The Path Ahead for Bike Indianapolis

By Bill Watts
Now that Bike Indianapolis has opened its new website, and completed its transformation from Indycog, it would seem to be a good time to take stock of the organization, and to think about where it has been and, more importantly, where it is going.

In recent years, I have been a critic of Indycog. My main criticism is that there has not been enough going on. For long periods of time, communication with membership has been sparse. More importantly, it has at times been difficult to see exactly how the organization has been fulfilling its core mission of bicycle advocacy for the city.

Sometimes, my criticism of Damon Richards, the current Executive Director, and Board President Lauren Guidotti, have been unfair. At one point, for example, I accused them of muting me on FaceBook and denying me a voice within the organization.

That was just stupid.

On the other hand, though, I continue to believe that my main campaign to make the organization more transparent and to have it more fully engage its members is well founded. And, for that reason, I am pleased with a number of recent developments.

First, I am pleased that members have been recently been receiving more complete, more detailed and more timely newsletters from Damon Richards. In recent months, I have felt better informed about developments in cycling infrastructure in the city than I have for a long time. I am grateful for that.

In addition, I am very pleased to see that the new website makes a place for members to post ideas and opinions. I’m unsure about why it is necessary to regulate those postings so heavily (more on this later), and I am disappointed to see that no member has posted anything there since the inaugural post on Sept. 1. (But perhaps this posting will break that silence.)

And perhaps most importantly, I am very pleased to see that Bike Indianapolis has announced its upcoming board meeting on October 30. So far as I know, this I the first time the organization has publicly announced a board meeting. The location of the meeting still needs to be announced, and, to my mind, there is an unnecessary restriction on people speaking at that meeting (more on this later), but I take the announcement itself to be a very positive development. Again, I am grateful.

At the same time, however, there are a number of things that remain to be done to make Bike Indianapolis more transparent and more interactive.

For one thing, the organization needs better reporting about its finances. By way of financial reporting, the website provides access to Indycog’s non-profit tax returns (990). These are vague and not very informative. I also question their accuracy. For example, the two most recent returns, for 2015 and 2016, show no income from “Membership dues and assessments.” Since I paid $100 in membership fees in each year, I don’t think this is right.

It seems to me that if you are asking people for money to support a cause, you have an ethical responsibility to inform them of how you are using their contributions. Bike Indianapolis has a ways to go to meet this responsibility.

In addition, I feel that Bike Indianapolis needs to do more to inform members of its medium- and long-term goals, and to enlist their help in fulfilling those goals. I know that Bike Indianapolis exists to promote cycling, but how is it going to do that?

In its heyday, from about 2011 to 2014, Indycog had a number of important accomplishments: The completion and publication of the Ride Guide; the passage of the Complete Streets Ordinance; and the opening of the Monon and other trails to 24-hour use.

What new projects does Bike Indianapolis have on its horizon? How, exactly, is it going to advance the interests of cyclists in Indianapolis?

Finally, I believe that in order to fulfill its potential, Bike Indianapolis needs to be more open to and more inclusive of its members. Strangely, the organization seems designed to exclude members from its operations. I think that has to change.

Even the recent improvements to the website have communicated a weird sort of distrust of members. Members can post on the blog, but their postings must be reviewed and approved by a former chair of the board. They can attend board meetings, but they must give seven days’ notice if they intend to speak at the meeting. Otherwise, it seems, they are to be mute.

And in other ways, distrust and disregard for members is built into the organization. For example, the bylaws explicitly state that “Members have no voting rights or other corporate control.”
And the lack of member rights is evident in the way the operation is run. There is no requirement that the board report on its activities to members—to make its minutes or its annual reports or its finances available to them—and it generally has not.

The closure of the organization to members is also evident in the way board members are chosen. Present board members choose future board members. Members are not asked for nominations, and they do not vote for new board members. In recent years, the board has not even routinely announced the arrival of new board members.

In these various ways, then, Bike Indianapolis has seemed to be more of a private club for board members than an organization for members.

While I do find that there is much more that needs to be done to make Bike Indianapolis the kind of organization we can all be proud of, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that some good, positive steps have been taken. I applaud Lauren Guidotti’s efforts to be more apparent, and I like the possibilities encoded into the new website.

And so the main thing I want to say in this long post is, “Let’s keep moving in the right direction.”

For cyclists in Indianapolis need a strong advocacy organization. If you look at cycling city we might admire—Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle—you will find a strong advocacy organization, usually with multiple paid staff members who spend their professional lives trying to make to make the city better for cyclists.

That’s where we need to be headed. We need a Bike Indianapolis that is worthy of our dreams as cyclists in this city.

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