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Cycling Advocates Consider a Rebrand

The Toronto Cyclists Union's members will vote on dropping the "Union" from the group's name.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/asoundtrackforeveryone/4762890218/"}tyrone warner{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Toronto’s largest membership-based cycling advocacy group may adopt a new moniker.

This week, members of the Toronto Cyclists Union will consider a proposal from their board of directors to change the organization’s name to Cycle Toronto. The rebrand, which members of the union will put to a vote at the TCU’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, is part of an ambitious strategic plan to build membership and advocacy programs beyond the city’s downtown core.

The bike union board’s vice president, Nick Cluley, who has served for more than two years, says the group’s name was a topic of discussion during the David Miller era. Staff and volunteers noticed that the word “union,” freighted as it is with leftist connotations, created misunderstandings with non-members.

“Having that obstacle to constantly overcome is a burden on our resources and our time,” said Cluley. He and his fellow board members have put forward Cycle Toronto as “a wide-open name” that reflects the group’s commitment to inclusion and a broader appeal.

A letter to members from earlier this month outlines the board’s central concern: “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.”

Even people who know and like the TCU have mixed feelings about the name. A 2011 survey found that TCU members and non-member newsletter subscribers were ambivalent about the word “union.”

While Cluley is proud that TCU’s membership has doubled to more than 2,000 in the past year, he points out that the union still only represents a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of Torontonians who cycle. In the current political environment, in which cycling infrastructure is being reduced, he thinks it’s vital that the group keep growing and gaining influence.

“The guiding force is to look at our mission, which is safe streets, a healthy community, and a vibrant voice,” said Cluley. “I don’t know that being called the Toronto Cyclists Union directly relates to or supports any of that. I don’t know that it doesn’t, either. I don’t know that it matters.” He is quick to emphasize that the board will embrace the membership’s decision either way and move on. (More of Nick’s thoughts on the proposal can be found on his blog.)

Bike union founder Dave Meslin shook up the conversation when he argued against the name change in a recent blog post, in which he implores members not to bow to “raving right-wingers” who would never support unions in the first place.

“It’s so absurd that anyone would think the bike union is a trade union,” Meslin said during an interview. “We are a union, and I think giving up on that is a big shame.” He believes time and increased visibility will eventually make the name a non-issue.

Meanwhile, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), a right-leaning councillor who notably joined the Cyclists Union last year during his push for separated bike lanes in the downtown core, sides with those who dislike the word “union.”

“I can understand why people would be not very receptive to joining a union, and all the negative connotations associated with that,” he said.

He won’t be renewing his membership, but he assured us that his departure will have nothing to do with the name. Some of TCU’s leaders, he said, “have a political agenda that is outside the mainstream cycling community.”

TCU staff say that despite all objections, the rebranding conversation has mostly been positive. But many cyclists feel that the name should be preserved to send a message of defiance to Mayor Rob Ford and his allies, whose demonization of unions and activists has become routine.

Toronto Cyclists Union members will vote on the name proposal this Wednesday at 7 p.m., at the Centre for Social Innovation’s Annex location, at 720 Bathurst Street.


UPDATE: May 5, 10:28 AM With a majority of 71%, bike union members decided at their annual general meeting to change their name. They will now officially become Cycle Toronto.

Comments

  • Yes

    Not a huge deal, but a good idea. TCU needs to focus on its mission: advocating for cycling in Toronto. Don’t get bogged down by people’s pro or anti union stances.

    Signed, a union member.

  • Anonymous

    “Cycle Toronto” is just too general, it sounds like it could be a bike store or something. If they don’t want the word union, why not just swap it out for “Alliance”? Toronto Cyclists Alliance. BAM. Done.

    • Antony

      I agree that “Cycle Toronto” is a pretty lackluster name.

      But I’m happy that they’re getting rid of “Cyclists”. I’d rather talk about cycling, the activity, than cyclists, the stereotype/identity/pigeonhole. Over 50% of people ride a bike in Toronto, from time to time. They don’t consider themselves “cyclists”, but we need their support.

      • Matlock

        “Toronto Cycling Union”

        Win-win.

        • Anonymous

          People who aren’t “cyclists” don’t go “cycling”; they’re bike riders who ride bikes.

          Toronto Bike Rider’s _________.

          • mariposaman

            Too close to Toronto eBike Riders, an organization the TCU has chosen to villify even though they essentially the same goals and aspirations as bicycle riders.

      • Anonymous

        Cycle Toronto sounds like a sightseeing/rental bike company.

    • Bob Brent

      Dan, it was considered, see longer comment above. Bob (TCU/Cycle Toronto Board member).

  • Anonymous

    This is an example of “bike shedding.”

  • Anonymous

    Absurd, but what else could they do about it?

  • http://twitter.com/blernsball Bill H

    Denzil only joined the TCU so he could wave the “I’m a cyclist too’ banner as he tore out bike lanes. A cheap political ploy from the biggest weasel on council.

  • metric

    This makes a lot of sense. Cycle Toronto is a good name and dropping the ‘union’ is a smart move.

    • Lardtunderinjeezus

      Bland, boring and nondescript is a smart move? Allowing your opponents to define and defang you is actually the opposite. I joined the TCU because it was a union of like-minded people standing up for what they care about and believe in. If that isn’t how the organization describes itself in the future, I won’t be taking part.

      • Anonymous

        How about “association”? It implies that one gets to keep their own sense of identity rather than being assimilated or indoctrinated.

        • Testu

          “Association” isn’t bad, it’s neutral if nothing else. You have some pretty strange ideas about “union” though.

        • Testu

          *apparently I can’t edit a comment

          I guess you do help make their point about the name change though.

        • Bob Brent

          As you can imagine, several alternate names were debated over the past year. There were so many nuances to be considered, we liked retaining “cyclists” so we did consider many 3 name combinations: TCCoalition, TCAssociation, TCAlliance, etc. that would allow us to inexpensively modify existing logos, tents, banners, etc., but in the end, no matter what name we talked about there were stakeholders both opposed and in favour to each name so ultimately the simplicity of Cycle Toronto won over the Board as the best way to advocate for cyclists in Toronto.

      • metric

        I don’t believe cycling needs to be a cult and the name need not imply anything splashy or exciting. I’ve been commuting by bike for 25 years. Cycling is a fact of life. Denmark and NL exemplify my ideal of a cycling culture that works, and I’ts one that I’m very familiar with. Cycling is the most invigorating, fulfilling, efficient, healthy, and intelligent way to get around. But be part of a Cycling Union? No thanks.

  • metric

    And I second that Denzil is a pus-faced weasel.

  • decoderdm

    Years ago I attempted to recruit regular cyclists for a video on the TCU. I had conversations with couriers, hipster fixie riders, road and touring riders in addition to regular occasional commuters. For the most part they didn’t want to be involved in the TCU as members because they felt left out of the decisions and could not see the benifit of the $30. a year. The TCU has improved its services to members over the last year and that is why they have doubled the membership. Its time to address the needs of the mases and a name change is just a distraction. The members will vote and Im down with TCU or Cycle Toronto as long as they don’t loose sight of the people riding the 2 wheels.

  • Michael Went

    I think it’s a great idea to change the name. The organization should be inclusive of all who cycle. I believe that Cycle Toronto can best connect with our increasingly diverse City.

  • Bob Brent

    As a TCU Board member I welcome all TCU members (new member sign-ups also welcome) to our AGM tonight at CSI Annex Basement, 720 Bathurst (2 blocks south Bloor) at 6:15 p.m for registration and a Board Candidate/Member “Meet & Greet”, so you can decide which of the 22 candidates you’ll vote for in this very competitive Board election. We’ll also have a ballot for some minor by-law updates as well as the name change to Cycle Toronto, which by law requires a 2/3s majority—so come out and make sure your vote counts!

    I want to reassure all members the name change was not an easy or a quick decision, one that the Board thought about for over a year and actively discussed the last six months, with some in favour, some wanting to keep “Union” before we came to the unanimous decision to recommend the Cycle Toronto to members.

    Why? Our decision wasn’t based on our own personal name preferences, but in accordance with our “fiduciary duty” as Directors to consider the best interests of the Bike Union. Half our revenue is membership revenue, half grants, many of which are start-up grants that will not be renewed. We’re simply not financially self-sustaining, even after doubling membership in the last year, nor do we have the financial resources to provide you the level of advocacy, member benefits and communication we think is needed to keep you engaged and secure better bike infrastructure.

    We have very aggressive membership growth targets (to 10,000) and need to replace the expiring grants with business, corporate sponsorships as you see on our home page (Platinum & Gold sponsors), in addition to increasing members dues as we again seek to double membership.

  • Bob Brent

    This is an update to my invitation below to attend the AGM.

    I want to reassure all members the name change was not an easy or a quick decision, one that the Board & Staff thought about and discussed internally and with external stakeholders for over a year and actively debated the last six months. Some were in favour, others opposed, wanting to keep “Union” before we came to the unanimous decision as a Board to recommend the Cycle Toronto name to members at the AGM May 2nd 2012.
    Why? Our decision wasn’t based on our own personal name preferences, which were many & diverse, but in accordance with our “fiduciary duty” as Directors to consider the best interests of the Bike Union. We did not consider ourselves to be anti-union/pro-union or anti-business/pro-business in making the decision. The fact that we actively debated the name change over six months and came to a unanimous Board recommendation, ensured transparency with Fair Vote Canada supervising the vote and tallying the results should reassure our members and the cycling community we seriously considered their opinions. The 71% vote in favour of the name change exceeded the 2/3′s majority required by law, by ~5% (66.6%); with 29% opposed to the name change.
    At present half our revenue is membership dues, half grants, many of which are start-up grants that will not be renewed. We’re simply not financially self-sustaining, even after doubling membership in the last year, nor do we have the financial resources to provide you the level of advocacy, member benefits and communication we think is needed to keep you engaged and secure better bike infrastructure as we grow membership.
    We have very aggressive membership growth targets (to 10,000 by 2018) and need to replace the 50% of revenue from expiring grants with business, corporate sponsorships as you see on our home page (Platinum & Gold sponsors) just to sustain current funding, in addition to increasing membership dues as we again seek to double membership, over the next 18 months. Together they will help us fund more staff, more marketing, better IT/interactive website & social media and political advocacy on your behalf.

  • Bob Brent

    P.S. to last submission:

    Congratulations to the 6 new Directors elected by members and to the other 16 candidates who also ran, but were not elected, we hope you will continue to stay active, volunteer & advocate for safer cycling in Toronto. After all, the next Board election is less than 12 months away!

    On behalf of the now Cycle Toronto Board thank you to all members for your support at the AGM and on-going as we collectively work to make Toronto cycling safer and restore our reputation as one of North America’s leading cycling cities.