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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bicycle Club Advocacy Basics

What can bicycle clubs do for bicycling advocacy in Tennessee?  

Several years ago, I was appointed to Advocacy Chair for the Harpeth Bike Club.  I knew advocacy was important and we had a strong active membership.  I wasn't completely sure what we needed to do.  Now that I have a little more experience, I hope this post will provide some some guidance for the 60+ bicycle clubs and racing teams across Tennessee.

You first have to answer the question - what is advocacy?  Advocacy is defined as "active support of an idea or cause etc.; especially the act of pleading or arguing for something."   For walking and bicycling advocates (and bike clubs), it's easier to break it down by using the 5 E's:

Encouragement - the act of getting more people riding.  It's a fact:  the more bicyclists out riding, the safer it is for all bicyclists.  Another fact:  the more people that ride a bicycle, more people will realize the benefits and will drive the development of more bicycling facilities.  And ultimately, more people reaping the benefits of bicycling is ultimately want, right?

Bike club members enjoying
the 2005 Tour de Cure together
Bicycle clubs do a great job providing people an opportunity to ride.  Many times the social aspects keep them riding.  Most bicycle clubs, due to liability, create fairly safe conditions for various skill levels.

I challenge all bicycle clubs to put a strong focus on beginners.  With bicyclists being 1% of mode share, we need more bicyclists, and they're going to be beginners.  They're the next to join us in our mission.

Bicycle clubs can do more to encourage bicycle commuters.  Programs to highlight safe routes around town help people that want to commute.  Commuting routes generally have less car traffic on weekends.  Having weekend organized rides follow commuter routes may give potential commuters more confidence to ride to work.

Education - this category of activity includes teaching bicyclists AND drivers.  Most bicycle clubs have education programs for their members.  But in my experience, classes could be more frequent and they should be made available to non-members.

Education is not a one-time event.  Every club member should teach and be willing to learn how to ride legally and courteously.  Ask your non-bicycling friends what they think about bicyclists.  The answer will probably be one of these:  "They block the road and I can't get by" or "Every time I see one at a stop light, they just ride right through."  We are all stewards of bicycling, and we must be educated to ride responsibly.

Most bigger bicycle clubs generally have money in the bank.  Sending trainers to  League of American Bicyclists' League Certified Instructors (LCI) training would be good use of funds.  LCI certification is THE credential that proves instruction is probably the best you can get.

Because it takes major resources to reach non-cyclists, educating the general public is probably better left to advocates.  We need programs to encourage the government to spend real dollars to promote safe passing, re-teach drivers to treat crosswalks correctly, etc. through mass media and other channels.  Think what it takes to implement a "Booze It or Lose It" or "Click It or Ticket."  These programs take serious money.  

Engineering - any greenway, bike lane, sharrow or road share sign is an example of engineering.  Road design, right-of-ways, shoulders and rumble strips, speed limits.  This is money to build bike facilities.  This is converting that old bridge to a pedestrian bridge.  Many bicyclists believe this is what advocacy is about, but as you can see from this article, it's one part of a much bigger picture.

Advocates helped correct Davidson Street
bike lane train tracks in Nashville.
The power of a bicycle club for advocacy is its membership.  Members have relationships they can use.  Members can show up at planning meetings, or public hearings about a particular project.  Members can demonstrate their passion for bicycling and facilities, showing political will for change.

Enforcement - includes law enforcement enforcing driver and bicycling law, but also pushing District Attorneys to prosecute law-breaking drivers for more serious crimes.  Advocates work at state and local levels to encourage passage of laws that make bicycling safer, and to make it more clear when laws have been broken by drivers that injure or kill bicyclists.

What can bicycle clubs do?  A bicycle club can do whatever they want, but this can be a tricky area and may either want guidance from an advocacy group, or seek advice from one.  Bike club members are encouraged to, and have a key role in writing letters or take other actions in support of advocates' specific enforcement campaigns.  Bike Walk Tennessee spent a lot of cycles educating ourselves in this space in 2010, and we're glad to provide some guidance on your issue.

Evaluation and Planning - Though I've listed this last, it's by far the most important E.  In the fall of 2010, most MPO's are working on their Long Range Transportation Plan, which is essentially what they want the roads to look like in 2035.  Peak oil, growth, people density, neighborhood design, Complete Streets.  Advocates must have great patience in this area because there is little immediate reward.  But 15 years from now, that's when BIG change will happen with a proper plan.  Advocates can monitor the plan and make sure our communities continue to develop following the plan.

Bike clubs can continue to educate their members on Evaluation and Planning events in their community.  Bike clubs can send members to workshops to develop plans, or make sure people are again at public hearings when pieces of the plan are implemented.  When the plan is not followed to the detriment of bikeability, we must all express our outrage.

More Bike Club Actions
Advocacy organizations always have issues with capacity.  The rule that advocacy organizations follow is "If another organization is doing it well, let them do it."   Bicycle clubs should continue to do what they generally do well - Encouragement and Education, and keep working to make their programs better.

Nashville's TNABA Blind Stoker Program

Good things happen through bicycling.  Bicycle clubs should develop and implement, or support charitable activities through bicycling.  Nashville has the Soldier Ride to support wounded soldiers. Cranksgiving provides food for homeless by bicycle.  Recycle Your Cycle via Oasis Center helps at-risk youth through bicycling.  Hope on Wheels supports breast cancer.  Harpeth Bike Club supports TNABA through the blind stoker program.  These things are obvious ways bicyclists are members of the community and they're making good things happen for the community.  

Bicycle clubs can support nonprofit advocacy organizations, like Bike Walk Tennessee or their local advocacy organization.  To build capacity and do more good work, advocates need volunteers and money.  A simple supporting membership or a consistent monthly or annual donation can make a big difference.  Finding members that are willing to give their time to work on the other E's is like finding gold.

Be an active part of the communication network.  When it's time for members to participate, to write letters to support a campaign, advocacy organizations need to contact as many supporters as possible and as quickly as possible.  Most advocacy organizations take their mailing lists extremely seriously and will not jeopardize a mail contact by spamming or over-sending.  Bike clubs can encourage members to sign up for advocacy mailing/newsletter lists or share their email lists.  Advocates appreciate sharing website links.  Bike club calendars should include advocacy events, details and when they will occur.

All Bicyclists Are Advocates
Hopefully this post will provide some examples for bicycle clubs to understand how important their current programs are for promoting bicycling in Tennessee and the advocacy mission.  Bike Walk Tennessee is dedicated to advocating for walking and biking in our state and bringing the resulting benefits everyone.  In future posts, we'll include some details on specific actions bicycle clubs can take.  If there is anything we can do to assist or if you have ideas you'd like to share, please contact us.

Be safe, ride often, ride courteously and share the road!

Pat Clements
President, Bike Walk Tennessee

1 comment:

  1. Pat

    This a great article. I will send a link to all officers of the Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club.

    Mark M. Hicks