Washington State now has the largest statewide advocacy organization in the nation.
The Boards of Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes voted Tuesday to merge the two organizations, following months of negotiations and member outreach by both groups (see our previous story for background).
The reworked organization will now have two arms operating under one roof. “Cascade Bicycle Club” will now be a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) non-profit focusing on rides, education and non-political advocacy, and “Washington Bikes” will be a politically-engaged 501(c)(4) advocacy force funded largely by the annual 10,000-person Seattle-to-Portland ride (Full Disclosure: My spouse Kelli is the Seattle Advocacy Director).
Members of both organizations will automatically become members of Cascade Bicycle Club when the changes go into effect January 1.
An email to WA Bikes members calls the merger “a big win”:
The merger will create the nation’s largest statewide bicycle nonprofit, bringing together two strong and distinctive organizations to leverage their overlapping missions. Each organization’s work is what’s important, and the work will continue. The merger will result in more reach, effectiveness and efficiency than either organization alone.
The merger will unify bicycle education curriculum and resources across the state and in the Puget Sound region.
The advocacy work of both organizations will be aligned and strengthened by the unification.
Washington Bikes’ grassroots successes across the state will also be a great partner for Cascade’s statewide tours, events and rides.
The merger will result in saved overhead costs and more money directly funding current work and new programs.
Of course, this merger does mean there is now one less distinct bike advocacy organization in the state, and not all WA Bikes staff will make it through the merger. It also means that an advocacy machine that had previously been focused heavily in Seattle and the region is now expanding statewide.
But it does solidify and expand on a decision Cascade’s Board made earlier this year to maintain its political advocacy work. And considering the huge electoral victories at the Seattle ballot in November — including passing the Move Seattle levy and electing seven of eight Cascade-endorsed City Council Candidates — the organization’s political advocacy work has been on a roll.
Now the full advocacy force will be led by Senior Director of Policy Blake Trask, who has been the State Policy Director for WA Bikes in recent years. Trask helped preserve and grow walking and biking funding throughout a statewide transportation package that barely squeezed through this summer. While there are a lot of serious problems with the package as a whole (so many new and expanded highways, like always), it’s pretty remarkable that while other elements were getting cut, biking and walking grew. Trask has helped build bi-partisan support for biking and walking safety and access investments, which is vital to getting things done in our state’s split government.
Current Cascade Executive Director Elizabeth Kiker will be the ED of the merged organization. WA Bikes ED Barb Chamberlain will stay on staff as Chief Strategic Officer. Some WA Bikes Board members will join the Cascade Board. Going forward, the new Board of Directors will actively seek out statewide members, which will be a change for the typically regional Cascade Board.
The current WA Bikes storefront in Pioneer Square will close as offices consolidate in the Magnuson Park Cascade Cycling Center.
You can learn more about the merger in this FAQ.
The 32-staff Cascade Bicycle Club is clearly much larger than WA Bikes, which is only bringing over two staffers. But Kiker and Chamberlain stressed to Seattle Bike Blog earlier this year that “This isn’t a takeover or an acquisition.”
Founded in 1987 as the Northwest Bicycle Foundation, the organization that is now-called WA Bikes changed names and forms many times. It’s longest-lasting name was the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, which was led by Executive Director Barb Culp. It was founded at least in part by Cascade Bicycle Club members. Cascade has since ballooned in size, becoming a regional bike advocacy organization that really has no peers.
So the leaders of this new statewide organization are forging brand new territory, and they’ll need to write the rules as they go. That’s exciting, but also daunting. But if it’s successful, it could become a model for other cities and states to follow.