Ask the Advocate – Connect the Dots

How can local bicycle and pedestrian advocates gain a voice at City Hall to help connect cycling infrastructure?

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Q: Seeing that there is interest at City Hall for bike and pedestrian facilities, how can local bicycle and pedestrian advocates gain a voice?  – Marianne Helgers of Brantford, ON

In my experience, public servants working in City Hall usually have the best intentions, but often they go unrecognized or lack some of the key support they need from the public. You just might be the answer to this problem!  

Your first step is to connect with your local bicycle advocacy organization. If they aren’t currently working on this issue, or there isn’t an organization, find out if there is a bike/ pedestrian/ trails advisory committee that works with City Hall or the council. It is always best to avoid duplicating efforts – and other advocates may already be working on a campaign or strategy.

With the perspective, strategy and support of your local advocacy organization or advisory committee (if one exists), you should reach out to City Hall and ask to meet with the department responsible for the city streets and trails to discuss their plans and how you could help.

A good tactic is to conduct a positive inquiry where you can learn what their plans, goals and challenges have been. It is common for cities to start developing an uncoordinated, unconnected hodgepodge of bike lanes and trails, because they are often taking advantage of scattered opportunities as they arise – or because obstacles have snarled more comprehensive plans. It is also possible that some fragments are designed on purpose.

Here’s an example: Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with leaders in four communities and the State of Maine Department of Transportation on an ambitious trail campaign. The plan was going to cost millions to build the envisioned 6-mile (10 km) trail that would cross four cities that hadn’t worked together before. Capitalizing on a timely infrastructure project, the sewer department paved the first 1.2 miles (2 km) of the north end of the trail after finishing their work.

By coordinating efforts, the first phase of the trail was built for next to nothing and created widespread enthusiasm for the full trail vision. We then worked on the south end of the trail and got another 2 miles (3 km) of trail built. Since the two segments of trail ended abruptly, the public energy to connect the pieces and “get it done” was palpable, making it much easier to gain publicity, negotiate and raise funds to complete this major project.  

“Closing the gaps” or “connecting the network” type campaigns are brilliant ways to rally support, and city officials should most certainly welcome citizen support 
and help.  

 A good tactic is to conduct a positive inquiry where you can learn what their plans, goals and challenges have been.

Send your advocacy questions to duncan @

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.

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