October 19, 2005

Tips for Pedestrian & Bicycle Advocacy (conference coverage cont.)

Representatives from MassBike and WalkBoston wrapped up today's Moving Together 2005 conference breakout sessions with some suggestions on how to best advocate for better walking and cycling environments.

For pedestrian issues:

Sponsor local guides walks, whether featuring community attractions (history, nature, etc.) or issues walks focusing on things that need to be done. "Get people excited about walking," advised Wendy Landman, executive director at WalkBoston. Note: Despite its name, the group lobbies on statewide issues and offers advice and expert comment on projects and programs outside the city of Boston. They're willing to help other communities figure out how to help put together walks that will appeal to local residents.

Produce local walking maps. Show people available community resources - even something as simple as working with major employers to show workers where they can walk to on their lunch breaks.

Get Central Transportation Planning Staff assistance for a community walkability audit (alas, I couldn't seem to find any Framingham officials willing to request such an audit this year in town. But there's always next year.)

Include walking as part of local festivals and other events (such as the historic walks as part of Discover Saxonville).

The goal here is to get more people enthusiastic about walking - and thus interested in improving the pedestrian environment.

Likewise for cyclists, MassBike's Dorie Clark suggested working with local bike shops, offering training materials to local police department on bicycle laws and sponsoring bicycling classes.

People often become activists because of "negative conditions," Clark noted; and when people call asking how they can get a trail fixed or roadway improved, "the answer is sometimes a little scary and offputting" -- issues of jurisdiction, funding and legal requirements can sap the enthsiasm of potential citizen advocates. MassBike needs to work to help their volunteers feel productive and that they're making a difference, she said.

It doesn't take too many calls and letters on most issues to make an impact with local officials and legislators, Clark said, urging people to get involved in big-picture state issues as well as local concerns. When she worked for a legislative office, five calls and letters could often be enough to bring an issue to the forefront.

As for the state of pedestrian and bicycle advocacy in the Commonwealth, the two pointed to some recent advances such as MBTA plans to buy bike racks for buses, federal money for safe routes to school programs and creation for a Mass. bicycle and pedestrian advisory board (the first time we've had one in more than a decade). "The government has really been making progress," Clark said.

MassBike currently has about 1,600 members -- an all-time high -- while WalkBoston has 600 members (I suspect the number would be higher if more people understood that the group was a state-wide pedestrian advocacy group and not merely serving Boston). A member of the audience today expressed frustration that the various advocacy groups did not have as strong a presence and force as they should, considering the large numbers of cyclists and walkers in Massachusetts. The two responded that organization officials regulary talk and cooperate on issues. And, a relatively new local group, the Livable Streets Alliance, is aiming to get various advocacy groups to work together.

Some additional Web resources:

America Walks

National Center for Bicycling and Walking

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

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