When Monica Maxwell succeeded Peter Harnik as WABA President at the end of 1981, WABA was as trouble free as it had been within anyone's memory. Part of that was due to Maxwell. Recalls Harnik, "I'm aware that the year that I was President was extremely difficult, unpleasant for many people. I think (Maxwell) smoothed things out by a really sweet, wonderful personality and being able to work with a lot of different people." WABA's coffers were fat with Bike-a-Thon money. The Board was experienced, yet the fractious debates that had hamstrung the Board were gone as new personalities filled the staff and Board slots.
As a symbol of WABA's new establishment image, WABA joined the world of high-level hobnobbing by sponsoring a wine and cheese reception at the Sheraton Hotel. The reception was for bicycle planning specialists from the Washington area and other cities who came for the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
After a quick but methodical search, the Board hired Maggie Ronkin to fill the Executive Director made vacant by Bob Bers. Ronkin quickly adapted to the new position. By her second Board meeting, the minutes described her report by saying, "Maggie rattled her recent accomplishments like a well-greased machine gun."
Through WABA and P.A.R.C., Peter Harnik was indefatigable in his push to improve the bicycling environment in Rock Creek Park. On May 8, 1982, bicyclists, runners, and hikers converged on Rock Creek Park in an event dubbed, "Pedals and Feet for Rock Creek," in yet another public demonstration of support to reduce auto traffic on Beach Drive. The rally drew over 100 people, despite overcast skies and predictions of rain. Harnik even testified before the Subcommittee on the Interior of the House Appropriations Committee on February 28, 1984. Though the National Park Service didn't approve all of P.A.R.C.'s proposals to reduce traffic in the park, it did eventually expand the sections of Beach Drive closed off to automobiles during weekends.In his role as Chairman of the WABA Facilities Committee, Harnik expanded his efforts beyond Rock Creek Park. Early in 1982, he organized what Ride On! billed as "the first public hearing ever conducted by the Bicycle Association," which Ride On! further touted as a rousing success—about twenty-five cyclists showed up. The purpose of the hearing was to allow citizens an opportunity to testify on facility improvements in D.C. Later that year, the Facilities Committee came up with a full set of recommendations of specific improvements in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., which the WABA Board approved.
An important facilities battle shaped up over the 14th Street Bridge, which was scheduled to be closed to bicycle traffic during redecking in summer of 1984. Though the resulting bike path would be a boon to cyclists, WABA was upset that the D.C. Department of Transportation (D.C. DOT) had made inadequate arrangements for bicyclists during construction. "This is totally unacceptable to the hundreds of commuting and recreational cyclists who rely on the 14th Street Bridge bike path," Harnik wrote to the D.C. DOT.
WABA didn't get anywhere with the 14th Street Bridge, but the consolation prize was early and substantial involvement in the redecking of the Key Bridge. That was good, since D.C. DOT'S first proposal was to require bicyclists to walk their bikes across the bridge! "It's incredible that a transportation agency would even consider designing a bridge where commuting cyclists have to dismount and walk," Harnik said in a Ride On! article. "It would be laughable if it weren't so revealing of the District's attitude toward cyclists."
This campaign was successful. Looking back years later, Harnik viewed his contribution to the planning of the Key Bridge as one of his most important successes. "It's a little monument to WABA."
After a year-long absence from Washington, Michael Replogle returned to WABA, and joined the Board, helping out with parking and facilities efforts. He prepared testimony for the Facilities Committee on the proposed Barney Circle Freeway in D.C. He later took over as Chairman of the Government Relations Committee.
In late 1983, D.C. DOT recommended to the Zoning Commission that five percent of all car parking spaces in District office buildings be set aside for bicycles. Replogle testified at a hearing of the Zoning Commission on January 24,1984. He prepared a detailed study containing WABA recommendations to change the proposal.
Linda Keenan, who later became the WABA Office Manager, remarked of Replogle, "Michael, in a way, was one of WABA's secret weapons. Michael was really a certified planner. He had the professional qualifications to be able to interpret at the same level what people in the government were saying and doing. He could stand and look the Department of Public Works in the eye."
On May 23, 1982, Kadesh resigned as the D.C. Bicycle Coordinator, a position she had held on and off since it was first created in 1976. Kadesh had been upset with the direction of the Transportation Department, which she felt was becoming increasingly less concerned about bicycles. The Department decided not to fill the vacancy. Instead, Michael Jackson, the part-time Assistant D.C. Bicycle Coordinator who at that time was still in college, was given Kadesh's title.
The D.C. Bicycle Office under Kadesh and Pendleton had been responsible for some of the most important improvements in the District. WABA viewed the move as a serious setbacks for bicyclists. WABA began a campaign to get the position back, and to make sure that the District knew it had made a serious mistake.
The first step was the preparation of a blistering letter to D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry and a press release accusing the government of taking actions that would increase the number of bicycle accidents in the District. The first salvo had its intended effect. The Washington Times picked up on the story, and a neighborhood newspaper, the Northwest Current, ran the complete press release. D.C. DOT officials were surprised at the ferocity of the attack, but they refused to back down.
Michael Gessel, who succeeded Maxwell as President, made the restoration of the D.C. Bicycle Office a top priority. WABA took every opportunity to get the message across, nor was WABA afraid of bashing D.C. DOT before the D.C. Council. On January 24,1983, Gessel testified before a hearing on D.C. DOT'S budget. "Continued pursuit of an unbalanced transportation policy can only result in more accidents and injuries for thousands of D.C. cyclists, more traffic congestion in downtown, increased air and noise pollution, and additional gasoline use in the District, which has a negative effect on the local economy," he said. The testimony seemed to have no effect.
Gessel and Replogle prepared a detailed report when D.C. DOT went through a reorganization and emerged as the Department of Public Works (D.C. DPW). The report recommended a full-time Bicycle Coordinator at a considerably higher pay grade than Jackson's. The report was largely ignored.
Eventually, Jackson was given more hours and made full-time bicycle coordinator. But from WABA's perspective, he did not have a loud voice in the Department. WABA decided that nothing would change unless the Transportation Department was forced by a more sympathetic D.C. Council. The following year, President Ken Hughes testified again to urge the upgrading of the Bicycle Coordinator's position in the new D.C. DPW. Still, there were no real results.
But all that changed in late 1984, when Councilmember Jerry Moore faced a tough primary challenge for his seat on the D.C. Council. Moore, as Chairman of the Transportation and Environment Committee, had always been a strong supporter of bicycles. Now, he had a special reason to listen to WABA. WABA drafted a bill with the industrious title of the "Comprehensive District of Columbia Bicycle Transportation and Safety Act of 1984" which called for a three-person bicycle office, located prominently in D.C. DPW's hierarchy.
The WABA bill, drafted mostly by Gessel, also called for the establishment of a Citizens' Bicycle Advisory Council. Moore introduced the bill July 16, 1984, but deleted the advisory council provisions because he was unsure how the advisory council would work. Moore then agreed to hold hearings on the bill. However, he made no promises that he would move the bill until after the hearing.
WABA swung into action preparing phone trees and background papers to line up witnesses. The result was a virtuoso performance. On October 29, forty witnesses, stretched the hearing out all day and evening. Everyone but D.C. DOT testified in favor of the bill. On cue, many of the witnesses expressed disappointment that the bill did not create an advisory council.
When Moore held a markup, he included an amendment adding the advisory council. Gessel, who had spearheaded the lobbying campaign, fully expected the requirement for a three-person office to be cut back. In fact, he was prepared to trade away one or even two of the people if D.C. DOT would support the bill. But the Department refused to even discuss the matter. Consequently, the bill passed the committee on November 14, including a Moore amendment creating a 16-member Bicycle Advisory Council. It was passed by full Council without further amendment on December 2, 1984.
The WABA bicycle helmet wearability test completed earlier was a great leap forward in the promotion of bicycle helmets, but it still didn't give the most important information, which was effectiveness in preventing head injury. Randy Swart recalls, "Eventually, we woke up to the fact that we didn't have anything objective to compare the crash worthiness. All we had was a bunch of war stories."
The next stage came when Tom Balderston got back in touch with the Snell Foundation. Balderston had just quit a job in computer software, and wanted to be a full-time, freelance writer. As a motorcycle rider, he knew the importance of helmets, and was appalled about the lack of information on bicycle helmets.
This time, Snell decided that it would be worthwhile to test bicycle helmets. Also, the wearability study may have helped convince Snell that WABA was serious and credible. Snell agreed to test the helmets if WABA would buy them, ship them to Sacramento, and publish the results.
Some of the manufacturers got worried when they heard what Swart and Balderston were doing, and tried to scare them off. Swart recalls, "Skid Lid sent us a page and a half of obscure references thinking they could bury us. But Tom went to the Library of Congress and looked up everything and found out they were just blowing smoke."
Balderston wrote up the results for Bicycling Magazine, but the publication date for the article kept slipping, possibly because some of the manufacturers threatened to sue. After consulting with Jourdin, Swart challenged Bicycling Magazine to send WABA copies of those threats, so WABA could take legal action of its own. That may have done the trick. Six years after the helmet study began, the article ran in the March 1983 issue. Bicycling Magazine paid Balderston $600, then the largest amount ever paid for an article. Balderston donated the money to WABA, where it ended up in the Gaffney Fund to further promote helmet use.
In conjunction with the article, WABA put out a national publicity effort, which resulted in mentions in USA Today and New York's WABC-TV, as well as local publicity in the Washington Post and television and radio news broadcasts.
Swart recalls that WABA was in a unique position to publish the controversial study. "Nobody can really scare us off," Swart said. "I've never had to worry about it because we had so many lawyers."
Swart and Balderston continued working on the project. At the urging of Dr. George Snively of the Snell Foundation, WABA joined the Z.90 Committee of the American National Standards Institute, which sets national standards for automobile and motorcycle helmets. WABA became the first consumer organization represented on the committee, whose members included a number of manufacturers. The Z.90 Committee had already drafted a bicycle helmet standard, but it was bottled up by members who were manufacturers of helmets that did not meet the standard. Swart attended a meeting of the Z.90 Committee in Boston and helped iron out a final draft, which was finally adopted in 1984.
Now that the basic foundation had been laid for evaluating the safety of bicycle helmets, Swart went on a campaign to spread the information. He traveled from Georgia to New York, speaking at bicycle rallies about the importance of bicycle helmets and how to determine which ones are safe. Swart figured that if he could convince the serious bicyclists who attended these rallies, others would follow their lead. To get the point across that some kinds of foam don't absorb impact, he demonstrated with a device he built called "orange hammer." This was a hammer on a hinged arm about three feet long that hit an anvil.
If that weren't enough, Swart started a newsletter which he sent to people around the world who were interested in new information on bicycle helmet safety.
The WABA helmet research didn't overshadow the work of the Safety Committee, chaired by Carl Modig, who kept the Board spellbound with his regular reports of fantastic productivity. Unlike many of WABA's other committees, which had only one or two members, Modig's Safety Committee had a number of real, active members. The committee prepared public service announcements and press releases on bicycle safety.
Working with Swart and Balderston, at the end of the summer of 1982, the Safety Committee designed a brochure promoting helmet use, and Modig managed to get 7,000 copies printed up for $28. A year later, he printed 4,000 more brochures. Diligent Safety Committee volunteers distributed the pamphlets at bike shops and bicycle events. The committee conducted a survey to determine a baseline for helmet use, then conducted the study again to determine if its efforts had been effective.
The Committee also analyzed in detail District bicycle accident figures going back to 1981. Jim McCarthy compiled a "Hotspot" map which used pins to plot accidents on a large, mounted map of the District. The map could be taken to hearings and was a hit at membership recruiting booths. A report on the "hotspot" project garnered more publicity for WABA, including mention in the Washington Post, the Washington Times, and Washington/an Magazine.
In addition to these major activities, WABA had a full plate of other significant efforts. In 1983, the D.C. Energy Office awarded WABA $2,000 for a Bike-to-Work Day, which was coordinated by Bob Bers. The event was similar to earlier Bike-to-Work Days, and included a rally on Western Plaza in downtown Washington. The event, which was also supported by D.C. DOT, attracted an estimated 1,500 bicyclists. City Administrator Tom Downs, former District Transportation Director, presented a proclamation from Mayor Barry declaring October 18,1983 as "Bike to Work Day" in the District. Councilmember Jerry Moore also attended and in his statement he supported WABA's goals.
WABA also got involved in the redecking of Memorial Bridge from the earliest stages. And on behalf of WABA, Peter Harnik fired off a letter asking the D.C. DPW to widen the roadway and sidewalks of the Taft Bridge (over Connecticut Avenue NW).
In 1984, WABA established a fund in the memory of Carl Malmberg, an avid young bicyclist who was killed an accident involving a motorist in College Park. With the encouragement of Malmberg's father and an initial donation by Jay Wright of $250, the fund was earmarked for the WABA Legal Defense Fund. Under the leadership of Ed Kearney, the Legal Defense Fund (formerly the WABA Legal Panel) took on a greater activist stance.
Linda Keenan described Kearney: "He's got more legal experience in bicycle traffic law than anyone else in the country. He's another one of these people that has so much expertise and professional standing that people have to deal with him. You can't get around Ed."
WABA supported other legislative activities during this period. In 1982, WABA surveyed the attitudes towards bicycles of candidates for District Mayor and Council. Peter Harnik testified on behalf of WABA in favor of the bottle bill during a hearing before the D.C. Council. Michael Gessel attended a meeting with Maryland Secretary of Transportation Lowell Bridwell to discuss bicycling priorities. Monica Maxwell testified before the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee on a bill that would improve bicycle access to highways. Chips Johnson revived the Maryland Committee, and worked for bicycle improvements in Montgomery County.
WABA sponsored a demonstration and lecture by John Allen, who was promoting his book, The Complete Book of Bicycle Commuting. And led by Ken Hughes, WABA began a series of monthly "Biker Bars." A bar would be selected where WABA members could meet and socialize. Unfortunately, only two or three people would show up.
The Greater Washington Area Bicycle Atlas was becoming more out of date. Ed Pitman, President of co-publisher AYH, presented a proposal to the WABA Board to update it. Rolfe Larson took over for WABA, drawing up route evaluation forms and assigning them to riders. Some were even completed. However, when Larson left Washington, the work was scrapped.
In 1982, WABA cosponsored the fundraising Monumental Motion Bike-a-Thon for a second year with the MS Society. However, this year, MS wanted to cut back on the expenses, and the position that Linda Davis had filled the year before was taken over by MS staff. There was less publicity, and the grand prize (which had been $500) was reduced to a Sony Walkman, despite WABA's protests. Eventually, Maxwell, who was handling the Bike-a-Thon for WABA, convinced MS that a big prize was needed, but it was added only after the initial promotional materials were prepared.
Maxwell complained that she had to spend too much time on the Bike-a-Thon with inadequate support from MS. Though WABA volunteers came out for the day of the event, few were involved in the planning process, placing additional burdens on her. Also, WABA's profits were reduced from 40 percent to 20 percent, so it seemed that WABA was doing more work for less.
One hundred fewer riders turned out in 1982, and the gross income dropped by $15,000. This meant that WABA's income from the event was only $3,687, little more than a third the previous year's total. WABA blamed MS and MS blamed WABA for the poor show. The two parties mutually agreed to terminate their joint sponsorship of a bike-a-thon.
Gessel believed that the key to establishing a permament bicycle advocacy presence in Washington was maintaining a permanent, full-time professional staff member. The annual bike-a-thon was the only sure way he knew to raise that kind of money. Therefore, as President, he felt it was essential to re-establish the bike-a-thon to create a large, dependable source of unrestricted funds. However, it was a gamble. There was not enough money to keep the organization going with a half-time staff and to hire a bike-a-thon staff. And, it could be years before the bike-a-thon turned the kind of profit on which he counted. However, he felt without a steady income and a permanent staff, WABA would be doomed to continue the same hand-to-mouth existence it had during much of its life and that other bicycle advocacy groups around the country faced.
Gessel recruited old bike-a-thon hand Linda Davis to help him find a new cosponsor. They settled on the American Cancer Society (ACS), D.C. Division, which agreed to WABA's terms. MS insisted that WABA retire the "Monumental Motion" name, so Gessel came up with a new name, "Capital Motion," which was a pun on the previous bike-a-thon—and an obscure pun if there ever was one.
WABA retained the bike-a-thon numbering, calling the 1983 event the "3rd Annual Capital Motion Bike-a-Thon." Under the new arrangement, the ball was solely in WABA's court. WABA stood to make half the profits, but in return, WABA was required to provide all up-front costs and to assume complete financial responsibility. It was a gamble.
Hughes and Gessel interviewed one candidate for the Bike-a-Thon staff position, Ted Watkins, a roller skating messenger who knew Davis. Watkins didn't have much experience, but he was willing to work for the little salary that WABA could offer and there was no time to interview anyone else.
WABA spent almost $3,900 on the Bike-a-Thon, but it netted a profit just short of $7,000. That was the equivalent of a lot of membership dues. Even more important, it was the beginning of a consistent money raising engine and could be counted on to move WABA toward a more professional organization.
WABA and ACS produced the 4th Annual Capital Motion Bike-a-Thon the following year. Gessel stayed on as General Chairman, but the staff was Ellen Jones, wife of Board member Jim McCarthy. Jones was a lucky choice for the job. "She went at it as if she were on a mission from God," Linda Keenan observed. "Ellen just felt a tremendous interest and loyalty for WABA." The profits from that year's event were not much more than from the previous year, but the lack of big improvement only seemed to fire up Jones for the next round.
During the tremendous outpouring of WABA external activities, inside, WABA was going downhill fast. Ronkin did not place the same priority that her predecessor did on membership, and no one on the Board would take over the key position of Chairman of the Membership Committee. In the spring, new memberships failed to come in at the same rate as previous years. Bob Oram's Treasurer's Report for May 1982 showed expenses of almost $3,000 with income of $500. Still, there were few efforts to bring in new members or to cut spending. Only five new members were recruited in June, and membership fell 200 below the level for the same period the previous year.
Ronkin hired Ron Yarashus as an intern for more than $100 a month, but his efforts seemed to have little effect on membership recruitment. When he left at the end of the summer, he was given a $10 gift certificate for Eddie Bauer's, which the Board minutes noted would buy him half a pair of shorts. Still, some Board members never could figure out why he was hired or what he did.
A good deal of discussion at Board meetings early in the year focused on what to do with the Bike-a-Thon funds. The Board agreed to a number of projects, but as it discussed them in meeting after meeting, the funds dwindled, and all that was ultimately purchased from the original list was a portable electric typewriter.
But WABA did make other purchases, such as a full-color, 25-minute film, "Cycling Under Your Own Power" and a bicycle trailer. For the first time in its history, WABA published six 16-page bimonthly issues of Ride On! This, along with increased activities, drained WABA's financial reserves at an unprecedented rate.
During autumn, Maxwell named Gessel to chair an ad hoc Finance Committee to figure out what to do about WABA's impending new crisis. At the October Board meeting, Gessel's report predicted that WABA would go bankrupt in less than a year. He estimated that WABA could survive by cutting monthly staff expenses by two-thirds, increasing members, and cutting back on all other expenses. The Board then agreed to phase out Ronkin's position.
When Gessel took over as President, he cut back on everything possible to preserve working capital for the next year's Bike-a-Thon. Ride On! was reduced from sixteen pages to four, but it became a monthly newsletter. Gessel was determined to keep WABA staffed with volunteers as a cost-cutting measure. However, the paperwork burden grew burdensome for burned-out Board members, and it was difficult to get other volunteers to come into the office on a regular basis to process memberships and return telephone calls.
Gessel protested when Board members wanted to dip into the WABA treasury to pay for a staff member. However, eventually he just got tired of all the work, and the Board authorized a new position. By the following summer, Susan Palmer, a self-styled hard-core bicyclist, was hired as Office Manager. Unfortunately, Palmer was not able to tame the WABA organizational dragon. Ken Moskowitz a newcomer to Washington, described the office this way: "There was pretty much pandemonium. It took months for a new member to be acknowledged and the material to be sent out...People had sent money in, had ordered something, had tried to get information, had tried to get help from the legal panel, and they weren't getting any answer at all. There was no one there to help them."
To further plague the organization, WABA faced another disaster when it changed its mailing list procedures. Bers had long complained that it was difficult to recruit members during the active summer months when their membership would expire in a few months. As a Board member, he pushed for a membership that would last twelve months, regardless of when the member joined. There was some vague warnings from the old timers about the kind of accounting problem which had led to the great membership loss before the crisis of 1977. Oram and Ostrowski also backed the idea, and they formed a committee to look into a computerized mailing list service that could take care of the difficult record keeping.
WABA contracted with EPACO, a mailing list firm in Arlington. Unfortunately, the mailing labels were consistently full of mistakes. WABA ended up switching mailing services to a firm called CLESA, based in Annandale. That firm, too, ended up in disaster, with many WABA names lost from the list. Worse, WABA was unable to send the appropriate renewal letters, and more members were lost.
Randy Swart and his wife, Barbara, came to the rescue on WABA's mailing list problem by agreeing to manage the list on their home computer. That solved one problem, but many hours were spent going through the remnants of the old list.
If most internal affairs were going poorly, at least Ride On! caused the Board little grief. After setting a record for longevity, in mid-1983 Matson turned the reigns over to Ken Moskowitz, a newcomer to Washington whose only job was ushering at the Kennedy Center. Moskowitz continued the newsletter's style and on-time performance and he further maintained the high quality of the newsletter in both appearance and writing.
Moskowitz ended up spending more and more time on WABA, and eventually took a job in the office of AYH across the hall. Then, in August 1983, the Board agreed to hire him for eight hours a week to help straighten out the office mess. Ken saved the office from total disaster when Susan Palmer suddenly left. He standardized some procedures and coordinated some volunteers, but he was only able to deal with the emergencies. There was no other solution: WABA needed an Office Manager.
WABA advertised for the position but none of the responses were promising. However, a January 1984 notice in Ride On! was spotted by Linda Keenan, a former employee at Defenders of Wildlife, who had just returned to Washington after traveling in Europe. Keenan, who called herself an "instant bicycle commuter," had been bicycling for only about a month when she saw a poster for WABA's Bike-to-Work Day. "I couldn't believe there was a group around doing things for bicyclists," she recalled, and after a call to the WABA answering machine, she succeeded in getting in touch with Bers.
Keenan helped out with the Bike-to-Work Day and wanted to do more for WABA. "I was really impressed by the WABA helmet study," she recalled. "I felt that here was a group that was really doing something. They weren't a frills group. They really had achieved something solid."
Keenan was unemployed at the time, but in the fall she went back to work for Defenders of Wildlife on a temporary basis, and did volunteer work for Multinational Monitor, a Ralph Nader publication. She wanted a more substantial job than the WABA position, but "I felt so interested in bicycling... Bicycling was a happy sort of issue. I really liked what the group was trying to do."
Moskowitz and Hughes interviewed Keenan and were immediately impressed. She was hired in February 1984. Initially, she had to straighten out the mess that was the result of months of neglect. She was assisted by Hughes, recently elected WABA President. Hughes, a daily bicycle commuter who had come into WABA through Peter Harnik and the Earth Day Bike-ln of 1980.
Keenan's job description called for twelve hours a week at $4.50 an hour. That was increased to fifteen hours that summer. However, Keenan, who at first had no other job, worked closer to full-time in the WABA office. Hughes, who became unemployed about this time, also spent a great deal of time working in the WABA office. "It would have been a little bit overwhelming. Ken had a lot to do with stabilizing the situation," she said. A few months later, Keenan took a part-time job at the Library of Congress, and had to cut her hours back to twenty per week.
Keenan devoted a lot of her efforts to building up the membership, which had started to decline in the absence of anyone pushing recruiting. Keenan also made a vigorous effort for membership renewals, including calling everyone whose membership expired. In doing so, she discovered that about 15 percent of all members moved out of the area each year. Also, about half of all new members who failed to renew had joined WABA because they thought it was a recreational club and they weren't interested in bicycle advocacy.
"That was an interesting fact to learn because if you didn't know that, you could make all kinds of wild predictions about membership, which WABA used to do. WABA used to think it could practically double its membership in a year, and you can't do anything like that if you have a low renewal rate," Keenan recalled.
Membership recruitment of blacks—a majority of D.C. residents—remained an illusive goal.
Still, Keenan's aggressive recruitment and skillful recordkeeping paid off. Also, Hughes initiated a successful membership recruitment contest. By November 1984, there were 635 dues-paying members on the rolls. While that was less than the highs of the early 1980s, for the first time in anyone's memory, the Board actually believed the figures.