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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

So You Want to Advocate? Basics Part 1

One of Bike Walk Tennessee's goals is to serve communities that wish to organize and advocate for better conditions for walking and biking.  Maybe you've finally decided you want to make a difference in your community?  We have a few tips to get you started.

First, contact your regional Bike Walk Tennessee director by clicking your "REGIONS" on the right side of this BLOG. They can put you to work, connect you with people or engage our organization for extra help. Make sure you share your strongest abilities and assets.  Do you have relationships with influential people? Can you raise money? Can you write well? Can you build websites or do you have expertise with graphics?  You probably know how to do something that will move the mission forward and your willpower can move mountains.

Get educated. See the section further down for the basics you need to be familiar with.  In future versions of this BLOG series, we'll talk about specific things your community probably needs.  For now, work to understand the basics.

Decide what type of advocate you want to be. Do you want to work with your local professionals, or have you given up and want to protest with Critical Mass or other types of in-your-face activities? Either way you choose to go, be sure you perform your advocacy in a professional manner. Stick to the facts and don't make personal attacks against anyone. Most public officials are professionals and they want the best for their community, but maybe they don't understand the benefits of walking and biking. More tips from League of American Bicyclists.

What do you want to accomplish? Do you have a specific 'pet' project like a greenway, section of sidewalk or bike lane? Or, do you want to make systematic changes in your community by advocating for Complete Streets policy, push for a master bike/ped plan or promote legislation? Was someone run over and you are seeking justice? Are you interested in getting kids to school safely? Go narrow and deep with your limited resources?

Find your support network. What bike clubs are in the area, and who runs the board? Are there running clubs in your community? Do you have public health alllies? Do other organizations in your community share similar interests? (if another organization is doing what you want to do, maybe you should join them?)

An educated and well spoken advocate is an effective one.  But don't get overwhelmed.  Advocacy is a practice - we all keep getting better at it.
  • 5 E's of advocacy - the basics of advocacy.  Everything we do boils down to these five.
  • Complete Streets - designing roadways for all potential users.
  • Safe Routes to School - get kids safely to school without motors.
  • Funding - follow the money, that's how to get stuff done!
  • Understand Bike Ped Laws in Tennessee
  • BLOS and PLOS - what makes good bike paths and sidewalks?
  • Rail Banking and Rails-to-Trails - how to get that abandoned rail line converted to a trail.
  • MUTCD - accepted standards for road signage.
  • AASHTO - accepted standards for signage, sidewalk and bikeway design.
  • FHWA - our federal highway administration.

National Advocacy Groups and Resources
A few sites to wet your whistle.
Good luck with your efforts! Be prepared for a roller coaster of successes and disappointments.  But let's never give up.  The Board of Directors look forward to assisting you!

Pat Clements
President, Bike Walk Tennessee

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