'Bike-friendly' Becker scraps bicycle committee
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who has positioned himself as a bicycle advocate, has junked the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, apparently in a move to streamline overall transportation planning.
The news, which came in a letter to the committee from Becker's chief of staff, David Everitt, surprised some longtime cycling activists.
"I don't know what's going on," said former committee Chairman Chris Quann. "The city is tired of having the [committee] around. But I don't know their intentions or motivations."
What's surprising is that it comes from Becker, Quann said, because he portrays himself as a friend of cycling.
"The value of the [committee] is that it constitutes a nucleus of a lot of experience in what works," Quann said. "The [committee] has been a voice. And the fear is it will be gone. I don't see how that can be a good thing."
In the letter, Everitt said although the committee had made significant contributions, it was time to integrate cycling into overall transportation policies through the city's Transportation Advisory Board.
"The current informal approach simply does not work well anymore," the letter said. "And unfortunately the tenor of the [committee] meetings has hindered [its] ability to serve effectively in an advisory capacity to policymakers and staff."
In an interview, Everitt said Becker would consider a proposal from the committee to institute a more formal bicycle advisory board within the administration. However, he cautioned, such a board would create a significant workload for Becker's staff and that many of the advisory committee's initiatives already have been implemented.
A grass-roots group of enthusiasts became the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee in 1986 under then-Mayor Palmer DePaulis. It has remained an independent group outside the formalities of City Hall.
The committee has, for example, successfully pushed for bicycle lanes and zone changes for bike racks. It also helped devise the "Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan" and sponsors the Cycle Salt Lake Century road race.
City Councilman Luke Garrott said he, too, found the administration's move confusing.
"It seems odd that the mayor would want to dissolve a committee that has been such an effective advisory board, especially because he is a pro-bike mayor," Garrott said. "The cycling community needs to have a seat at the table. It can't all come from the mayor's office."
Dave Iltis, the committee's chairman, conceded that meetings were often candid and occasionally contentious. "Whoever came to the meetings could participate," he said. "That led to too much free-form motion. The city wants something more formal."
The committee's proposal outlines a more formal approach but seeks a body separate from the Transportation Advisory Board. An independent board is essential, the proposal suggests, because bicycle planning reaches across transportation, recreation, air quality, economic development and tourism.
"The valuable partnership needs to continue," the proposal states, "as it benefits the city in so many ways."
For now, though, no timetable has been set to determine whether a new board should be created.
"The mayor's office has suspended meetings with us," Iltis said. "But we are hopeful about the proposal. We wanted something with long-term staying power."
What the bike committee has done:
• Contributed vision and direction to the city on bicycling matters.
• Aided with production of the city "Bikeways Map."
• Helped guide development of the "Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan."
• Fostered initiatives that won Salt Lake City a "Bicycle-Friendly Community" designation.
Source: Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee
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