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City opens Bike Advisory Board applications as Mayor casts uncertainty on renewals

Photo of people in a conference room listening to Phyllis Porter give a presentation.
Then-member and now City Council candidate Phyllis Porter presents ideas about Rainier Valley bike routes to the Board in 2016.

Applications are open for a seat on Seattle’s volunteer Bicycle Advisory Board (“SBAB”). So if you want to volunteer your time to help the city make bicycle investments and influence bicycle policy, you should apply by July 28.

No professional expertise is required. In fact, some of the most effective board members have been regular ol’ Seattle residents who just want to learn, ask questions and offer their thoughts as people who ride bikes and want to help their city do better. Did you know Bill Nye was once an SBAB member? What I’m saying is, you could be Bill Nye.

The Board had made excellent strides in recent years to diversify its representation and leadership, and women of color have been co-chairs of the board for years. But the Board has lost some members of color in the past year (including Mayor Jenny Durkan’s controversial decision to oust Co-Chair Casey Gifford in November). People of color, women, LGBTQ folks, people from immigrant and refugee communities, people with disabilities, and people of all ages are encouraged to apply.

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Send a resume and cover letter to [email protected] by July 28. Learn more in this SDOT blog post.

The State of the Bike Board

As a reporter who has been covering Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board (“SBAB”) meetings since 2010, these are some of the most interesting — and frustrating — times for the volunteer board. For years, the Board was focused on helping advise SDOT on crafting plans, including the Bicycle Master Plan, commenting on individual project details and helping to prioritize the  city’s annual work plans. This was, of course, important work.

But in the past year and a half, as Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration has dramatically cut or delayed bike investments, the Bicycle Advisory Board has been a consistent and principled conscience for city leadership, unafraid of giving advice leaders don’t want to hear. They have been unrelenting for years in their unanimous opinion that Seattle needs to focus on investments to connect south Seattle to correct the city’s history of building most bike lanes north of I-90, for example. Unfortunately, SDOT has ignored their advice and released a bike work plan largely lacking in southend commitments.

Of course the city has not always listened to this volunteer advisory board, and they don’t legally need to. SBAB has no actual power. But the city would be wise to support the current membership and take their advice seriously because they are providing our city with a wonderful and thoughtful service.

The Board has very few second-term members left at this point, and many of the volunteers are up for a term renewal. Rules already limit members to two two-year terms, which is effective at ensuring the same voices do not consistently run the table and control conversation. It is useful to have a mix of first and second-term members because having some institutional knowledge helps the board conduct business much more efficiently and effectively. And in my decade of covering the Board, any volunteer willing to sign on for a second two-year term has been allowed to do so (and should be thanked for being so generous).

But that changed in November when Mayor Durkan’s Office ousted former Co-Chair Casey Gifford just hours before what would be her final meeting. And a representative from the Mayor’s Office has told the Board that the Mayor plans to open all her seats, including those held by members up for a second term, to new applicants (the Mayor appoints half the Board and the City Council appoints the other half). Sure, the mayor is allowed to do this, but it’s unprecedented in my decade of covering this Board. And given the way the Board has been critical of recent bike plan cuts, it feels a bit petty and disrespectful of these volunteers’ time.

To make things worse, Gifford was a woman of color leading the Board, so her surprise ousting sent all the wrong messages about how welcome the Board is to people of color. I hope applicants know that the Board did not make that decision, and members were dismayed when it happened. Luckily her replacement, Selina Urena, has been great. This is why we need as many great applicants as possible. Even if valuable members are not renewed, Seattle needs good volunteers ready to take their seats and continue this public service.

I am not going to lie to you and say that joining the Board will be all fun and games. It is a lot of work, and it can be demoralizing when that volunteer work gets ignored by city leadership. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to burn out. But it is important work, and you will learn a lot both about transportation policy and about how the city truly functions.    You will get the inside scoop on transportation projects and have an opportunity to ask planners, engineers and sometimes politicians questions. Plus you get to hang out with a pretty great group of fellow volunteers once a month. So that’s pretty cool.

From SDOT:

Do you love your two-wheel ride? Are you passionate about making Seattle a place that is safe and easy for people who bike?

The Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board (SBAB) is seeking at least three new members.

Consider applying for this 2 year volunteer position.

Who Is SBAB?

Created in 1977 by our City Council, the volunteer board plays an influential role in achieving Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan vision that riding a bicycle is a comfortable and integral part of daily life in Seattle for people of all ages and abilities

Here are a few other tasks that members do:

  • Advise the Mayor and the City Council
  • Participate in planning and project development
  • Evaluate policies
  • Make recommendations to all city departments, including SDOT
  • Meet on the first Wednesday of each month from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Seattle City Hall

How do I qualify for this position?

  • The City of Seattle is committed to promoting diversity in our boards and commissions. People of color, low-income communities, immigrant and refugee populations, people living with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ people, women and girls, youth, seniors and Native Populations are encouraged to apply.
  • Board members are frequent users of our bicycle network and represent a variety of ages, levels of mobility, diverse communities, and reside in neighborhoods throughout the city.
  • Must be a Seattle resident.

 Where do I sign up?

Submit a resume and cover letter via email by July 28, 2019 to Serena Lehman at [email protected].

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3 responses to “City opens Bike Advisory Board applications as Mayor casts uncertainty on renewals”

  1. Ryan Packer

    You can also email your councilmembers (particularly transportation committee members!) saying that you support current members of SBAB who want to have their terms renewed, particularly Alex Lew and Emily Paine. Retaining them will keep at least some of the institutional memory in place.

    Even though they are Mayoral appointees, they could be reappointed by a different authority, the council.

  2. […] Seattle Bike Blog reports that there are openings on the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board, but the appointments have become political. […]

  3. Michael Francisco

    I was a member of the SBAB ca. 1979-80, appointed by Wes Uhlman and served during Charles Royer’s time as mayor. I was a bicycle messenger, and not even 20 years old. I served alongside some interesting characters including Angel Rodriguez – who resigned out of frustration over the Spokane Street bike path and wanted a bike lane on the new West Seattle high-rise bridge with a lane on the viaduct instead (he was quite the visionary). I’ve always felt that more money needs to be spent on education and that a stripe of paint can be worse than useless. The manner in which the city has applied and reported bike lane budgets has led to a public perception that protected bike lanes cost millions of dollars per mile. The way these lanes are implemented suggest that there is little or no coordination between city departments – e.g, no sooner do they get built than they are ripped up by yet another construction project. Some have been needlessly over-designed (e.g., the foot rests on Second Avenue that stick out into the path and who rides clipped in and also leads off with their left foot? What percentage of users actually wants to have them and at what cost?) – and it seems that every city department has taken a slice of the bike lane budget pie. I am so frustrated from the sidelines that I am tempted to apply again, but “Seattle Process” has become orders of magnitude more cumbersome than it ever was 40 years ago. Good luck and my appreciation to who ever takes this on.

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