In the last year a disturbing trend has been forming in our community.

People, businesses and interest groups have been mobilizing to put the kibosh on bicycle projects with astonishing success.

Most notable was Jean Gorman’s vision for a small park for cyclists along Catalina Highway.

Residents in the area started an uproar and succeeded in getting the project moved to a park several miles away from the original location. Residents near the park didn’t want to cyclists there either. Eventually they managed to get the project killed completely.

While that may be a simplified version of of what took place, the fact is — cyclists lost. They lost for no other reason than people didn’t want us there and their voices were louder.

The trend continued with the various interests groups’ goal to designate areas in the region as “wilderness,” which would keep mountain bikers off long-established trails.

The city’s covered bike parking at Himmel park was removed because one neighbor didn’t like the way it looked and said he couldn’t sit in his house and watch his grandchildren play in the public park.

He convinced the neighborhood association to vote to remove the shelter. The city took it down the next week

Now the business community is fighting bicycle parking requirements and residents near the Rillito River are fighting the creation of a divided path, which would benefit many people in the community, not just bicyclists.

In the case of the river path (which happens to affect my own neighborhood) residents are doing everything they can to prevent the project from happening. They have been disseminating false information and organizing massive opposition.

According to Nanette Slusser, the county’s assistant county administrator, all of the key players are still on board with moving forward with the project, but the opposition is making it politically difficult to do so.

She said at the start it was 10-1 in support of the project, but now it is 10-1 opposition. When asked if the project could still be killed she said, “I’ll never say never.”

The bicycle parking issue has been put on hold for another month as the committee in charge of the new regulations attempt to rectify other issues with the vehicle parking code.

The writing isn’t on the walls for these projects, cyclists can still win. But to do so, we must mobilize and speak with a unified voice.

We have it good here. We have people like Matt Zoll, the county’s bike and pedestrian program manager and his City of Tucson counterpart, Tom Thivener, to look out for cyclists, but they need our help.

We’ve got entities like the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee to advocate for the cyclists in Tucson and Pima County, but they need our help.

We have other various groups who do what they can, but each of them can only do so much. They need help. They need voices.

There are thousands of us, but too often we don’t make ourselves heard.

I may not ever use a BMX park, but it should be supported because everyone deserves a safe place to ride.

BMXers should care about bike lanes because it helps get them to their new park and helps others get to work.

Road riders should care about preserving trails four mountain bikers because at some point they will need the favor returned.

Being a member of a community like this one means you protect and look out for each other. To be effective, we  need to make our voices heard in larger numbers.

What we are talking about now is preventing projects from being built, but what happens when people start opposing existing bicycle infrastructure? What happens when people start trying to ban bikes from Catalina Highway? Will we remain silent then?

You can get involved by attending BAC meetings, watching this site for calls to action, emailing both Zoll and Thivener and asking them to alert you when they need a voice of support.

To help, I have created a special section of the site as well a special twitter account specifically for calls to action in the bike community. If you check into the site everyday, you’ll see the post on the homepage like normal, but if you are an occasional reader, you can subscribe via RSS or Twitter to specifically get posts about when your voice is needed.

Please share this with your cycling friends and ask them to get involved. We can accomplish a lot when we work together and make our voices heard.

28 thoughts on “Editorial: Many voices needed to move cycling forward in Tucson”
  1. Michael,

    “We can accomplish a lot when we work together and make our voices heard.”

    The Tucson bicycle community, like many other powerless subcultures in the United States, is deeply divided on a number of key issues pivotal to our long-term development. I appreciate the sentiment in your editorial but I feel that it is both inaccurate and, quite frankly, a little hollow. There’s an awful lot of “shoulds” in your writing, for instance. Perhaps we “should” all stop buying oil… but that aint gonna happen, is it?

    There are reasons why folks don’t make their voices heard. Social and economic stratification precludes it (what underclass cyclist can compete with the middle-class cabal of the BAC?) or they have been repeatedly silenced by the vitriolic groupthink of their supposed allies. The range of opinion within our ranks is vast, of course, but the margins have been removed; only a narrow band of tedious, politically-palatable rhetoric remains… in my opinion. Meanwhile, the car culture thrives.

    In any case, good luck to you and yours and Tucson Velo for 2011! I will be reading and enjoying your excellent journalism — silently — from afar.

    Happy New Year!


  2. I have commented on this issue before. Tucson will continue to suffer from a lack of civic leadership that supports multimodal access until there is an engaged community dialogue about what the community wants to be in the future. Right now a grass roots but well represented effort called Imagine Greater Tucson is underway that is intended to establish a vision and planning dialogue that will engage the community and inspire progressive leadership that is currently missing. Those who desire a more coordinated and equitable and linked system of multimodal access built into the current infrastructure should actively participate in Imagine Greater Tucson. The opportunity is there now!

  3. Mike – concur with the disturbing trend and the need for a coordinated response.

    It strikes me that maybe we as cycling adovocates need to be a bit more demanding in our rights as taxpayers and citizens. If you look at the 3 examples you give, none of them preclude the rights of other users – we just want our piece. Why, as equal taxpayers and citizens, can we not have facilities on public owned parks and lands? Projects should be judged on their merit, not on how loud a few people may howl. Related to that, elected folks need to grow a backbone and support their staff in these decisions.

    Also, I am encouraged by Imagine Greater Tucson, but it will be a long process. The IGT Community Conversation I attended did identify alternative transportation (including specifically cycling) as a core value/issue, so hopefully this will be integrated into the larger focus.


  4. Please let me know what I can do to help, I can try and organize as many BMXer’s as I can. I would hope that the cycling community would help us as well, because to many we seem like punks on bikes that deserve nothing. Just be glad that most cyclists don’t have the petty stereo type I often run into while advocating for BMX safe places. And, I’m not talking about the racing aspect of the sport. I liked your editorial and definitely agree.

  5. Attending the BAC meetings is good, but an even better way to be a part of the process is to attend the BAC Subcommittee meetings that match your interests.

    At a subcommittee meeting, you’ll be able to ask questions (often questions at the BAC meetings can’t be addressed due to lack of time) and your voice in the discussions will be heard. Your work at the subcommittee level will help influence what happens at future BAC meetings.

    To find out about the subcommittee meetings, email Tom Thivener (his email is in the article) and ask to be put on the BAC email list. You’ll receive the notices and agendas for the subcommittee meetings as well as the agenda for the main BAC meeting each month.

  6. AZ Daily Star Article today about 300 City employees retiring next year – including DOT Director Jim Glock.

    Whoever is chosen to replace him will have significant influence on alternative trans options and bike infrastructure.

    Mike – can you explore how his replacement will be chosen and if public input is accepted?

  7. There is also the struggle that Cyclovia is going through. That was such a fun and well-attended event, and now in only its second year, it’s being down-sized due lack of sponsorship. I admit to often feeling powerless and alone when it comes to bicycle advocacy, like no one’s going to listen to me. I’m going to try to be more courageous and outspoken; maybe others will join me.

  8. Thanks, Mike.
    Yep, cyclists need to be willing to speak up for cycling when needed. Results may not be immediate if we speak up; they will for sure not be to our liking if we don’t.

    tucsonvelo is a great place to hear about “roadie” issues – transportation and recreation; is where anyone who wants to learn about mtb/bmx issues – whether it’s wilderness designations, trail access or bike park planning – goes to get that info.

  9. Michael,
    I think you did a good job sizing up the situation and your request for all cyclists to band together is perfectly said.
    I am a fiscal and social conservative, I also ride a bike and think cycling is a huge positive for society for financial and social reasons. I was on the bus the other day and asked the driver what the true cost of ridership is. He said it costs $28 per ride. The current fare is $1.25, so the remaining $26.75 is footed by federal taxpayers all across the country. If it cost $28 to ride the bus- that runs on existing roads, how much do you think it’ll cost to ride a machine that needs millions of dollars to install it’s special roadway? I don’t have the answer to that question, but it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the cost will be way over $100. With all that said, bicycle paths are a bargain of epic proportions. Cycling is cheaper than any other form of transportation except walking, and if time = $, cycling even trumps walking.
    When it comes to commuting costs, the biggest factor is distance. This is the element that doesn’t get talked about much because the government doesn’t tell people where to live and work (yet-heaven help us). Many people have a choice of where they live and where they work and they would be wise to keep the distsnce between the two to be less than 5 miles. To live further is questionable intellectually and maybe even morally. This all relates to your article because all conservatives, like myself, should be very pro cycling!
    As you know I am active in lobbying for cycling in our community and plan on doing more.
    Thank you for your leadership on this subject.

  10. WOW! Really, living farther than 5 miles from my work questions my intelligence and my morality? Where do you get off? You say you are socially conservative, but that right there goes against the very idea of freedom of choice in this country, which is what i thought you right wingers cling to. We all have a choice where we live and work, and with anything in this life it is a cost / benefit analysis. Everywhere has positives and negatives. I live 7 miles from work, oh no I am dumb! But I chose where I live for good reason, access to east side road cycling, across the street from Fantasy Island and living in the suburbs out where I can see the stars is another. Another reason, my community, Civano, has a very strong sense of community. Most of my social interactions take place within the ‘hood. That was another big choice. We only drive on the weekends to do chores. Our socializing takes place within Civano, where we either walk or ride our bikes.

  11. I would love to get more involved. I will keep an eye out for “Call to Arms” alerts. I am disturbed by the Rilito River situation. This is public land correct? This is for the benefit of the whole city, not sure how at most a hundred residents can selfishly nit pick that project.

  12. Thanks very much for the editorial – it’s good motivation. Keep up the important work.

    Here’s an idea: As a part of the Action part of the page, have a place to store emails/synopses of phone calls/letters/etc. that readers submit to the appropriate governmental official and voluntarily to tucsonvelo. This way we could see the issues other people are concerned about. This of course requires that people 1) write to gov’t officials to express concern, and 2) remember to submit it to you, but it might be interesting. Just an idea, take it or leave it.

  13. Thanks very much for the editorial – it’s good motivation. Keep up the important work.

    Here’s an idea: As a part of the Action part of the page, have a place to store emails/synopses of phone calls/letters/etc. that readers submit to the appropriate governmental official and voluntarily to tucsonvelo. This way we could see the issues other people are concerned about. This of course requires that people 1) write to gov’t officials to express concern, and 2) remember to submit it to you, but it might be interesting. Just an idea, take it or leave it.

  14. Too bad it is such an ‘us vs. them’ situation. Seems to be a carry-over perspective from the road and causes problems when we try to procure facilities and services that we need.
    I echo Collin’s comment for participation in the BAC’s subcommittees. The BAC can’t think of everything and seems to be a lethargic group at times, but they do have a direct line to governmental staff and could be invigorated with increased individual support. The BAC’s subcommittees have been in existence for four years and it was a good move to create them in that it increased the frequency of meeting to address specific goals. But the numbers have to increase to help these volunteers on to bigger and more encompassing goals. The ‘anti-s’ seem to be able to rally – so should we.

  15. Squeaky wheels get heard. The Man won’t know who wants what until they’re told by the users what they want.

  16. And your solution is what? It’s great fun to bitch and pile on and exercise our college educations, but have you ever actually tried doing the things you so freely disparage? When exactly is the last time you visited the middle-class cabal of the BAC? Because there are some people on that committee right now who might surprise you. And one reason they are on it is because of some vocal opposition to who was on it two years ago. They stepped up and I’m proud of them.

    And who exactly is silencing those on the margins? I assume you feel you are one of the silenced and marginalized? You have a forum here, or you can make your own with your own blog. You can attend the Tuesday Night Bike Ride and find supporters of just about anything. You have time at every BAC meeting. You have all kinds of avenues to speak if you want to spend the energy to do so.

    Anyway things are getting better for cyclists here in Tucson. Maybe not as fast as we want them to, but they are getting better because people are putting down the Foucault for a few minutes and actually showing up at meetings and helping out.

  17. Sometimes I think just riding my bike is activism. More important than anything else is numbers — along with, I’m lately concluding, a modicum of courtesy to others that use the road too.

    That’s not to say we don’t need people to show up at meetings, but it’s also important not just to *argue* that we need infrastructure, but to *prove it.*

    Cyclists also have an image problem that they need to overcome and that will take awhile.

    But I think the biggest gift we have here in Tucson are the various bureaucrats in the City and County who are championing the kinds of things that give cyclists legitimacy. (Yes I’m talking about you TT and AC and JD and lots of others.) For all we can complain about bike lanes, they do tell drivers that cyclists have a right to be there. Same with sharrows and bike boxes. It’s been years since I’ve been told to “get on the sidewalk” while on my bike, and I think all those painted lines is the reason.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your call to action and I agree, but I don’t see the situation to be so dire. The losses you mention are vexing, but we are going to win.

  18. As an example of how we are not a unified front, you lost me with the anti-wilderness stand. I am a hardcore cyclist (road and mountain bike) and a hardcore hiker. For me, wilderness wins every time!

  19. Oh come on. What he was saying is that it is unwise and possibly immoral to live so far from where you work that you don’t/won’t/can’t bike there. I don’t have much patience for 3wheeler’s discourse on public transportation, but I sort of like his moral imperative to live close to work.

  20. I think this is a very good article and is dead on. We are fractured and what we need is unity. For the people who say “ain’t gonna happen” look at how many replies this post has had. We have enough people in this thread to take a stand on any issue. The sweet bike parking at Himmel Park was killed by only one guy. One voice. So if you think your voice doesn’t matter think again. Sometimes all it takes is one voice saying, “Hey, can you please do this?”

    What we need to do is exactly what Mike suggested. We need to support BMXers, and Cyclovia, and the Velodrome, and The Loop, and everything bikey. The reason is simple, when some of us lose we all lose and when some of us win we all win. Everything contributes to the big picture of making Tucson a wonderful place to bike.

  21. Christian,

    As a wildlife biologist, I too value Wilderness very high, but I don’t think Mike is saying ‘Cycling always trumps Wilderness. I think the context is that the push for wilderness designation is in an area that has historic multi-use (hike, bike, horse etc) trails and has questionable ‘Wilderness’ value due to its proximity to Tucson. Just my thought.


  22. I don’t know if it helps, but I try to respond to the negative comments in the AZ Star when ever there is a story about bicycle riding.

  23. mountain bikers aren’t anti wilderness – we all want to be able to experience open space and want land protected from development; but we are anti-Wilderness if traditionally open-to-mountain-bike-trails are closed to mtb-ers because of a new land designation. Changing a lot of trails in the Coronado Forest to Wilderness would put too much a strain on the other trails – talk about user conflict!

  24. “…because people are putting down the Foucault for a few minutes and actually showing up at meetings and helping out.”

    This was a funny line. Thanks. Everything else is pure, unfounded speculation.


  25. I’m not here to debate bikes vs wilderness. My point is that “cyclists” as a group is meaningless. We will all have differing opinions on the Gorman bike park, the river path, wilderness, etc. And in my worldview, wilderness will win out, even at the expense of traditional mountain bike areas.

  26. Shmily_dana – you’re braver than me. I find the AZ Daily Star comments section incredibly depressing.

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