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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.

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