Robert Raburn may be stepping down after 18 years of taking the East Bay Bicycle Coalition to new heights, but he is far from riding into the sunset.
The 55-year-old Oakland resident, who has been executive director and board chairman of the influential advocacy group, said this election year was the right time to get involved in other campaigns.
As someone who has worked with disenfranchised voter groups, Raburn said he wants to be part of the state's legislative redistricting plan and to tackle other political projects. Leaving, he said, "gives me some options."
Coalition members count Raburn's leadership as critical to the group's accomplishments over the past two decades. Raburn, who once held board meetings in his garage, helped the group grow from 300 to its current 2,500 members. The group is a loud voice for safer and expanded access for bicyclists on roadways, in open spaces, on transit systems and in the public consciousness.
Among its many campaigns, the group successfully campaigned for Measure DD, a 2002 plan that improved bike access around Lake Merritt and the 12th Street bridge connecting downtown Oakland to the east side of the lake. The group also has created maps of bike pathways throughout the East Bay, promoted bike-to-work days and lobbied for bike lanes on the Bay Bridge.
"It was a very small group, and he carried it single-handedly and with great enthusiasm and effectiveness," said Tom Ayres, president
"He is very driven and motivated, yet he is very gentle and caring with people. He doesn't come at you ... jumping in your face. He likes to take the time to slow down and explain connections."
Raburn became vice chairman of the group in 1992, then chairman a year later and executive director in 2002. He later expanded the group's reach into Contra Costa County and nearly three dozen East Bay cities. He also encouraged the coalition to open an office in Oakland's Fruitvale district in 2007 and to hire staff to help bolster its profile.
"We didn't have a physical existence anywhere except in his garage and in our minds," Ayres said.
Ayres said the coalition's board would decide in coming weeks how to move forward, whether to continue having a full-time executive director and what its strategic long-term plan will look like. Raburn said he would remain an active member.
As he looked out over bicyclists traversing the 12th Street bridge on a recent sunny morning, Raburn reflected on his years of hard work. He referred to the overpass as "ground zero" for the drive to make the city more bicycle-friendly and environmentally conscious.
He championed biking "so people have an option other than putting the key in the ignition to go buy a quart of milk."
He said the coalition's greatest accomplishment is simply "the integration of bicycling into the overall transportation infrastructure. Whether it's transit or roadways — bicycling is taken into full consideration."
Raburn settled in Oakland in 1979 and got his doctoral degree in land use and geography from UC Berkeley. He lives in the Dimond District, where he works with the Dimond Improvement Association.
A bass guitar player who also wrote a Lonely Planet guide to New Orleans, Raburn said he hopes stepping down from the coalition will give him time to pursue other interests with his wife of 34 years, Pat, a retired Intel plant manager who also bikes regularly.
"After 18 years, we've accomplished a lot, and it's time to move on to other things," Raburn said. "There is never a good time to quit. I wanted to go out on top. This has been an incredible ride."