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February 9, 2024

PeopleForBikes’ Guide to Effective Local Bike Advocacy

By: PeopleForBikes Staff

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Our new guide offers key strategies to ensure your advocacy efforts have a lasting impact.

In order to make our vision of transforming America into the best place in the world to ride a bike a reality, PeopleForBikes is committed to supporting local bike advocacy efforts in communities across the country. To maximize your impact and success, advocates must have a message that resonates with local residents, authentically engages new advocates and the larger community, and builds broad coalitions of support. 

From successfully communicating your message to adopting inclusive approaches to road safety, our Guide to Effective Local Bike Advocacy covers the most essential tactics to help grow bicycling in your backyard. Informed by years of advocacy investments in communities of all sizes, we designed this guide to set your local advocates and advocacy organizations up for success. 

To support your organization's development, assess your strengths, and identify areas for improvement, we also created a self-evaluation scorecard. By honestly evaluating your organization's performance in critical areas, you can create targeted strategies to enhance your impact.

Access PeopleForBikes’ Local Advocacy Self-Evaluation Scorecard

MESSAGING

Lead with issues everyone can relate to, even those who don’t bike. Successfully implementing bike infrastructure and policy changes hinges on your ability to garner support from people who might not bike often or at all. The great news is that most people are on board with building quality bike projects, especially when they are part of broader investments like improved roads, sidewalks, parks, and public transit. Why? Because it means more options for getting where you need or want to go, more opportunities for outdoor recreation, and safer streets for everyone, no matter how they choose to travel. 

Start with the problems that bicycling can help solve: road safety for all road users, transportation affordability, public health, economic development, tourism, sustainability, and access to jobs, education, and recreational opportunities. Create talking points that highlight your community's challenges and show how bicycling can be a part of the solution to addressing them. When you focus on value-driven messaging, you’ll gain more support. 

Check out our Bike Advocacy Playbook and supplemental guides for creating bike infrastructure through legislation for talking points and data to help you get started. 

Advocate for a complete transportation network, not just a bike project. When advocates establish and promote a vision for fully connected, comfortable transportation networks, more community members support their work. Complete networks allow everyone, whether they’re walking, rolling, or biking, to move around their community with safety and ease by including safe and comfortable sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, shared-use paths, slow-speed streets, and convenient access to recreational opportunities and transit options. Getting community members to understand the importance of a single bike project can be challenging. By presenting the project within the context of a larger, citywide vision, you’ll help folks connect the dots. 

Learn about the importance of low-stress bike networks and how they impact PeopleForBikes’ City Ratings scores.

List your highest priority projects and policies on your website and highlight them through email, social media, and in-person or virtual meetings. If your organization can only accomplish five things this year, what should they be? What projects and policies are critical to making your community better for bicycling? Publicly sharing your priorities helps unify your supporters around clear goals and lets everyone know how they can best assist you in reaching them.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Community engagement is vital to building bike projects and passing pro-bike policies. While genuine and fair community involvement varies from place to place, some methods work everywhere and are key to increasing trust and equity.

Engage early, often, and in creative ways to establish a continuous dialogue within the community. A proactive approach to engagement is key. The first time community members hear about a bike project should not be when it is about to be implemented. Embrace engagement methods like Open Streets events, inclusive community rides, canvassing teams, and field ambassadors that attend community events to meet people where they are instead of expecting them to come to you. This approach demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and enhances the effectiveness of your engagement strategies by reaching a broader audience.

Check out 5 Ways to Boost Community Engagement in Bike Advocacy.

Make sure your meetings are accessible. Are your meetings held in locations and at times that accommodate all individuals, making them feel welcome and capable of attending? Have you thought about child care, food, translation services, and wheelchair access? Ensuring inclusivity in the logistical aspects of your engagement efforts is a fundamental step toward fostering more diverse and representative participation.

COALITION BUILDING

Develop a diverse, inclusive coalition. In building a coalition, it's crucial to consider the composition of your group. Take a moment to reflect on whether your coalition primarily consists of confident "avid cyclists" or if it includes a diverse representation of casual riders, women, people of all ages, and individuals reflecting the broader demographic spectrum of your city. If the latter is not the case, your local advocacy group may need to work towards being more inclusive to address your community's varied needs and garner broader support. 

Effective advocacy coalitions also collaborate with voices outside of bike advocacy. Pedestrian advocacy groups, public transportation advocacy groups, youth groups, climate justice advocates, and even allies from places like the skateboarding community can all be valuable partners. For local advocacy organizations to grow and thrive, embracing diverse perspectives, even from those who may not currently engage in biking, is essential. By finding common ground and fostering a coalition that spans a range of interests, you can create a more robust movement advocating for improved recreational and transportation opportunities accessible to all.

EQUITY

Adopt an inclusive approach to road safety. While making our streets safe is a top priority, relying solely on enforcement doesn’t address people’s varied experiences with law enforcement. Advocates have the opportunity to push for an environment where biking is safe and accessible for everyone — including people of all ages, abilities, incomes, and backgrounds. An inclusive approach to road safety considers the various factors that contribute to a person's experience, fostering a biking culture that is welcoming and accommodating to everyone in the community.

Work with community members to ensure infrastructure investments are done in an equitable way across all neighborhoods. To achieve this, it's essential to identify the locations where your community has already constructed bike projects as well as areas that have suffered negative impacts from highways and unsafe pedestrian infrastructure. If neighborhoods have experienced exclusion or bike projects have mainly been built in affluent areas, it's imperative to actively work toward creating an equitable distribution of investments. This may involve reevaluating project locations in collaboration with local community members from impacted areas and advocating for more resources in historically underserved areas to understand and rectify those decisions' negative impacts on the community. 

USDOT’s Reconnecting Communities Program funds projects in disadvantaged communities that enhance access to employment, education, healthcare, food, and recreation; promote equitable development; and reconnect neighborhoods by removing or mitigating the impacts of highways or other transportation facilities that previously created social and physical barriers. 

You can utilize USDOT guidance to understand what neighborhoods are considered disadvantaged in your area. 

RELATIONSHIPS 

Mayors and other local elected officials greenlight projects and shape community vision. City, state, and county staff develop projects and policies and execute plans. You’ll need good relationships with all of these stakeholders to get things done. Looking for an effective way to garner their support? Invite them to go for a walk or hop on a bike. Spending time together on a ride (or two feet) offers firsthand insights into your community's challenges and opportunities and is a great way to build trust and lasting relationships. 

Cultivating positive relationships with local media is crucial to gaining fair and positive coverage of your projects and policies. Actively engage with reporters covering transportation or community issues. Provide them with well-researched information on the positive impacts of bike projects and policies and help facilitate access to community members who can speak to these issues. Be ready with clear and concise messages highlighting the community benefits for all road users, utilizing statistics, case studies, and local anecdotes. Organize media events or press conferences to showcase progress and encourage community members to share their first-hand experiences. By maintaining open communication with media representatives, you can become their go-to person and influence public perception to support your priorities.

LEVEL 5 LEADERSHIP

Having a Level 5 leader is crucial for your organization’s success. Coined by Jim Collins, Level 5 leaders blend personal humility and an often quiet nature with unwavering determination and find success in getting people to follow a cause. Collins' research reveals a consistent pattern: The most successful companies have Level 5 leadership during transformative periods, challenging the sometimes-held belief that larger-than-life personalities are necessary for significant change. This leadership style is particularly relevant in an advocacy setting where the focus should be on the collective cause and community well-being. Moreover, the relentless determination inherent in Level 5 leadership is crucial in navigating the challenges of bike advocacy. 

Read Jim Collins’ Good to Great to learn more about Level 5 leaders.


LEGISLATION THAT GETS MORE BIKE INFRASTRUCTURE BUILT + MORE PEOPLE RIDING

Support transformative policy changes. One of the best ways to create a stronger advocacy base in your community is to get more people riding bikes by building safer and convenient places for them to ride.

PeopleForBikes’ Legislative Strategies for Safe and Connected Bike Infrastructure identifies the most effective state and local legislative changes that lead to great bike infrastructure. It includes diverse examples from communities and states across the country, including links to existing language and tips for adjusting language to suit your community’s needs. The four priorities identified in the guide are as follows:  

  1. Passing state and local funding mechanisms for bike infrastructure
  2. Adopting Complete Streets mandates
  3. Advancing bike infrastructure through climate legislation
  4. Improving road safety through reduced vehicular speeds, new design guidelines, and intersection safety improvements

Our supplemental guides include data-backed talking points to help you advocate for these changes in your community.  

UNLOCK YOUR COMMUNITY’S POTENTIAL WITH PEOPLEFORBIKES’ TOOLS + RESOURCES

Join Our Email List — Stay up to date with our newsletters and advocacy alerts to support biking in your community. 

City Ratings — Measure your community’s progress in becoming a great place for bikes and benchmark against other cities worldwide.

National Bike Project Tracker — Make sure your priority projects are in our public database of planned and proposed bike projects so we can connect local supporters to your work.

Legislative Guide to Advancing Bike Infrastructure — Dive into state and local strategies to create safe and connected bike infrastructure. Our supplemental guides include more details, including talking points to help advocate. 

SPRINT — Increase your City Ratings score and turn high-stress streets into low-stress streets using our SPRINT framework.

Your Bike Advocacy Playbook — Explore our 15-point, research-based fact sheet to help you push for change in your community.

VoteForBikes — PeopleForBikes can promote pro-bike measures on your local or state ballots.

Advocacy Alerts — Rally PeopleForBikes’ supporters around projects and policies in your community.

E-Bike Smart — Use our rider education program to help people of all ages and experience levels learn best practices for safe, responsible riding. For more information, check out our other e-bike tools and resources, including our E-Bike Incentive Toolkit and Model E-Bike Legislation framework. 

Community Grants — Apply for PeopleForBikes funding to support a local bike project near you.

Related Topics:

Bike NetworksInclusive BikingHow To
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