Yesterday I published an interview with some founding members of the Waukesha Bicycle Alliance. Today we get the skinny on the Driftless Region Bicycle Coalition. Tomorrow we get the Bicycle Federation of WI’s take on their relationship with all the fledgling bicycle advocacy groups cropping up around the state. With the perspective from these three organizations, we should have a better idea whether or not we want to form a new bicycle advocacy organization here in Milwaukee.
How long has your group been around? The Driftless Region Bicycle Coalition was incorporated in Feb of 2010, after more than six months of weekly meetings by the organizing committee. Before that the DRBC had been more of an idea, but a small group had helped out with a few bike rodeos and to put on Bike to Work Week in La Crosse for a couple of years..
What precipitated the formation of your group? I would really like to know if there was a specific issue that you rallied around, if you met on social rides, or did your group grow out of one person’s efforts to organize area people who have an interest in cycling. The current incarnation of the DRBC was started after a couple of local riders got together over coffee in the summer of 2009 and talked about the need for an advocacy group in the region to represent the interests of bicyclists. The BFW help get us together. There was no single issue to rally around other than the fact that we live in one of the most fantastic cycling areas in the world and our communities don’t really reflect it as far as access and infrastructure go. There is a brief history of the DRBC on our website www.driftlessbicycle.org click on the “About” tab.
What is the background of your main leaders or early organizers? Our organizing committee was made of ten to twelve people who meet weekly for almost six months starting in the summer of 2010. The committee was recruited by the original three individuals and came from a wide variety of backgrounds including other local organizations, including Human Powered Trails. There was one “government” employee and only one of the members had any background/training in community organizing. We are actively recruiting new members and board members who have experience with bicycling organizations and advocacy work.
Why did you feel the need to have your own group rather than work through the Bicycle Federation of WI? For instance you could have called yourselves simply Driftless Region members of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin or the Waukesha chapter of the Bicycle Federation of WI? The BFW was originally contacted about setting up a local chapter here in the La Crosse area, but they are not organized for that kind of structure. The BFW has done a great job at the State level and from our perspective out here on the west side, in Madison and Milwaukee. They really did not have an active presence here and all problems are local after all.
What is your relationship with the BFW now? Do they come to your meetings or offer support and advice? The DRBC is an organizational member of the BFW and we work closely with them and they have provided us with great support whenever we have requested it. Last year and this year they will be co-participating/sponsoring a bike summit here in La Crosse. We are always looking for ways to work cooperatively with other organizations. Since we are a regional group we are also developing a strong relationship with the Bike Alliance of Minnesota and are supporting members of the Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition. On a national level we are organizational members of the League of American Bicyclists, Alliance for Biking and Walking and support the National Safe Routs to School and Complete Streets program.They all give us support and we support them in turn.
Does your organization have a formal structure (a board, by-laws, etc.)? Yes, we are a WI non-stock corp and a 501(c)3 non-profit. We have bylaws and a board of 7 directors that serve two year terms, elected at the annual meeting. The original organizing committee recognized that having a strong structure will help insure the longevity and strength of the organization. That’s why we spent 6 months meeting every week. The board meets monthly and we have four committees that do the leg work and who are always looking for more participants.
Do you have plans or is it a goal to register your group as a 501c3? We are a 501(c)3! We received our status this past December, less than a year after we incorporated. All our meeting are open to our members and the public.
How many members do you have? It’s secret, no we currently have about 120 members are getting ready to kick off our spring membership drive. Through our Facebook page (DRBC), our e-newsletter and our website we reach more than 700 people a month and those numbers continue to grow.
How did you first approach local government and do you have a formal relationship with your local government now? By this I mean to ask if they include you on email announcements, invite you to project meetings, etc. We got off to a lucky start by having one of our founding members being an “inside” guy at city hall here in La Crosse. Our relationships with local communities is pretty good, but these things take time to develop. We have been welcomed to most, but not all, conversations relating to bicycling in the area and are working at growing relationships with communities as we expand our activities into more and more of the Driftless Region. We get notices for many meeting, if not all, our major problem is that there are more than we can attend and since we are all volunteers with day jobs, there are some members can just not get the time off to attend. We try to marshal our resources and send out alerts for really important meetings.We have no “formal” relationships with any local government entities and for the most part have found little resistance. Quite a few of our members sit on local bicycle and health related commissions so that gives us a bit more access. Some government employees are still adjusting to the ideas that we are not just a cheering group, but have our agenda and ideas and others are not yet sure how to react to an advocacy group, no we are not a club! We are advocates!