I have met him in dozens of cities. He tells everyone in government that he represents an enormous grass roots organisation. He tells everyone in that grass roots organisation that he is on a first name basis with all the politicians and city planners. He is the Pharisee of bicycle advocacy—in which case, I am Jesus cleansing the temple.
Pompous biblical allusions aside, you have to get rid of this bottom feeder if you have one in your town. He is recognisable by his eagerness to control what you say. He has been flattering the planners for years, telling them their mild interventions are really appreciated by all of the cyclists for whom he speaks. But nothing could be further from the truth. Cyclists are notorious whiners, some wanting no infrastructure but lower speed limits and an eye-for-an-eye each time a comrade is killed, and others (like me) wanting complete segregation of bikes and cars. None of us support what officials are doing. Remind us again, who speaks for us?
In my experience, cities can be neatly divided between those making progress thanks to radical advocacy groups (like Transportation Alternatives in New York), and ones that are still painting staccato bike lanes in door zones. The latter so often have a Pharisee positioned as an intermediary between city hall and suffering riders.
When I get around to finally writing a novel with characters drawn from my time in the bike-planning world, my political weasel will have many failed marriages and failed businesses to his credit. Each time an ex-wife or business partner has left him penniless, he has rediscovered the bike and gotten involved in bike advocacy merely as a way of masking his shame. I choose to ride, he tells himself. Last time this happened to him, the president of the bike users group was stepping down, and no-one else was putting their hand up. He’s been in there ever since. Heading a bike advocacy group may seem like a very roundabout way of networking for odd jobs falling your way, but our Pharisee aint exactly drowning in options.
Thankfully, the bike advocacy scene isn’t typified by these sorts of characters. They usually don’t stick around.