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Should the Toronto Cyclists Union change their name to Cycle Toronto?

 

Just over a week ago, the Toronto Cyclists Union let their members know that they were thinking of changing their name to “Cycle Toronto“, which is to be held to a  vote on May 2nd at their next Annual General Meeting.

I’ve included excerpts from that announcement below (click here for the full text), and then following that, some links to arguments for and against the change, as well as some questions that I’ve had as I’ve been mulling over the proposed change.

2011 was an amazing year for our organization. Through our shared efforts, we were able to double our membership from 1,018 to over 2,100 since our last AGM. In the meantime we’ve worked as a group to refer new members, both through word of mouth and our Refer-A-Rider Campaign. We’ve found amazing local business partners who now reward our membership through the Member Discount Program, giving us new inroads to the business community. We’ve continued to advocate for the changes Toronto must make to ensure that cyclists are treated as equals on the road, leading the charge to Save Jarvis while continuing to push for expanded Complete Streets infrastructure across the city. We helped keep cyclists safe through our Get Lit campaign and, along with our volunteers, spoke with thousands of Torontonians about our mission and cause. Truly we have many reasons to celebrate.

Over the past years, we have run into unexpected pockets of resistance when applying for grants as well as in recruiting business members and individual donors. There is a large group of cyclists in Toronto that don’t feel connected to our organization, and they have often expressed that our current name is largely responsible for that disconnect. Considering all of the positive impacts that we want to have as an organization, the Board of Directors does not want our name to prevent a single cyclist from joining our organization. Our strategy and trajectory demands that we be accessible and essential for everyone who rides in Toronto, and we feel that now – as we are poised for record growth – is the time to address this issue.

In the next few weeks, you’ll be receiving the agenda for our AGM, scheduled for May 2, 2012. The board requests your support in changing our name, not as a change of direction, but as a step towards better alignment with our current strategy and in an effort to ensure we are able to reach as many of our fellow riders, and other street users, as possible. We feel that the future of this organization is much brighter, and the possibilities greater, with a new moniker: Cycle Toronto.

At the AGM, we would like your support when we a vote to accept the new name. According to our bylaws, a two-thirds majority of member voters at the AGM will carry the name change.

Dave Meslin (you may know him as “Mez”) who was the driving force behind the initial founding of the Union posted a blog post that laid out why the name should NOT be changed.  I recommend you read the full post yourself, but his main points break down as follows:

  1. Toronto Cyclists Union Branding: there are tons of existing t-shirts, buttons, tents, booklets, flyers, and stickers. Changing the name essentially makes all of this stuff useless for branding
  2. Search Engine Optimization: will people be able to find (formerly) Union work if it’s under a new name?
  3. Administrative Effort: Changing the name on forms, bank accounts, receipts, invoices, templates, etc. etc.

You should also read the comments on Mez’s post.  People make a lot of good points (some of which I’ll include below in my questions).

Nick Cluley, who is on the Board of Directors of the Union, has also written a post FOR the name change (again, I encourage you to read the full post), which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Marketing Plan: There will be a plan for the name transition.  There will be some overlap in the names for a certain time.
  2. Little Control of Name: Lots of names are currently used for the organization – Toronto Cyclists Union, Bike Union, TCU, BU… so let’s change it to assert more control.
  3. Less Politicization of Cycling: The word “Union” (even though it’s not a labour union) alienates cyclists on the right of the political spectrum as well as some companies and organizations.  Let’s make cycling apolitical, and the organization more powerful in terms of finances and representation of Toronto’s cyclists.

Finally, here are my questions about the name change.  I’m only one member of the Union, and I think a good job will be done by Jared, Andie, and all the many many volunteers no matter what the name is… but I also realize that BikingToronto is widely read, so instead of coming down on one side of the debate, I’ll simply ask some questions which should be addressed or thought about by the Union’s Board of Directors and Union members when they consider their vote.

  1. Branding: Branding is extremely important.  Your name and logo is how people know you.  If the Union is considering changing their name to Cycle Toronto, they need to consider how the name will impact branding.  Is the phrase “Cycle Toronto” available on Twitter? Facebook Page addresses? Website URLs? Flickr? Pinterest? Instagram? etc. etc.  Currently the Toronto Cyclists Union has a “bikeunion.to” URL for their website, which has people calling it the Bike Union (myself included – it’s far easier to say and write)… are we looking at the possibility of Cycle Toronto having a CycleTO.ca  or Cycle.to or some other website URL or facebook page?  Whatever the name, branding has to be consistent.  The simpler the name, the more likelihood it will be “taken” in the digital sphere.  A unique name is much easier to establish consistent brand identity for.
  2. Why Cycle Toronto?  I’ve seen quite a few comments about the blandness of the name Cycle Toronto.  It is a rather generic name (I know, I know… “Biking Toronto” isn’t super-exciting – it was chosen because I wanted the site name to reflect what the site was about) and frankly, kind of forgettable.  It has no “personality” (yet)  and could be confused with any Toronto cycling organization, club, website, or even bikestore.  The other thing that I think Union members should know or think about is HOW “Cycle Toronto” was chosen.  Was it one of many names considered?  Why that one?  Why wasn’t there a vote on what the name should be changed to?
  3. Is it Inclusive or Exclusive?  The one reason for the proposed name change which seems to have most people talking is the fact that the word “Union” is repugnant to those individuals and organizations and companies on the right of the political spectrum.  So, Cycle Toronto is more inclusive, politically…. but it will probably alienate the initial, core left-wing cyclists and activists which started the Toronto Cyclists Union.  As well, and this is just semantics and optics… does changing the name to Cycle Toronto take the emphasis off “cyclists” and the concept of “strength in numbers” and put the emphasis on chasing and securing financial contributions and grants from companies and organizations.  It could be perceived as such, even if that is not the case.
  4. “Union” isn’t the Problem: There is nothing wrong with using the word “Union” to describe a coming together of cyclists in a common purpose.  That is the definition of the word.  Just because the political right equates any use of the word “union” with labour rights and strikes and the “left” does not mean it is wrong to use. Perhaps an education campaign is what is called for?
  5. Alternate Names: Can alternate names be considered that get away from using “Union” but still keeps the spirit of the organization and the reputation it has built over the past few years?  Is there a name that is distinctive, appeals to all political philosophies, and represents the coming together of all cyclists and organizations interested in making cycling better in Toronto?  Toronto Cycling Alliance? Toronto Cycling Coalition? Toronto Bike League?  Toronto Bike Alliance?  Toronto Bikes?  Toronto Bike ____?

 

There we go.  Read the full announcement from the Toronto Cyclists Union.  Read Mez’s post.  Read Nick’s Post.  Consider the questions raised in those posts and the comments on those posts.  Consider the questions I’ve posed, and come up with questions of your own.

Finally, if you’re a member of the Bike Union, go to the Annual General Meeting on May 2nd and vote.  It would be a shame if a minority of members actually voted on this change.  A two-thirds majority of voting members is what is needed to change the name.

The Bike Union has also set up a “Name Change Conversation” website to help facilitate discussion.

I hope this post is useful to you.  Writing it helped solidify and organize questions I had about the name change.

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