Irwin continued his efforts to increase membership, setting a personal goal of reaching 1000 by the end of the summer of 1979. The cover of the June-July issue of Ride On! was a graph showing the rise of membership from under 100 in September 1979 to almost 400 by May 1979, with optimistic estimates leading to 1000 by August. The campaign was a flop. Membership peaked at about 460 before the beginning of the new membership year.
Inadequate finances was the perennial problem resulting from WABA's consistently over estimating membership projections, and underestimating expenses. By the April 1979 Board meeting, Treasurer Jeremy Parker was warning that WABA had only $821 and WABA would be out of business in a few months. Somehow, WABA limped through the summer under an austerity plan, which included a $200 personal loan from the Treasurer after the WABA bank account went dry.
At the end of 1979, Irwin left WABA after his two year stint. The position was filled by Bob Bers, an experienced bicycle commuter from New York City. The Board was particularly impressed with his background as a consumer advocate. Like Irwin, Bers set a goal of increasing membership to 1000 by the end of the year.
However, membership was slow in coming, and during most of the year, WABA was on the brink of financial disaster. Parker, again warned in March that WABA had only enough money to pay for the next newsletter, but nothing else. The next month, after WABA spent $200 on new membership brochures, there was just barely enough money to get by.
Eventually, the membership apparently did come in. The last Ride On! of the year reported membership at 937, the highest ever recorded for WABA. The following year membership almost reached 860, while if not keeping WABA in luxury, staved on dark warnings from the new Treasurer, Joe Ostrowski at least, for a little while.
At the end of 1980, when AYH moved to an office in the hostel it operated at 1332 I Street, N.W., WABA moved along with it. The rent was $108, double what WABA paid for its shared space. But this time, WABA got its own office, complete with a bathroom and shower, though later the tub was filled up with overflowing WABA archives. The rent also included some additional storage space.
The search for funds led WABA to consider an offer made in the fall of 1980 by the Society for the Prevention of Blindness, which wanted to put on a fundraising bike-a-thon with WABA. Harpold and Mollie Isaacs negotiated with POB, and a contract was drawn up to put on a bike-a-thon in May 1981.
A few months later, POB backed out, but coincidentally, the Multiple Sclerosis Society came to WABA with another offer. After a contentious meeting, the Board agreed to the offer, which sparked one Board member to walk out.
At first, Monica Maxwell headed up the WABA bike-a-thon committee, and coined its name, "Monumental Motion," a weak pun that probably few noticed. Later, Katie Moran later took over for Maxwell. To staff the event, WABA hired Linda Davis, a hard worker who put in 60 hour weeks for minimal pay.
The Monumental Motion Bike-a-Thon did not meet the high projections set by MS, but by WABA standards, it had to have been a success. About 375 riders logged a total of 12,000 miles, raising $37,000. Expenses were $12,000, which had all been borne by MS. WABA's share, 40% of the profits, came out to be $9,660.73.
WABA didn't receive the check until the end of the summer, which was none too soon. In a matter of weeks, a financially starved WABA already started drawing down from the funds for operating expenses.
With all the appearances of a successful organization, WABA had an easier time than ever before attracting candidates for the Board. In the elections of 1979 and 1980, there were actually more candidates than vacancies on the Board.
The 1981 Board, elected at the end of the previous year, was exceptionally strong in management and bicycle expertise. The President was Peter Harnik, who had extensive experience working on environmental issues, political organizing, writing, and public relations. The secretary was Leslie Baldwin, who worked in the Office of Environment in the Department of Transportation. Some of the Board members included John Harpold, a management expert with the United States Postal Service; Katie Moran, Executive Director of the Bicycle Federation, a national bicycle research and promotion group; Bill Wilkinson, Director of programs at the Bicycle Manufacturers Institute and former Bicycle Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Transportation; and Michael Gessel, press secretary to a Congressman.
Unfortunately all that expertise meant strong opinions, which often led to acrimonious discussions at Board meetings. Executive Director Bob Bers was often at odds with some Board members, and he became a casualty of high Board expectations. The Board demanded a closer accounting of his time and it rewrote Bers' job description into a position that was virtually impossible for a part-time employee. A Grievance Committee was formed to look into problems between Bers and the Board. Bers thought the solution was to hire him full time, but the Board thought the solution was to fire him. Finally, Bers resigned after a stint of nearly two years, effective October 31, 1981. He left on amicable terms. three weeks later running for a seat on the Board.
At the beginning of 1979, the editorship of Ride On! passed to Michael Gessel, a newcomer to Washington who was named to the position after one evening of stuffing envelopes. Gessel brought a more consistent style and graphic flair to the newsletter, even if he couldn't get each issue out on time. He redesigned the flag, typeset the headlines, and neatened the layout. The changes led Irwin to complain in one Executive Director's report, "Our newsletter is getting so polished, so classy, so professional, that it doesn't look like we need help."
During this period, Ride On! was more of a magazine than a newsletter. A new feature, "Wheel People," spotlighted local bicycle personalities. Another feature. "Bike Shop Beat" covered news of local bike shops. Ride On! ran more opinion articles, including an often heated series on the pros and cons of bike lanes touched off by Parker's polemic, "Why I Hate Bike Lanes." It also carried general features on bicycle riding in the Washington area, and included tips on bicycle commuting.
When Gessel gave up the magazine editorship after two years, he had established a tradition of stability that had not been seen since the days of Cary Shaw. The new editor was Susan Matson, a Board member who was already an experienced Ride On! volunteer. She kept the issues similar in appearance, and got them out on time regularly -- a first for a Ride On! Editor
A top WABA priority was public relations and promotion of bicycle commuting. WABA's most successful public event was the Earth Day Bike-In of 1980, held on the tenth anniversary of the 1970 national Earth Day. It was similar in form to previous WABA bike-to-work days, with bicycle caravans from various neighborhoods descending on Lafayette Park for a rally.
However, with thirty planned caravans, plus another twenty "unofficial" caravans, and a spectacular roster of speakers, this bike-in was executed on a scale which has probably never been equaled by any bicycle commuting event in the U.S. The before-work rally featured U.S. Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt, Representative Glenn Anderson, Senator Paul Tsongas, Deputy Energy Secretary John Sawhill, and Dennis Christopher, star of the motion picture Breaking Away.
The event, planned by WABA newcomer Peter Harnik, drew an estimated total of 3,000 bikers who participated in some part of the commute or rally. So enthusiastic were the participants of the rally that when a hat was passed to collect money to help defray costs, $500 was collected in a matter of minutes. The money raised from the event, plus the influx of membership dues, probably staved WABA off from bankruptcy.
As another effort to increase commuting, WABA started a Pedal Pool, a referral service for new commuters who wanted someone to ride with. About 360 WABA members filled out forms describing their routes. According to organizer Fred Dodd, who followed Randy Swart as President, potential commuters could then be matched with an experienced bicycle rider who followed a similar route. The information compiled for the Pedal Pool was later used by the Council of Governments for its bicycle route map. The Pedal Pool was given wide news coverage, including write-ups in the Washington Post and McCalls Magazine.
WABA also launched the National Bike-Sidy Program to promote the purchase of bicycles for commuting. The program, administered by WABA, was conceived by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and was sponsored by fourteen national public interest groups. Under the plan, any of the organizations' full-time employees who purchased a bicycle and pledged to use it for commuting would receive a $20 rebate.
Another priority which received more attention was services to its members, such as getting local bike shops to offer discounts to WABA members. The discount varied between 5% and 10%, which could be substantial on the purchase of a new bike, and would more than make up for the cost of joining WABA.
Another service WABA offered was a bicycle commuting course taught by Leslie Baldwin, Monica Maxwell, Fred Dodd, and Dennis Szuhay. The two session class was offered several times. WABA also offered a bicycle repair course taught by Jim Buchanan.
The legal panel continued, though Will Jourdin changed jobs and had less time to spend on WABA. It was taken over by panel member Ed Kearney, who was Executive Director of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances.
The annual meetings became more educational and entertaining. Consequently, attendance rose. The annual meeting of 1979 was attended by about 75, nearly twice the number who came the year before. The program was a speech by Susan Weaver, Assistant Editor of Bicycling Magazine and the showing of two short films. Door prices were given out and Proteus Design had a display of hand built frames. Baldwin's account of the meeting printed in Ride On! said, "We were having so much fun we almost forgot there was business to attend to: election of new Board members!"
The following year, attendance at the annual meeting hit a record 125 people. There were exhibits about AYH, Bikes on Metrorail, and an audiovisual tour of Montgomery County bike paths. A program consisted of reports, awards, announcements, and Harnik's recapping the highlights of the year. Harnik also presented a slide of bicycle facilities in Europe.
The next year, the guest speaker at the general membership meeting was Canadian activist Bob Silverman.
As bicycling was becoming institutionalized in Washington, the action was shifting away from WABA. Part of this was due to Eileen Kadesh, who had returned to her role of District Bicycle Coordinator, thus becoming both Pendleton's predecessor and successor. A number of WABA members served on the District Transportation Department's Bicycle Task Force, which in some ways took over WABA's role in providing citizen input. It was Kadesh who took the lead in compiling a list of locations in the city where accidents were most numerous.
With some pushing from WABA, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) expanded its bicycle locker program. But here again, the results were no so much the result of confrontation, but suggestion. The program also had Kadesh's backing. Bicycle improvements were more likely to be the result of subtle pressure from WABA as part of a coalition. For example, WABA worked with the League of American Wheelmen and Virginia bicycling organizations to win approval from the Virginia State legislature to grant bicyclists the rights of vehicles on public roads.
Though WABA may have given more attention during this period to financial survival, membership building, and public relations, WABA did not abandon aggressive advocacy. Leading the list of successes were those compiled by the constantly active Virginia committee, led by Nina Rowe, and later John Harpold. Projects included Arlington Cemetery bicycle restrictions, Roosevelt Bridge, the I-66 bike path, and the W&OD Railroad right of way. Nearly every issue of Ride On! was full of news of the Virginia committee's many activities which affected virtually all bicycle facility developments in Northern Virginia. WABA members had an especially large role in shaping the I-66 bike trail. The Virginia Department of Highways took many of WABA's suggestions, including widening certain parts, eliminating dangerous grades and curves. The Virginia committee also won improvements to the Mt. Vernon bike trail and influenced the W&OD trail.
The D.C. and Maryland Committees rarely kept pace with the activist Virginia Committee, but they too met and considered facilities and government relations issues.
The fight to bring bikes on Metrorail dragged on, with WABA members Nancy Wyeth and David Strom in the lead. At the end of 1979 WMATA agreed to a test involving twelve bicyclists. It was a small victory, but WABA kept up the pressure. Strom put together the Citizens Coalition for Bikes on Metro which conducted a demonstration on September 6, 1980, outside the Smithsonian Metro stop. About twenty bicyclists protested the delay in allowing bikes on Metrorail. They carried onto a subway car a full-sized cardboard cutout of a bicycle to show how easily bikes could be wheeled into the cars. However, when they tried to take in an actual bicycle, they were stopped. The story was covered by the Post, as well as by television and radio news broadcasts.
That December, the D.C. Council held a hearing on the Bikes-on-Metrorail proposal. With behind-the-scenes support from Kadesh, and the active involvement of the Coalition, WABA, and other bicycle groups, the meeting was packed. About 35 members testified in person and 50 letters were entered into the record in support of the proposal. Only two speakers testified against the proposal. Unfortunately, one represented the D.C. Fire Department.
The next step came in April 1981 when WMATA agreed to a 6-month test program allowing bikes on Metrorail cars on weekends. The program was finally made permanent when the WMATA Board met in December. Thus, nine years after WABA members discussed the idea of bicycles on Metrorail at WABA's first meeting, the program became a reality.
Harnik, who was elected WABA President at the end of 1980, devoted much of his time to expanding the use of Rock Creek Park to bicyclists. At the time, only one small stretch of Beach Drive was closed to automobile traffic during the summer months
In early 1981, WABA testified at a National Park Service public hearing and recommended that four stretches of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park be permanently closed to cars. The proposal was not smooth sailing; the powerful American Automobile Association came out against the proposal. Harnik organized People's Alliance to Save Rock Creek (P.A.R.C.), a coalition of bicycle, environmental, outdoors-related organizations. Much of the support service for P.A.R.C. came from WABA. Even P.A.R.C.'s money was kept in the WABA bank account
In addition to Harnik, much of the effort came from Michael Replogle, then a transportation planning expert with Public Technology, Inc. Replogle helped prepare testimony and made presentations before several District Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and to District transportation officials.
By the end of 1981, WABA had achieved some success. With WABA members on hand, Rock Creek Park Superintendent Jim Redmont cut an orange ribbon on August 29 expanding the carfree time to Saturdays.
WABA continued its involvement in the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation. Earlier efforts to establish a bicycle path had failed. Now, WABA began working with officials to improve parking on the Avenue.
The WABA helmet test panel, which had languished during the dark days, was revived by Swart. Swart was a true believer in bicycle helmets. While living in France, he couldn't find one, so he wore a construction helmet while riding. Swart's faith in bicycle helmets probably saved his life in 1977 when he hit a taxicab near the Lincoln Memorial
When he took over the study, Swart found that WABA's helmet samples were stored in closets all over Washington, and he had trouble getting them back. Rather than rely on such a geographically diverse group of testers, Swart recruited other bicyclists who used the bike room where he worked to serve on the new panel. "It was a quantum leap in speed," Swart recalls. "I could catch people every morning and get helmets on and off them."
In October 1979, WABA published the Bicycle Helmet Wearability Study, an 18 page booklet similar in format to Ride On! The study rated eleven different helmets, plus the category of leather hairnets, and discussed such factors as general comfort, ventilation, sweat control, style, and interference with eyeglasses. It also contained a section of general information, including the need for bicyclists to wear helmets. The information was given national distribution through an article in Bicycling Magazine.
In June 1980, 22-year old bicycle messenger Mary Gaffney was killed by a truck in Georgetown. The driver of the truck was given fines for minor traffic violations, and not cited for criminal negligence. The death had a strong effect among some WABA members. One such member was Carl Modig, who felt that WABA should do something to prevent this kind of accident from happening in the future.
WABA created a special investigative Task Force, which faulted the District court's decision. A year after the accident, the Board voted to establish the Mary Gaffney Memorial Fund which would solicit donations to be used to promote helmet use.