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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 | peoplepoweredmovement.org
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