Bicycle Advocacy Organizations: Consorting with the Locals
On Friday morning, before the sun had made its daily appearance, I was on my way to set up shop at Northern Virginia„s largest Bike to Work Day pit stop in Rosslyn, Virginia. Through my position with a local bicycle retailer, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to represent our company as we offered bike safety checks, tire inflation and cycling advice to the masses of commuters enjoying DC„s annual Bike to Work Day. The day„s events are organized by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and BikeArlington, and the overwhelming success of the Rosslyn pit stop (as well as the other thirty-four stops in the DC Metro area) was a tribute to the incredible and important work that local bicycle advocacy organizations do every day to ensure that more people can experience the utility of cycling. Nearly eight hundred cyclists rolled through our stop just across the Potomac River from the national„s capital, and because of the support and incentive provided by the local advocacy organizations, more than a few of these commuters were enjoying their first of many trips to work on a bicycle.
On a national level, the League of American Bicyclists and America Bikes lobbies Congress to pass bicycle-friendly legislation and develops education programs, among other functions. But, most of the nitty-gritty details of encouraging the use of bicycles for transportation, recreation and fitness are performed by advocates at the local organizations. The missions and goals of local advocacy organizations are often more specific and community focused. BikeArlington„s mission statement speaks directly to addressing the needs of its community by seeking to provide citizen input in planning and programming bicycle improvements and promoting bicycling in Arlington County. Local organizations work directly with the people living and riding in their regions and listen to their needs as utility and recreational cyclists. As a result, the local advocates are in the unique position of being able to provide a unified voice to a community of cyclists while also supporting individual cyclists through programming and education.
National and local organizations need each other like a cassette needs a chain, and the Safe Routes to School program (SRTS) is an excellent example of how one cannot operate efficiently without the other. The U.S. Department of Transportation„s Federal Highway Administration funds the SRTS program, which focuses on improving safety education, traffic enforcement, complete sidewalks in school zones and encouragement, but the ultimate success of this federal program depends on the dedication of individual states and communities. In Oregon, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance successfully lobbied state legislators to pass the first Safe Routes to School bill, HB 2742, paving the way (pun intended) for other cities around the country to take similar action. Portland modeled its SRTS program after the Marin County program, and advocates from Marin County have trained leaders in Boulder, Colorado and Tucson, Arizona, as well as other progressive cities. In DC, WABA contributes to its local SRTS program as its staff provides the safety training at eight schools each year in addition to other educational events, reaching 3,500 kids in the District. Without the local effort put forth to spend this federal funding wisely, cycling advocacy could not be achieving many of the successes that we cyclists enjoy everyday.