The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s 10,000 members power our work. From thousands of hours spent volunteering to speaking up for safe streets, people power is at the heart of our movement.
So how do we grow that movement to 12,000 and beyond?
This year’s record-breaking Bike to Work Day was a great start. Our volunteer Bicycle Ambassadors helped us sign up almost 1,400 new and renewing members in just one day.
I had so many conversations on Bike to Work Day with folks who are brand new to San Francisco and had never heard of us. Meeting people along their commute is one of my favorite ways to engage people and let them know about the work the SF Bicycle Coalition is doing to transform San Francisco into a safe, just and livable place. With some explanation of what we do and what we’ve accomplished, many of them joined on the spot.
And yet, many barriers still exist to becoming a member, including cost. Despite the rising wealth in our city, a $35 membership is still out of reach for many San Franciscans. That’s why I’m excited that our board of directors has begun to explore a reduced membership level for low- income individuals. We also need to continue to grow our multilingual and culturally competent outreach to San Francisco’s diverse communities and neighborhoods.
I am also excited about the rise of youth voices in this movement. If the average age of our membership continues to rise, as it has, we risk losing our relevance and influence. How do we attract more young people to get involved and join? Our work needs to speak to the reality of how young people get around in San Francisco.
That means saying “yes, and…” instead of “no” when it comes to engaging new kinds of transportation modes. These include emerging mobility technology companies, such as e-scooters, bike share, and Uber and Lyft. Our purpose isn’t about preserving the “purity” of bike advocacy, as some people have suggested. If we focus almost exclusively on “cyclists” and ignore other means of getting around, we would be speaking largely to people who are already members and engaged in our work, many of whom are older, white and male-identified.
We must continue to call out the well-documented, negative impacts of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, but we also need to recognize that they are transportation choices for hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans. If we can steer Uber and Lyft’s operations toward positive safety outcomes, like limiting pickups and drop-offs to streets without bike lanes and educating users and drivers about the dangers of dooring, we will not only save lives, but also raise awareness of our organization and its work. If more Uber and Lyft riders know about the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and understand what we’re working for, that’s a win.
We must also try to find common cause with all of the others who have found their way onto bike lanes — for example, scooters and skateboards. Their numbers are increasing, and they share with us a need for the safe use of San Francisco’s streets.
Our advocacy is increasingly including more young people, people of color and folks across the gender spectrum. As our advocacy director Janice Li wrote in our spring 2019 issue of the Tube Times, we are a movement of people who bike, not bicycles that people use. We will only grow our movement if we expand the conversation to include those who are not currently part of it.
Our current members will have a chance to weigh in on all of this via our member survey.
You can do your part to help us grow to 12,000 members and beyond. Share a campaign you’re passionate about on social media, talk to people you see biking in your neighborhood, or start a conversation with your co-workers about what would make it possible for them to bike to work. We can grow our membership, and our impact, by welcoming in the many thousands of people who are not already connected to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, but who increasingly love biking in our city.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the summer issue of our quarterly Tube Times magazine, one of many perks of membership at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Not a member? Join today.