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Quetion: How do I get the city in which I live to take cycling and walking seriously?
Currently, there seems to be a lack of leadership and acknowledgement by my city council that the issue deserves attention. Our bike and walk plan looks as if it will not be passed by our city commissioners, so the plan won’t even be seen by city council. — Jen Akeroyd
Many of us are familiar with the great Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The most important rule and tool for advocates is to ORGANIZE! If you have a biking and/ or walking organization in your community, check in with them and see how you can help. If there is no biking and/ or walking organization in your community, then maybe it’s time for you to help start one.
The best time to organize a group is when there’s a threat or problem that people want to see changed. Addressing that concern will mean that you can drum up support and energy for the cause. Your organization will then act as a watchdog and will build on your successes.
Present your objectives and show why others should care about your cause. After all, unless you’re clear about your direction, many elected leaders won’t take you seriously. They have other groups rallying for their attention, so it’s important to make a good impression and demonstrate that your cause has merit.
The Alliance for Biking & Walking has lots of resources and advice that we share with start-up and established organizations. As we teach in our Winning Campaigns Trainings, the first step along the path to action is to clearly define the problem, the solution and what people, including you, can do about it. For instance, your proposal to a city council might run along the lines of: “Biking and walking in (our town) has been pushed to the side and ignored for too long. People who are trying to be healthy or exercise their rights are getting hurt (or killed). It’s time to fix this and the first step is for the city council to adopt an aggressive biking and walking plan that makes up for the years of neglect.”
Advocates can often identify and approach an elected official who is willing to go to bat for the particular cause, but they will need some back-up support so that they don’t feel like they’re sticking their neck out too far. There are also often opponents who will argue against your objectives. In any case, you will need to identify who has the power to move your issue forward. Don’t expect or try to convince the whole city council or everyone on the relevant subcommittees. Identify the person (and it always boils down to a single person) who can help transform the change you seek into reality. Then, consider that person’s connections: who influences him or her, what information can you impart that would make him or her champion your cause (or simply decide to vote with you because you are a force to be reckoned with)? We call this Power Mapping, and it’s an excellent way to simplify what can seem like an overwhelming task.
For more info, ideas, or assistance in organizing or starting a new group, feel free to contact our team at the Alliance for Biking & Walking.
Send your Advocacy questions to Sarah at momentummag.com.