Ask the Advocate – Greater Reach

Jeff Miller answers: How can bicycle advocates reach communities that are often underrepresented in transportation debates?

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Q How can bicycle advocates reach communities that are often underrepresented in transportation debates?

A I have heard too many stories of planners and policymakers turning a blind eye to dangerous streets in low-income communities. It is a maddening fact that these communities are disproportionately affected by unsafe conditions and pollution from high-speed roads. Improving facilities for bicycling and walking in the most disenfranchised communities can save lives, create better access to jobs, and encourage physical activity for better overall health.

It bears mentioning that people of color are also often underrepresented among the leadership of bicycle advocacy organizations. Advocates across North America have committed to grow their organizations to better reflect the diversity of the general population. There are several things that current and new advocates can do to ensure that all communities are represented in transportation debates – and to bring more diversity to our movement.

Starting work in a new area can be difficult, so consider partnering with existing community leaders and organizations to get rolling. Most importantly, connect with communities and work on the most pressing needs, not on a single outside agenda.

To successfully persuade local policymakers, advocates should equip themselves with data. In California, for example, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition successfully demonstrated high instances of crash fatalities in low-income neighborhoods by creating their own maps that demonstrated crash distribution. The highly visual maps made troubling data widely accessible and helped build the case for advocacy in the most vulnerable areas.

Advocates can also connect with community bike shops in their area. The growing international network of community bike shops – grassroots organizations that provide inexpensive repairs and teach youth and adults to refurbish used bicycles – increasingly provides essential services to youth and people of all ages. By partnering with and supporting existing community bike shops, advocates help get more people on bicycles and nurture a future generation of diverse bicycle advocates.

Jeffrey Miller is the president/ CEO of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, a coalition of nearly 200 state, provincial and local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations across North America. @BikeWalk |

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  • Anne Alt

    I’ve been involved in advocacy on the far south side of Chicago for several years. We have large areas with NO bike shops – a huge disadvantage in reaching fellow cyclists in neighborhoods with a low density of bike traffic.

    We had a big victory recently – getting a few miles of buffer- and bollard-protected bike lanes on Vincennes Ave. – an important connector route that has been very bike UNfriendly until now. We had to fight to get them, making the argument “if you build it, they will come.” In the weeks since completion, I’m now seeing some bike traffic – average people on average bikes riding comfortably during rush hour and off peak.

    Next year we’re getting a few more miles resurfaced and striped for buffered or bollard-protected lanes, running all the way to the city’s southern border, to connect with a planned bike route network in the inner-ring suburb of Blue Island.

  • Kelley Westenhoff

    We find that our principals and language liaisons at our schools know which parents in the non-English communities are approachable — and can get other parents involved. We employ this with our Safe Routes to School (SRTS) events. Many of the kids in those communities walk by necessity but we make a big deal of congratulating them (and their parents) on making the healthy choice, rather than using a kiss and ride. The kids love it, so their parents pay attention to what the kids want. That helps us recruit people from the community to become advocates for biking and walking — instead of them seeing it as a stepping stone until they can afford a car. Often, that’s a sign of success they are working towards so we have to battle that perception too.

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