Advocates run for public office

Bob Smith

With barely six weeks to go before the November election, voters in two California cities will have aunique choice. They may just elect Micah Posner, former executive director of People Power, the local bike advocacy organization in Santa Cruz, and Bob Smith, founder of Bike Bakersfield, to city council seats in their respective cities.

Active transportation advocates running for public office in California is not entirely a new idea. Sen. Michael Rubio of Bakersfield, a State Capitol bike champion, once served on the Bike Bakersfield board.

In Alameda County, Robert Raburn, former executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, was elected to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District board in 2010. For a decade prior to being elected, he chaired a citizen’s watchdog committee to ensure that funds generated by a county transportation tax measure were spent as promised to voters. Raburn also played a direct role in improving BART station accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Robert Raburn

“As a leader of East Bay Bicycle Coalition, I listened to many different bicyclists: commuters, lycra-clad, off-road, racers, pure recreationalists – everyone,” said Raburn. “And that taught me an important lesson I use at BART today. BART has a number of community advisory groups I work with today to elevate their stature, including a small business group, accessibility group, bicyclists and others. We listent to everyone. BART is hitting record ridership levels on a daily basis, reflecting newfound confidents in BART among our customers. I try to build coalitions and I’m still building them.”

Micah Posner is running in a tight race for a full term on the Santa Cruz City Council after having served for 10 years as People Power’s executive director.

Micah Posner

In Bakersfield, Bob Smith is running to complete the remaining two years of the term of a councilmember who was recently elected to the Kern County Board of Supervisors. This month Smith got some good news when his main opponent, a local oil industry attorney, dropped out of the race. The remaining candidate has not campaigned visibly, leaving Smith the presumed winner.

“The public discourse has not historically included significant attention on the quality of life issues that bicycling brings forward,” Smith said recently about what a bike advocate brings to elective office. “I have also begun talking about the street standards and how they affect safety and quality of life. Questioning the traffic engineering standards is a whole new concept here.”

What does all this show? “First, it reflects the public’s acceptance of the importance of quality of life issues,” said Smith. “And second, it reflects advocates’ frustration with trying to get change made externally.”