity to share an opinion 4:30 p.m.–6 p.m. Sept. 22 at its office, 1428 Washington Ave. S.