Greg Raisman lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Beth and dog, Dot. He’s been bicycling for transportation for more than a decade. He had an advocacy background in poverty, homelessness, and environmental issues when tragedy led him to become a bike advocate. Read about it HERE.
Greg currently works for the Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership at the Portland Office of Transportation where he specializes in bicycle safety, school traffic safety, drunk driving, red light cameras, and crash data mapping and analysis. Greg also assists with “green streets”, pedestrian safety, and traffic calming.
The most effective cycling advocacy I’ve seen has been a mixture of fun and a bunch of other wonky stuff. The more fun you have, the better advocate you’ll be. As much as possible, the core elements of advocacy are building networks of people, gaining knowledge on policy and the “toolbox”, and creating a framework to convince others that your ideas make sense.
Sometimes fun advocacy can be pretty simple. You can have fun and advocate just by riding your bike. I think there’s a strong case that can be made that as more people ride, even more people start to ride. When it becomes very realistic that the person you just passed on a bicycle could have been your neighbor, friend, or family member, the whole equation starts to change. The perspective changes both from a “I should be more careful around that person” and a “Should I ride my bicycle?” viewpoint.
Photos by Brad Reber
The more you ride your bicycle, the more likely it is that your friends will ride. Suddenly, the trip to the restaurant may grow by 5 minutes in length, but you’re having fun with your friends and getting some exercise along the way. It’s as if your groups are being passive advocates (and also ambassadors – so watch those stop signs and red lights).
Also, the more you ride your bicycle, and as more people join you, the less likely it is that crashes will occur. Safety is consistently the top reason people don’t ride. Safety in numbers has been playing out in every city in the world that has seen explosive growth in bike riding (safety for everyone, not just cyclists). Check out this excellent article for more background: HERE.
You can notch the fun up by recruiting total strangers. In Portland, there is a monthly event called Breakfast on the Bridges. This simple event can happen anywhere. You meet new friends, build a network of advocates, create a predictable reason to ride your bike to work on a Friday, and drink coffee. Here’s a great short video about BonB.
It’s interesting, Fridays look to be the day that fewest people ride. A scientist at a local hospital was tracking bicycle use on his hospital campus. He eventually came up with a regression analysis that quite accurately predicts into the future how many people will ride to the hospital. Here’s how it looks *dork alert* Total bikes on campus = 5.675 + .309(temperature) + -.295(wind speed) + -.307(cloud cover) + -1.673(Friday). Cloud cover is a 1-10 scale (0 = very clear, 10 = very cloudy). The model is significant at the p<.001 level. Thankfully the 5.675 has to keep increasing as the number of cyclists grows each year. The basic message: CREATE REASONS FOR PEOPLE TO RIDE ON FRIDAYS.
If you really get into things, you can start having all sort of bike fun events. In Portland, we supposedly have upwards of 2,000 bike related events a year. Some are wacky, some dorky, some pretty wholesome. Who wouldn’t want to take their family on this ride?
Ramona Quimby is one of Portland’s most beloved literary characters. Most folks know she lived on NE Klickitat, but where else did she go? We’ll go for an easy ride around the neighborhood, visiting some of Ramona, Beezus, and Henry’s favorite spots and learning a little history, too. Everyone that comes gets a free Ramona related goody!”
So task one: Have fun and get people out riding.
The rest of the tasks are not as much fun (unless you’re a dork like me). You need to learn your stuff. Become knowledgeable about your rights and responsibilities under state law and local ordinance. Learn what the rules of the game are for managing the streets, for building new roads, for building new developments, for tenant improvements, for bike parking, for whatever your particular interest is. No one can master them all, but there should be elements in the movement that can give real input when the opportunity arises. A lot of this stuff is about incremental change.
You’re going to try to tell someone that things can be better than what’s in their current comfort zone. Remember that the people you’re going to try to convince are not your enemy. They likely haven’t thought about bicycles as much as you have. In a lot of ways, it’s about finding mutual interest so that they don’t see you as the enemy either.
Here’s one approach that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance offers to share the idea of Bicycle Boulevards with people. This video is not geared towards “cyclists”. It tries to express why bike boulevards are good for those not in the choir. Check it out. Use it. Or, if you don’t think it will work in your neighborhood, modify its message – then use that message. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyfiCUPV9PI
For even more background on bike boulevards, including a toolbox overview, check out www.bikeblvd.com.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you make a difference. If you’re advocating in Long Beach, you have a jump start on a lot of places. Bike Station is a world-class model for an “end of trip facility”. Parking, repairs, security, services. It’s a gold standard that creates a place to organize from. If you’re not in Long Beach, find out if your community has a similarly amazing jumping off point.
Do you have a bicycle advisory committee? Join it. Volunteer for Bike Station or another local advocacy group. Run for your neighborhood association board. Start your own effort. Support local and state funding efforts that provide the necessary resources. Attend every street project meeting you can. Remember that as we increase safety for the most vulnerable roadway users, we increase safety for everyone.
Thanks for making the world a better place by riding your bike.