25 Years of NYBC (and still going!)
(an informal and undoubtedly incomplete history of our statewide advocacy organization)
As we speed past our twenty fifth year, and before a few of us who have been around for a while are permanently off the end of the peloton, we thought it would be fun to try to assemble a history of NYBC.
NYBC Volunteer Era – 1992 to 2000
According to one of our Founders, Ivan Vamos (current Board Member Emeritus), it all started with The Chain Gang, a group of mostly (bike riding) state bureaucrats (Lou Rossi, DOT; Dave Wilcox, DOH, Ivan Vamos, OPRHP) who began to meet monthly around 1990 to discuss how impending federal transportation legislation (eventually ISTEA) might impact New York State to support an expansion in existing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and activities.
Joined over beer and pizza by leaders like Al Cannistraro and Herb Alfasso from the not yet PC named Mohawk Hudson Wheelman (now Cycling Club) The Chain Gang began advocating for bicycles and expanded infrastructure on a number of fronts, particularly in NYC (e.g., the Greenway). It has been said that the creation of NYBC was also an exercise in “penance” – to accomplish in retirement things that could not be done as full-time bureaucrats in a highly constricted state government work environment.
Other founding and early Board members of note include Irene Van Slyke, a health care professional and activist from Brooklyn; legendary bike frame builder and bike manufacturer Ben Serotta; and Eliot Sander, former NYC DOT Commissioner.
Thanks to the efforts of a lawyer involved with the group, in 1993 The Chain Gang officially morphed in to NYBC to become a federal 501(c)3 entity and NYS Charitable Organization. Still a volunteer agency, The Mohawk Hudson Cycling Club provided early funding and support for NYBC’s outreach and statewide mailings (no website back then!), and to this day MHCC remains a strong, consistent and key NYBC supporter.
Other key clubs include the Westchester Cycling Club and the Rochester Bicycling Club. It is safe to say that without MHCC – which as a Capital Region-based club has its own tradition of strong advocacy since inception – there would be no NYBC.
Once ISTEA passed, efforts by state government were greatly accelerated by the entrance of the federally mandated NYS Bike-Ped Coordinator Jeff Olson, now a principal at Alta Planning and well-known national bicycling advocate. In addition to the usual suspect (bike shops and clubs), The Chain Gang also reached out to MPOs, and with John Poorman and the Capital District Transportation Committee, established the first regularly meeting local MPO Bike/Pedestrian Advisory Committee in the State.
To get an early program going in the NY Metropolitan region, Lou Rossi encouraged Ivan Vamos, who had not yet retired from the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) and was regularly in NYC, to help form a bike/pedestrian advisory group for that region. OPRHP served as host for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Committee (NYMTC) NY Metro Bikeway – Walkway Working Group.
With well-focused noon meetings, and a wide range of participants, a landmark Greenway Plan for NYC was developed. With 25 agencies and groups and 15 contributing staff members, listed in the plan adopted in the fall of 1993. In about ten years, much of this 350 mile Greenway was either in planning or under construction, and a commitment toward improving bicycle and pedestrian travel was well underway in the NY Metropolitan area and, with the big exception of the bike-ped facilities still lacking on the Verrazano bridge, the system is now complete..
Because NYBC was envisioned by high level government officials with strong engineering and planning backgrounds the organization – true then and still true now – took on a “real road and trail, real world solutions” zeitgeist. MPOs were targeted as early allies, as were planners and engineers throughout the state, both inside government, at all levels, and in the private or non-profit sector.
NYBC Modern Era – 2001 to present
There would be no NYBC, at least in its current staffed iteration, without the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC), a division of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who awarded NYBC out first grant and remains a consistent anchor funder of our statewide organization. Jim Allen, was NYBC’s original grant administrator and is now GTSC Staff Director.
Thanks to a high level of Board Member expertise – true from the beginning and still true now – NYBC beginning with its first GTSC grant has been able to craft and deliver a wide array of innovative and practical safety related programming – hard copy or CD in the beginning and now much of our deliverables online. We have delivered hundreds of presentations around the state to a wide range of audiences – from local advocacy groups and schools to key planning, engineering and education staff within local, regional and statewide governmental entities.
With an early GTSC grant, NYBC did an analysis of four representative urban counties with high bicycle and pedestrian crashes with motor vehicles. In many locations relatively simple improvements were suggested to improve these dangerous areas, The ground-breaking report Improving Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety, whose purpose was the educate grassroots interest about how to best make changes to bike-ped infrastructure in their communities and regions, was released in 2002 and was distributed widely in NYS and throughout the country, where its approach was truly cutting edge. An updated version remains on our website. (DOT Region 8 reprinted the report for additional distribution).
NYBC was also instrumental in a multiyear effort to establish a Complete Streets Law in NYS as well as in key municipalities. Many groups and individuals contributed to these efforts, culminating in the signing of the law in 2011, and establishing similar laws in 14 municipalities according to State MPO publication. Additional laws advocating “safe routes to schools”, “smart growth” “safe passing” and other efforts to improve safe bicycling were passed with NYBC volunteers providing much of the effort to educate legislators on the importance of these programs. 3’ Safe Passing and the legalization of electric bikes are other legislative issues where NYBC has led but is not yet successful.
There is not enough space in this brief history to acknowledge nearly twenty five years of the smart and steady leadership provided by the many Board Members who have served, and continue to serve, NYBC. Board Member Emeriti Ivan Vamos, Rich DeSarra, Bill Eisenreich and Rich Brustman continue to help NYBC make intelligent and practical decisions. Current NYBC Board Members Harvey Botzman and Lois Chaplin, remain powerful voices of wisdom and reason. NYBC‘s staff and statewide constituency continue to be grateful for our Boards tens of thousands of hours of volunteer service to NYBC during the past quarter century.
Where Are They Now?
As for past NYBC Executive Directors – in chronological order, as far as we know here is where they are and what they are doing:
Paul Winkeller: Current NYBC Executive Director
Nicole Farkas: points unknown
Jesse Day: Regional Planning Director for the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, near Greensboro, NC
Josh Poppel: Executive Director, The Village Bicycle Project, Salt Lake City, Utah
Jenn Clunie: points unknown
Jason Crane: points unknown
Brian Kehoe: City School District, Rochester, New York
Josh Wilson: Executive Director, Barkeater Trails Alliance, Saranac, NY
Lori Torgersen: Greene County Legislator and bike sbop owner
Many thanks to NYBC Board Member Emeriti Ivan Vamos, Bill Eisenreich, Rich DeSarra and Rich Brustman for their help putting this history together, which was compiled by Paul Winkeller, former NYBC Board President and serving in his second stint as NYBC’s Executive Director.