A member for over 2 years, Mary-Margaret Jones wrote the bike union’s Board of Directors expressing her thoughts on the name change. She’ll be voting against the proposed name change.  

Dear Toronto Cyclists Union Board of Directors,

Thank you for informing me about the proposed name change for the Toronto Cyclists Union.  I will be voting against your proposition.

I like the current name and think it is an accurate descriptor. The Bike Union is a union of like-minded individuals, concerned with creating a safe cycling infrastructure in the city of Toronto. In addition, name changes confuse people who have just become familiar with younger organizations. Keep your brand equity in tact. 

Finally, I am disheartened that the Toronto Cyclists Union is allowing its critics to define the nature of the organization. I assume that the proposed name change is precipitated by misconceptions of the Bike Union’s work, and/ or the musings of pundits like Don Cherry. There is nothing wrong with the word union. You are allowing them to define what it means and what this organization can mean for the city of Toronto.

Warm regards,

Mary-Margaret Jones

Last week, OnMedia headed to Harbord and Bathurst to talk to cyclists about the Toronto Cyclists Union as a brand. There was immediate confusion and mixed opinions over the word “union” in the name. Here’s a sample of what they found:

Toronto Cyclists Union from Onmedia on Vimeo.

OnMedia specializes in brand identity and clarity.

We received the following from Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities. As Executive Director of Canadian non-profit organization 8-80 Cities and former Commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation in Bogota, Colombia, Gil’s tireless commitment to fostering healthy communities remains front and centre. He also works as Senior Consultant for the renowned Danish firm Gehl Architects. And he serves on the Boards of Directors of American Trails, Ciclovias of the Americas, and City Parks Alliance.

The proposed name change for the Bike Union has nothing to do with the quality of work been done by the organization or with getting support from existing members.

On the one hand the current Board and Staff are dong a fantastic job and truly moving forward issues related to cycling in Toronto. On the other hand, I’m sure that almost all members will continue to support the organization regardless of its name; we are supporting the goals, plans, actions and especially the people running it.

I see many beneficial reasons for the change of name and almost none against it, other than getting used to it. I will just focus on two of the benefits: the need to increase membership to over 10,000 and the need to have the highest credibility.

There are too many people who do not feel comfortable as members of the “cyclists union” when they would feel totally at ease as members of a cycling “coalition” or “alliance” or just “Cycle Toronto”. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has over 12,000 members (up from 3,200 in 2001) and while the name is not the only reason for their success, they do point out that a strong and inclusive name has helped tremendously.

The second point is “credibility”. When a Board member or Staff person is speaking at City Council or on the radio and says it’s as director of the bicycle union, immediately many listeners block the arguments as they feel it is one sided; they do not see themselves or their children or spouse as members of a “cyclists union” while they would see them as “members of an alliance of people who ride bicycles”. We should not risk even the possibility of people not listening to our arguments just because they perceive us as one sided or too extreme.

While the change of name is not a “make or break” issue for the success of the organization, I do think that we can achieve bolder initiatives in a shorter period of time with more support from community and decision makers if we approve the name change.

The following from Lynda Young was sent to twothirdsmajority@bikeunion.to in response to the Board of Directors’ Letter to All Members re: Changing the Name of Our Organization to Cycle Toronto.  Lynda has served as both an outreach volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for the bike union.

Dear friends at bike union, 

 
I have been an outreach volunteer and coordinator for the bike union at various events since June 2011. When I first heard about the consideration of a name change, I thought it was bizarre. Until a tabling session outside Evergreen Bikeworks changed my perspective. 
 
A guy walking past my table through the farmers market cheerfully asked, “What’s this?” I smiled and started my by-then near record-perfect speech, “Hi! Are you familiar with the Toronto Cyclists Union?”
 
This was what he said, “Union?” 
 
Then, he turned and strode briskly away. 
Through my many discussions with others in support of the bike union, including members, non-members, board members, volunteers, partners, I have come to realise that it is the work of the bike union that leads them to support the organisation. The name change may rock the boat a little, but those on board will stay on board, even those who lose their balance and fell off the boat will climb back on eventually. 
 
On the other hand, the name change will serve to open the minds of those who have issues with the name for the name’s sake, allowing us the chance to tell them who we are and what we are about.
 
Hence, name change is good. Better now than later (to minimise cost of name change due to reprinting of material etc).
 
With regards to choice of name, again, people who support should, by logic, continue to support the work that the bike union does. I believe you when you said the board has spent months considering options and alternatives. I trust that. And I thank you for doing the research and taking on the (I imagine, painstakingly long) discussions on behalf of the rest of us members!
 
One other thing to point out, it was suggested that cycleto.ca might be used as the future site after the name change. I wonder if cycletoronto.ca is a better option, for the purpose of differentiation from ibiketo. Don’t get me wrong, I like Herb’s blog. But I also think making it easy for people to find our website will be a good thing. 
 
I also wonder if after the name change and site change, bikeunion.to (as a web address) can still exist to redirect webusers to the new website, whatever it ends up becoming. 
 
my two cents (and 1 cup coffee),

Lynda

As the Board of the Toronto Cyclists Union, we sent out the above letter in the hopes of beginning a discussion regarding the future of this organization, and how a name change to Cycle Toronto will allow us to better achieve our advocacy goals, and to honour the importance of “safe streets, a healthy city, a vibrant voice.”

The online discussion so far has been amazing – we’ve been blown away by the support, humbled by the critiques, and moved by the passion that our members feel for the organization. We feel our original letter did not provide enough insight and justification for why we support the name change. We hope that by presenting these key points below, we are able to further the discussion and better inform our members for the vote at the AGM.

  • Keeping cycling political, yet non-partisan. As an advocacy organization, we work within the political structures of the City to create change. To be effective in this, we need a membership that crosses all boundaries – political, geographical, cultural, economic – and represents all Torontonians who care about cycling and believe in safe streets. While not all Torontonians identify as cyclists, a City cycling survey indicated that at least 54% of Torontonians cycle. We can’t control the connections people have with the word union, but we have found our expansion into new constituencies restricted by those connections. Cycle Toronto is simple, action-oriented and defines the transformation of Toronto into the bicycle-friendly city we’re all aspiring for. 
  • Sustainable revenue sources and staffing. We had an amazing year for growth – almost doubling our membership – all of which wouldn’t have been possible without bringing on a new staff member last spring and extra staff during the summer. With a significant grant coming to an end this year, we need to seek out alternative funding sources to keep the momentum going and maintain (and hopefully increase) our staff. We have had a number of organizational and business members showing initial interest, then being turned off by the name. Many other organizations (Transportation Alternatives, Active Transportation Alliance, Citizens for Safe Cycling, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington) don’t get much in grants, but are open and accessible to business partners. In our case, one platinum member at 5000 dollars is the equivalent of 166 individual members. Young organizations like ours are financially vulnerable, and we need more resources: more staff, a larger budget, more outreach, and more opportunities to help make the streets a safer place. We also need to prepare for a time when grants will no longer be a option, and we see our future partners as a means to grow a sustainable, healthy organization. Have a look for yourselves at https://bikeunion.to/learn-about-business-membership. The strategy to increase organizational and business memberships is strictly non-ideological. It is not pro-business or anti-union. It simply allows a more direct dialogue with organizations and businesses and their staff about how to support our us.
  • Improved exposure. We recently had a large insurance company inquire about providing cycling courses to its customers. After calling one of our partner organizations for help, they were directed to us. The next day, they called back and said that they could not work with us because we were a union. If we want to develop services like these (which would help fund advocacy programs), we feel our name shouldn’t be an obstacle to this. On a similar note, so far three local bike shops have chosen not to post our flyers and/or join our member discount program because they felt our name wouldn’t sit well with their customers.
  • Consistency. The bike union has been referred to variously as the Toronto Cyclists Union, the bike union, TCU, BU, Cyclists Union, Toronto Cyclists, and variations thereof. While we have developed internal branding guidelines, we would like a name that is more easily referred to by the media and our members. Cycle Toronto, in its brevity, will be less easily abbreviated and is less of a mouthful. The logo and branding will remain the same, so brand recognition should not be an issue.
  • Reduced short-term administrative effort and cost. By changing the name now, rather than further down the road, we are avoiding the added costs of re-branding later. We are currently finalizing a plan for the marketing transition, and the goal if we change is to continue using our current stock of swag over the next year. The issue has been carefully considered, and the costs that would be incurred are within our means.

Be assured that the proposal to change the name was planned and deliberated for many months, with input from marketing and branding experts, and feedback from staff, board members, partners and members. While it has been an exciting process, it has also been challenging, and we appreciate member feedback and support on the issue. On May 2, it will be time for members to make a decision. And while we encourage you to vote for the new name at the AGM, we assure you no matter what happens with this issue, the board and staff will continue to push forward for better cycling policies, increased ridership, improved and expanded infrastructure and a great Toronto.

~~~

We value the conversation and invite your comments. We also appreciate the initiative and feedback we’ve seen on Dave Meslin’s first blog post, Nick Cluley’s post, and Dave Meslin’s second post.

Dear Members of the Toronto Cyclists Union,

2011 was an amazing year for our organization. Through our shared efforts, we were able to double our membership from 1,018 to over 2,100 since our last AGM. In the meantime we’ve worked as a group to refer new members, both through word of mouth and our Refer-A-Rider Campaign. We’ve found amazing local business partners who now reward our membership through the Member Discount Program, giving us new inroads to the business community. We’ve continued to advocate for the changes Toronto must make to ensure that cyclists are treated as equals on the road, leading the charge to Save Jarvis while continuing to push for expanded Complete Streets infrastructure across the city. We helped keep cyclists safe through our Get Lit campaign and, along with our volunteers, spoke with thousands of Torontonians about our mission and cause. Truly we have many reasons to celebrate.

But we also must be vigilant. Toronto actually reduced the total number of painted bike lanes over the past year. We continue to be, as a group, treated as an insignificant minority in many areas of politics and media coverage. The City continues to find ways to delay improving the safety of our roads and the implementation of its own Bike Plan, now over 10 years old. In short, Toronto has not shown the will to respect us as taxpayers, as road users, and as valuable citizens.

All of these things taken together – the increasing success of our organization, the current malaise and inaction on road improvements from City Hall, and the ever-growing number of cyclists sharing our roads – enable an incredible opportunity. We feel that 2012 can truly be the Year of the Bike. We believe that 10,000 members is within reach, with your continued help and support, and we want to pedal hard for huge growth this year.

Over a two-day session in January, 80 members came together with members of our Board and our incredible staff to plan our strategy for 2012. The outcome of this session is a strategy that focuses on increasing ridership among school age children, on having a large scale ride to bring cyclists together, continuing our advocacy work to protect the little infrastructure currently available for bikes, and on educating Torontonians as to why more space for bikes makes for a better city. These are big goals that reach both outwards and upwards in our advocacy.

Over the past years, we have run into unexpected pockets of resistance when applying for grants as well as in recruiting business members and individual donors. There is a large group of cyclists in Toronto that don’t feel connected to our organization, and they have often expressed that our current name is largely responsible for that disconnect. Considering all of the positive impacts that we want to have as an organization, the Board of Directors does not want our name to prevent a single cyclist from joining our organization. Our strategy and trajectory demands that we be accessible and essential for everyone who rides in Toronto, and we feel that now – as we are poised for record growth – is the time to address this issue.

In the next few weeks, you’ll be receiving the agenda for our AGM, scheduled for May 2, 2012. The board requests your support in changing our name, not as a change of direction, but as a step towards better alignment with our current strategy and in an effort to ensure we are able to reach as many of our fellow riders, and other street users, as possible. We feel that the future of this organization is much brighter, and the possibilities greater, with a new moniker: Cycle Toronto.

At the AGM, we would like your support when we a vote to accept the new name. According to our bylaws, a two-thirds majority of member voters at the AGM will carry the name change. .

Our organization has always, and will continue to, belong to our members. This proposed change in name doesn’t mean any reduction in our work or advocacy. In fact, we feel strongly as a Board that we are defined more by our actions than by our name. For this reason we hope you will support this change and also commit with us to re-doubling our collective efforts in order to make Toronto the greatest place to ride a bike anywhere. We have a great strategy, a strong staff, and an amazing group of cyclists here who contribute to a unique and vibrant cycling culture. Please join us in ensuring that everyone who pedals through Toronto feels welcome to help in this mission. This is the Year of the Bike. Let’s Cycle Toronto.

We welcome and encourage your input on this topic and ask that you email twothirdsmajority@bikeunion.to with any thoughts on this decision as we work towards our AGM.

Thank you for your time.

Your Toronto Cyclists Union Board of Directors,

Heather McDonald, President            Bob Brent

Nick Cluley, Vice-President              Jayme Dunlop

Mark Franklin, Secretary                  Carolina G’ala

Leehe Lev, Treasurer                        Gary Pluim

Deb Adams                                     Simon Strauss

Patrick Brown                                  Nick Wright

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