Meet the New Bicycle Advisory Committee
This morning, the Council voted to formalize the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (or BAC). This vote was the culmination of a process that I have led for over a year, with the participation of many current members of the BAC, and I'm thrilled to see all of our work finally come to fruition.
I've been actively involved with the BAC since Cam took office in 2006. I have a deep interest in bicycling, both personally and from a policy perspective, and the BAC has been one of the key players in making Minneapolis a more bike-friendly city. But early on, I started to notice differences between the BAC and other boards and commissions that advise the City, for instance the Environmental Advisory Committee or the Public Health Advisory Committee. Meetings were chaired and agendas set not by the membership, but by Public Works staff. There did not seem to be a formal membership, but a shifting cast of bicycle advocates and staff who tended to come to meetings. Anyone at a given meeting could vote. Reports from the BAC to the Council were given by Public Works staff, an odd situation when the BAC and staff disagreed. Unlike many advisory committees, the BAC met on a weekday morning (most others meet in the evening or late afternoon). No one was ever appointed to the BAC by the Council or Mayor, reducing the relationship between the body and the policymakers it hoped to advise. The group was not always very representative of the city, with more participants from the southside than northeast or north, and pretty white and male.
At the same time, the BAC was tackling major policy questions and doing fantastic work. We helped set Public Works' priorities for new bicycling infrastructure, weighed in on important policy questions like Functional Yield and a new policy giving high-volume nonmotorized trails priority over low-volume city streets where they intersect, and much more. We reviewed plans, both broad documents like the Bicycle Master Plan and narrow reconstruction plans for individual streets. I watched City policies and projects get better due to the great work of the BAC.
Questions about the BAC's existence came to a head for me with the Functional Yield discussion back in '08 (for more on that, see here and here). The BAC supported Cam's (and my) position in favor of the City supporting Phyllis Kahn's bill. However, the report to Council on that decision was given by Public Works staff, who had taken the opposite position. It placed our staff in an untenable situation, having to speak before the Council both for and against the same idea. The vote at BAC also drove home to me that the BAC was, in effect, whoever attended a given meeting. Though this hadn't yet reduced the group's credibility, I feared that at some point it would. I decided that the time had come for the BAC to become a real, formal advisory committee to the Council, with an established membership appointed by the Council and Mayor.
I brought this idea to the BAC, and we formed a subcommittee which met several times over the course of 2009 to come up with proposed changes to the BAC. We learned about the BAC's history. In its first incarnation, starting in the early '90s, it was almost completely comprised of City and other jurisdictional staff, and acted as a coordinating entity. In the early '00s, it was changed to include more voices from the cycling community, but remained led by Public Works staff.
Very early on, we agreed that there was a critical tension in our work: to make the changes necessary to put the BAC on solid footing for the future, while keeping the aspects that had worked so well. One of the first decisions we made was to keep the active participation - including voting - of City and other jurisdictional staff, while ensuring that a) there would be more residents than staff on the group and b) the meetings would be chaired and the agendas set by the group, through an elected chair. We also decided that it was important for each Council Member to appoint a representative from their Ward, both to improve the BAC's relationship with the Council and to ensure greater geographic equity.
We created a proposal that, after several months of discussion, the full BAC unanimously supported. It envisioned a very large group of 35 appointed members (though, as I pointed out several times, this was actually a decrease from the current BAC membership total). We brought this forward to the Council's Transportation and Public Works (or TPW) committee, seeking their approval. The committee balked, put off by the large size and questions about whether the BAC should continue to include staff as voting members, and sent the proposal back to the BAC for more work.
We invited the TPW Chair, Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, to attend a BAC meeting. She graciously accepted, and participated in an incredibly productive conversation in which she shared TPW's concerns, and the BAC shared its goals and some of the reasons behind the proposal. The subcommittee started meeting again, and changed the proposal to its current form, which includes 16 members from the community It was again supported unanimously by the full BAC.
The subcommittee met with Council Members on TPW who had voiced concerns about staff continuing to vote on the BAC. Our essential point was that we wanted the new BAC to continue to play the interagency role that the current BAC had played, and that we thought it would be more likely to do so if staff continued to vote. It seems we helped assuage the CM's concerns, because this morning's Council vote to formalize the BAC was unanimous.
As I said, I'm thrilled to have finished this project. I'm confident that the new BAC will build on the old BAC's great work while increasing the cycling community's voice within City government, and that we will continue to make Minneapolis a better and better place to ride a bicycle.
I want to specifically call out the members of the BAC 'formalization' subcommittee whose hard work made this possible:
Lisa Peterson Bender
Good job, all.