A Century of the Tube Times
Joel Pomerantz

This essay was published in the Tube Times, newsletter of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, October 2000.

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[For our 100th issue, founding editor Joel Pomerantz waxes nostalgic about the early days of the tubular times—and the Bicycle Coalition that grew around it]

Like all the other printed matter, it was copied and stapled and tossed on the sill at the Hayes Street Freewheel. But there was something that stood out from these pages. The writer had the idea that the reader was a person of action, that together we would address the deep injustice of our automotive society. It was the tubular times's first issue.

After a search through the fiyer, I found a phone number and the name "Dave." Dave was excited to get my call. Before it ended, Dave Snyder had invited me to produce more issues of this substantive little rag and to "meet some people" at a restaurant. After a couple meetings, I organized some articles and went to the one place on Haight Street with computers and laser printers. The owner gave me the bad news: he was going out of business. We cranked out that issue, but to produce more, we had to buy the guy's Mac SE and set up our own desktop publishing business next door, in the back of the copy place at 1685 Haight.

Dave brought his own Mac over as well, and we moved the SFBC "home office" into a loft we built above my shop. The other editor, Peter Meitzler, knew an architect who let us run off a couple hundred copies at his office.

For three years, we held last-minute editing and clip-art parties at EpiCenter DeskTop, and ran the free copiers till they overheated. We argued about whether to continue free, or sell memberships. Our compromise: collect a membership fee of five bucks, for postage and recycled paper.

This collaborative environment put our organizational motto into practice: Those who do the work make the decisions. Our editorial creed (published in the February 1993 issue) came out of that.

We wanted the "tube times" short and to the point, noncommercial, empowering, fun, and unapologeticallyanti-car.

The formula got the attention of a few hundred people, who signed up to get the tubular times in the mail. Almost every one of them got involved far beyond just reading (the Parking and Traffic Commission didn't know what hit them). Based on our success, in 1995 we found a real office and launched the SFBC as an official nonprofit with a board and bylaws.

Meanwhile, Critical Mass was getting going, admired (though not endorsed) in our pages. We started sending free issues to all the bike groups we knew around the country, and new groups began springing up, some using "Bike Coalition" in their names, inspired by our successes. In many cities, bicycling became synonymous with democratic grassroots activism and the creative revamp of power, a case study in the magic of collective efforts.

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