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.