I've been on the Little Rock mayor's Bike Friendly Community Committee for the past year. The committee itself was formed several years ago to provide review of the city's infrastructure and policies alongside a sort of list of ideal practices one would find in a city friendly to cyclists of all kinds. Little Rock can't become Portland overnight, but by choosing things that would be simple and low-cost, we could make real progress toward treating cyclists and pedestrians well and providing safe space for all road users. Sounds good, right?
It was useful and worthwhile work, I'd thought. I was aware that there were problems - that the specific structure of LR's city government made progress of this kind difficult, and that there were people on the committee itself who were happy with the status quo, who would be difficult for me to work with. I knew it would be time consuming, and that I'd have to go to a lot of meetings. (I hate meetings.)
But it LOOKED like a committee where a useful person could sit and make a difference. I mostly observed things for a couple of months, at first. I started speaking up, then. I started making suggestions and taking responsibility for projects. The suggestions were good ones and the projects went well. I began keeping good notes and lists, and ended up being the committee's secretary for the last half of the year. I led several meetings when the chair was out of town, and people always said that those meetings were the best ones, and that felt good to me.
This past summer, though, what had seemed like progress took a nose dive. The city management, formerly at least paying lip service to the idea of bike infrastructure, took an important document we'd drafted and swapped it for something meaningless, then presented it to the group as if they really thought we wouldn't notice. They started breaking promises to us - and to the bicycling community - with no apology or explanation. They'd done it before, but it got really egregious - a major improvement they'd promised on record at the beginning of the summer was completely taken off the table, and when we reminded them, they acted as if we were silly for even asking about the project.
The bike committee had never been at the top of the city's priority list, but it's become clear that we're now at the very bottom.
In the past year, I've really tried hard to make a difference. I've made allies and I made enemies, and I've spent a whole lot of time and effort on cycling advocacy, but in the end, I've realized that I've done no good at all.
I submitted a very direct letter of resignation to the mayor today. My boss read it and said it should be toned down quite a bit. I sent it without his suggested edits, and I copied the other committee members.
It's not that I don't care. I do care. I might care too much, in fact. And that's why I quit.