Seattle's Uncivil Bike War

By Erica C. Barnett November 11, 2010

This guest post was written by Bike Club Rescue Squad founders Keith Hoeller, Kelli Currie, and Renée Barton. Avid cyclists and members of the Cascade Bicycle Club, they have participated in many Cascade activities, including the Seattle to Portland ride.

There is a decidedly uncivil war between drivers and cyclists raging on the streets of Seattle, and it should come as no surprise that the drivers appear to be winning.

Every year, drivers kill an average of two cyclists,  and many, many more cyclists are injured.  Our city streets are in such bad shape that bikers are routinely maimed by potholes, bumps, sewer grates and cracks. The Burke-Gilman Trail remains unfinished in Ballard, leaving cyclists to dodge railroad tracks, gravel trucks, and a door zone that extends well into traffic.

Drivers attack cyclists so often that we're starting to wonder if hate crimes laws should be extended to protect us.  In one week during October alone alone, Seattle Bike Blog reported that a driver attempted to Taser and run over a cyclist near Northgate; an Eastlake woman ran after a biker with a golf club; and a man hit a cyclist with an umbrella in Pike Place Market. All three of us have been on rides where someone dropped hundreds of tacks in the road to give us all flats.  Other riders have reported drivers brandishing shotguns.

Cyclists clearly need strong advocates to make their case, and to change public attitudes and state laws to protect themselves.  Given the level of hostility, weak and timid leadership is unlikely to prevail, and cyclists will continue to be unnecessarily killed, maimed, and cursed on the roads.

Cascade's advocacy director, David Hiller, has been that voice. Under Ayers' leadership, Hiller has aggressively defended cyclists' interests in the state legislature, energizing the biking community. Working with other cycling advocacy groups, Cascade nearly managed to pass the "vulnerable users bill" (SB 5838), which would have extended criminal penalties to drivers who kill and injure bikers and pedestrians, last year. Sen. Adam Kline, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he gives Hiller "a lot of credit for moving the bill as far as it got in only two years—not an easy feat."

Sen. Joe McDermott, the prime sponsor of SB 5838, calls Hiller "one of the most tenacious and effective lobbyists I know."

So why did Cascade's Board of Directors unanimously recommend that Ayers fire Hiller---and, when he refused, fire Ayers himself on October 4?

Initially, the board cited differences in "management style."  It quickly became clear, however, that the board's real concern was Hiller's style---specifically, a comment he made to the Stranger about drivers who kill cyclists. "I'd love to hang them up by their toenails at the edge of town and paint 'killer' across their chest and let them hang there until the buzzards peck their eyes out."

Ayers, who had received a unanimous recommendation from the staff senior leadership team to keep him, didn't consider Hiller's comments a big deal in the context of his effective advocacy over the years. He considered the board's recommendation, but decided to keep Hiller.

Our group, the Bike Club Rescue Squad does not feel the current board should be allowed to do any more damage to the club.  We have launched an effort to recall the entire board; we need 690 signatures from current (and new) members who can sign our petition online.

If this board stays in power, Cascade members will not only lose Ayers (who has said he plans to leave the club no matter what happens with the board), it could lose Hiller and many other longtime staff. Seattle cyclists will lose a strong and successful advocate at the time they need one most.

No lobbyist can function when his own organization is undermining him in the press and has little stomach for the rough and tumble world of politics. No organization should expect its lobbyist to serve the same functions as its public relations director.

The only way to rescue Cascade is to recall the entire board, rewrite the bylaws, and elect new board members who want Cascade to succeed. We urge all who care about biking to join us in our efforts to recall the board and restore Cascade to its rightful place as a strong advocate for biking in our state.  It is time that we cyclists cease to be so vulnerable in the political arena.
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