MCBC's New Organizing Strategy Lessons From Point San Pedro Road – How We Deal With Failure
Many of you were following the efforts to make Point San Pedro Road safer for everyone. Unfortunately, this project did not turn out as we had hoped. The good news is that many of you have reached out to ask how you can help. In response, we are accelerating a new organizing model based on the successful Local Teams program of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Lessons from Point San Pedro Road can help make a difference in future projects.
In the coming months, MCBC will raise the funds needed to add on-the-ground organizing capacity. We will grow our advocacy team and begin implementing Local Teams throughout Marin. This campaign will start with an initial pilot in San Rafael using the growing momentum of the bicycling community and lessons learned from Point San Pedro Road.
Post Mortem: What Happened with Point San Pedro Road
Since last summer, MCBC has been tracking the project to convert one of the two eastbound lanes to a bike lane on Point San Pedro Road east of Andy’s Market. This project was a win-win, closing a dangerous bike lane gap and decreasing illegal speeding, an all-too-common occurrence.
In the opinion of county engineers, this would have happened without additional congestion (the road was built with two lanes in each direction because of a development that never came to fruition).
The Point San Pedro Road project was set to be installed in April. An evaluation on safety and congestion was set to follow in fall of 2022. At least that was the plan until a contentious community meeting in late March, after which the City of San Rafael opted to withdraw from the project as proposed.
At that meeting (you can watch it here), several dozen residents showed up to oppose the pilot. Some of them even identified as “avid cyclists,” saying that they never had any problem biking out there.
The proposed “solutions”
The next day, we learned that the City of San Rafael had withdrawn its support for the proposed project. They offered three “solutions,” which would have provided the bike lane for the 500’ frontage of the park, the bare minimum of what was being required from a development permit, and a pale shadow of the original 1.3 mile project.
The community response
In response to our call to action, dozens of San Rafael residents reached out to the San Rafael City Council to express their strong support for the project, saying that children and risk-averse riders simply cannot bike on Point San Pedro Road today. The response was disappointing. While San Rafael electeds and staff admitted that there was nothing wrong with the project from a technical standpoint, the opposition from several dozen community members (all this in a city of nearly 60,000) was enough to scare them off the project.
The problem with “community meetings”
This episode raises two issues. First is the fundamentally broken, and undemocratic manner in which “public input” is received. This zoom call was advertised as a “Community Meeting” and not framed as one where the project would live or die. At that meeting, concerned residents were given the microphone to make freeform comments. In the end, the ~70 people who spoke in opposition were given more weight than the 180+ people who ride on the road every day. And lest we forget, the first group is worried about perceived convenience, the second is concerned about real safety.
It’s all politics
This brings us to the second issue. It is clear that the supporters of the project were out-organized, and we have to change that. What will count is people from the community speaking out. This means parents with children who want to bike to school. Or older adults who no longer want to drive but lack access to open space. Our auto-dominated status quo is unsustainable, and we have to fight to change our cities to be more friendly to children, older adults, and to climate-friendly transportation like walking and biking.
What are we going to do about it – Local Teams
MCBC is kicking off “Local Teams,” akin to those managed by our friends at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Click here to read more about Local Teams, and to learn about their successes in the South Bay.
We are going to be piloting this process in San Rafael, after which we plan to expand to other cities in Marin. If you’re interested in joining the San Rafael local team, or are interested in working with another local team once we start one in your area, please fill out the form here. We’ll put you in touch with other aspiring activists in your town, and let you know when a local team is formally starting up in your area.
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