What Have You Done for Me Lately? – Understanding Advocacy

Do you get constant, borderline harassing e-mails from your local bike coalition apprising you of the moral hazard of a) not being a member, b) not donating, c) not volunteering? Do they make you squirm a little? Well, maybe they should.

Bicycle coalitions are ubiquitous across the land in this day and age, some with large staffs, multi-million-dollar budgets, local elected officials on speed dial. Some are shoe-string efforts, no paid staff, all volunteer, scrappy affairs, folks fitting letter-writing and attending city council meetings in after work, after kids, after…life.

Well this is a shout-out to all those folks who work on our—the cycling public’s—behalf, going to the aforementioned council, board of supervisors, land manager meeting, waiting until 9:00, 10:00, 11 o’clock to speak for three-minutes on the item of interest. After the employee of the month award. After the ‘we-need-more-money-for-the-sewer-line’ item. Sausage-making at its finest—electeds jockeying for position, nitpicking their colleagues, pandering to bases known and unknown. Oh, and there’s always, always the kook who speaks in ‘open time’ about chem trails and space lasers, so that’s fun, but really only once.

And it’s easy to be critical, riding down the street, seeing that gap in the bike path that dumps you unceremoniously into traffic before picking up again 843 feet later like nothing ever happened, the one the coalition has been working to fix for two, four, seven years. I mean, it ain’t a Space Mission, it’s eight hundred forty-three feet of path! Why’s it so hard?

The reasons, of course, are myriad and varied. No room. Private property. PARKING. Go into a community or city council meeting suggesting removal of parking in order to facilitate the flow of non-car travel and you’ll think you’d burned a flag, insulted motherhood and/or Mother Theresa, all while farting very loudly. Private car storage in the public right-of-way is sacred, and don’t you forget it.

Perhaps you’ve seen the trail in question before?

Often times, the trail/path/bike lane gap in question chases its tail for funding. A trail segment on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge—the Vista Point Trail—will take thousands of users per day off of a dangerous, narrow, fast roadway. An old roadbed already exists. The views are amazing. Everybody wants this trail completed. But the bridge was originally dressed in its defining deep orange color using lead paint. Said paint drifted onto the soil of the old roadbed where the trail will go. The paint belonged to the Golden Gate Bridge & Highway Transportation District. It fell onto land owned by the National Park Service. Toxic soils cleanup. Lawyers. Need I say more? This project has been $200,000 short of funding for ten years. Every time the multiple grants, budget authorizations and allocations bring the trail to the cusp of construction, the price goes up. More money is eternally needed.

But whether it is a mega-project (bike/ped path on the West Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is estimated at $400 million), a medium-sized project like the Vista Point trail at a cool $2.2 million, or that annoying 843 feet of path that would probably cost less than a new e-bike, chances are your local bike coalition is on it. Calling, writing, speaking, rallying you—the biking public—to be heard, to participate in the civic process, this experiment called democracy. And while it’s not the big, loud, flashy kind of democracy, it truly is democracy in action—and yes, maybe ‘inaction’—but that’s how it’s supposed to work. One group of citizens wants the path completed, another group thinks that the 14-square feet of wetland that would be impacted is too much, that it will harm wildlife. Who’s right? Who wins? Sometimes the birds win, sometimes the bikes win, and sometimes they both win.

The point is that our advocates, both paid and unpaid, are out there working on our behalf, poring over agendas, scouring drool-inducing documents to ensure that the lane/path/trail gets planned, designed, funded and constructed so that we may ride off blissfully into the sunset. And now I must renew those lapsed memberships before this goes to print.

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says

    …and eventually, we get battle fatigue. Step up to the plate, my fellow bicyclists. Someone has to sit up there and listen to those employee of the month awards while remembering their elevator pitch.

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