Cascade Bicycle Club — A Five-year Plan in Motion
By Katie Hawkins
Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club, one of the nation’s largest and oldest bike clubs, has undergone many changes in its recent history. Elizabeth Kiker, executive director of 18 months, would say the changes are mostly about growth. Since she arrived in September of 2013 after almost eight years at the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists, a five-year strategic plan has been put in place with an overall goal of improving lives through bicycling.
“I think the major change is having a strategic plan,” says Kiker, who mentioned there hasn’t been a strategic plan in place for the club in 11 years. Cascade brought in a consultant to create a process for the plan, which took five months from start to finish. “The actual work from what the prior organization was doing hasn’t changed. We have just refocused very regionally to work more in collaboration with others. We have set our intentions and that’s how we can be successful.”
Kiker replaced longtime director Chuck Ayers, who helped focus the club to be an advocacy group. Ayers resigned in April 2013 after a difficult few years of high staff turnover.
Advocacy is still part of the strategic plan, but there is no question the club has backed off a little on their lobbying efforts from when Ayers was in charge. In 2014, Cascade hired a contract lobbyist and began partnering with Washington Bikes to help lobby in Olympia.
“We found that it really helps to have one legislative agenda, rather than two, so we are collaborating and supporting them,” says Kiker. Cascade will continue to advocate for a regionally connected network of trails, greenways and protected bike lanes by working with elected officials. It is even starting a program to bike with legislators called “policy maker rides,” which will bring together decision makers, bike advocates and community members. These will be scheduled in the coming months to take place this summer.
Advocacy plays just a small role in supporting the overall goals, which can be summed up by the following:
1) Sharing the joy of bicycling
2) Creating exceptional opportunities to ride
3) Teaching everyone to ride safely
4) Bringing people together through bicycling
5) Transforming the region through bicycling
Cascade emphasizes its strategic plan to support goals four and five by connecting with volunteers, mobilizing more advocates, training more educators and increasing influence on public officials.
“Our members volunteer, so we want to grow and retain more members,” explains Kiker. Among the plan’s objectives is to focus on member satisfaction to achieve this. The club has implemented a Membership Department that focuses on engaging members, inviting participation in education and advocacy programs, and emphasizing volunteer opportunities.
“We recently had our first volunteer open house for people to tell us what they are interested in doing,” mentions Kiker. “We are growing the opportunities for them.”
A powerful tool for outreach is the 2,000+ free rides that are available to members and non-members. The club has more than 300 ride leaders who are certified to take groups out on various routes and educate them on how to ride safely. They also have a no-rider-left-behind policy.
The paid events that Cascade hosts are also enormously popular, such as the Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party (RSVP) and the Seattle to Portland (STP), which draws more than 10,000 people each year. New in 2015 is the Major Taylor Ride (April 18) to support the Major Taylor project, a youth development cycling program focused on introducing children from diverse communities to biking. There are also plans to put together a Seattle Bridge Ride, an event they hope will be comparable to the Chicago Bike the Drive, a low-mileage affair that draws thousands of people.
Other aims are to train educators at encouraging people of all ages to become lifelong cyclists and to double the number of youth riding bikes through school-based educational programs. The club is currently working on plans to implement programs in every school as early as next year and is looking at targeted communities to get the ball rolling.
“It will be an application process, so we know it is something the community really wants instead of something we are pushing onto them,” explains Kiker. “We are working very hard to make sure they are communities around the region, and not just within a certain area.”
Other education programs are available for free or low-cost, such as the Pronto Street Skills class, an introduction to urban biking and bike commuting; adult riding and maintenance classes; and summer camps for kids. Most of the classes are held in the auditorium at the new Cascade Bicycling Center in Seattle’s Magnuson Park.
Part of the five-year plan is to get the new Cascade Bicycling Center up and running as a hub of engagement for members and non-members alike. Phase I of the 7,900-square-foot clubhouse has already been completed, staff moved in and started work December 1, 2014, and they have already held numerous events at the auditorium. Phase II will be completing the community center. A traffic garden and volunteer center are also in the works and the entire project is scheduled to be completed by 2017.
In addition to the new architecture, the club is also updating their internal infrastructure. Part of how they will track the success of each component of the five-year plan is to fully operationalize integrated data tools, policies and processes. This will enable accountable, evidence-based decision making.
“We have many people working on not just data tools, which is important, but how we are asking for data,” explains Kiker. “For example, we don’t have a lot of data around gender, race, and age of our participants. To make sure we are making that change, we will be asking the questions. Having a clearer database [will help] so we can really see how our work is affecting change.” It has been made their mission to grow an inclusive community to match those of the Puget Sound by age, race, and gender.
The data collected is made public quarterly on a scorecard that is available on Cascade’s website. Keep in mind that some data is annual, so some information may not be included in all reports.
“All the club’s political work, endorsements, advocacy, education and work done over the years was important to this organization and we are committed to continuing the work into the future,” concludes Kike. “We are committed to collaboration and talking up the great work of the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Bike Works, Washington Bikes, and many others. This isn’t something we are doing alone — we are working together and that’s why we are so successful.”
If you would like to read the official five-year strategic plan, visit Cascade Bicycle Club's website at cascade.org.