Note: This article was originally published in The Overcast.
Our city’s new Bike Task Force proposed a cycling pilot project last month that was roundly defeated in Council.
As Council’s Chief Cycling Supporter, I’m obviously disappointed. But my overwhelming feeling is that this is a success.How could I possibly see things that way? Let me explain.
The City’s 2009 Cycling Master Plan led to new markings and signs all over the city, bike lanes that disrupted parking, and people who were confused and angry. The plan stalled.
When Council decided to finally revive and review the Master Plan, I made sure to say that previous efforts were not in vain; we had not “failed.”
Quite the opposite: our Cycling Master Plan implemented new policies and developed new infrastructure. The City actually tried something that we can now learn from.
Enter our new “Bike St. John’s Task Force,” a group of residents and City staff (plus me) who are trying to see if we can find a way to enable safe cycling in our fair metropolis.
The first question we had to answer was whether we should allow residents to park in bike lanes (it had been allowed during winter months). We said “not yet” so we could work on the full plan before removing signs and lines.
To come up with a solid plan, however, we need information – cold hard data about what can or cannot work in St. John’s. So we proposed a pilot project.
The proposal was to allow cycling on our popular trail around Quidi Vidi Lake. We’d observe the interactions between cyclists and other users and determine how to proceed.
This proposal didn’t go over well with Council, who rejected our request to give it a shot.
So how is this a success? Well, because it’s a failure — and as our vibrant entrepreneurial community shows us, failure can be the best teacher.
Here’s what we can learn for our next attempt to advance cycling in St. John’s.
First and foremost, in our rush to announce the project and get a full summer, we skipped over Council’s Community Services standing committee, generally a key step in the normal decision-making process.
By fast-tracking our proposal, we caught Council off-guard by proposing — publicly, and without warning — a new idea, the sort of which has in the past been met with cries of grief from residents.
There are several lessons here. Council and the public are not familiar with pilot projects, and these should be better explained. Council needs time to consider requests before voting on them. We should introduce and discuss ideas with Council and the public before implementing them (a pilot project feels very real).
There was a very real risk that, because Council and the public did not fully buy into the idea of a “pilot project,” this attempt would have been a failure from the beginning.
In other words, because the pilot project ended before it began, we are now able to rejig the idea, engage the public, and implement something that everyone can understand and be a part of.
In the small business and startup community there’s an expression, “fail fast.” It’s meant in a positive way to quickly identify what doesn’t work, learn from it, and move on instead of dwelling on mistakes.
I think we’ve failed in the right direction.