This is my second post about my research trip to the UK, US and Canada to investigate bicycling advocacy. To all the people who have emailed asking where my blogs are I apologise for my slow dissemination of information. The blog hasn’t been so easy to get to. The combination of cycling around a new city and taking on board so much new information is tiring business (but still hugely fun and rewarding). I’m also never quite sure when is a good time to write. My ideas seem to slightly shift with each piece of new information that I take on board.
Anyway...I thought a wrap up of some of the things that I’ve leant while in the UK might be good to get down before I get really immersed into the US. (Having said that, my head is just brimming with stuff from the Walk 21 conference
which has just finished in New York...ideas, inspiration, hope and the desire to get home and get working on some concrete projects. Let me know if you are interested in any of the conference presentations - I have most of them as Powerpoint presentations and audio of the ones I attended.)
So some of the ideas that I’ve taken away from the UK regarding the structure and function of bicycle advocacy groups are:
The importance of support from a coordinating body
In the UK there are a couple of different peak bodies supporting local geographically based advocacy groups: London Cycling Campaign, CTC and Sustrans are examples. Typically, the peak body has paid staff and the local groups are run by volunteers. It’s a similar structure to NSW where Bicycle NSW has affiliated Bicycle User Groups such as BIKESydney. The big difference between the NSW experience and the UK experience that I see is the level of support provided by the peak body to the smaller volunteer groups. Support provided includes: training and professional development of advocates; opportunities (meetings and published material) for advocates to learn from each other; information resources to help advocates understand the role of the peak body; briefing sessions to help advocates understand campaign issues; campaign support materials; and, in some cases, funding.
Result = effective advocates with strong skills base and understanding of government process and priorities
The importance of liaison with other advocacy groups
The UK groups I met with have all invested time to liaise with other cycling related groups and advocacy groups that might share similar aims. This included advocacy groups with an interest in: community health; environmental sustainability; transport; urban planning such as liveable cities; pedestrian/walking issues; children including safe routes to school and children’s health. In one case the cycling advocacy groups had formed a coalition of groups in their local area to more effectively lobby their local council for changes.
Result =cross pollination of ideas, better understanding of big picture issues, expanded support
The importance of sustainably structuring advocacy
Advocates are often engaged in different types of projects. Activities typically include: responding to local government planning processes including externally generated development applications and internally generated transport plans and local development plans; proactively lobbying local government for policy and infrastructure development; proactively lobbying or campaigning on country-wide policy development; empowering bicyclists with information and skills; and running social rides and activities. The groups I met with generally accepted that much of the work is long term. However, many groups recognise the importance of quick wins to energise current members and attract new members. Quick wins can be found in short term projects and by setting goals for long term projects. It’s important to identify the win, celebrate it and communicate it to a broad audience.
Result = energised members, a vibrant organisation that attracts new members
The importance of evidence
The UK is producing a wide range of cycling related research material from individual academics and research units within universities. The research covers cultural shifts, behavioural change and infrastructure design. Research findings can provide compelling evidence for the need to implement policy changes and help guide the decisions of advocates and policy makers. The research is not without controversy but controversy can bring issues to public attention and encourage consideration and debate of an issue. There are also opportunities for advocates to work with academics to formulate questions/concepts that need validation before it is taken to government.
Result = compelling arguments, building organisational credibility
The importance of recognising social needs
All of the organisations I met with recognised that their volunteers love the social element of being a part of the group and that this is essential to maintain. Nearly all meetings were held in a pub or cafe or retired to a pub or cafe afterwards. Friendship between active members was recognised as being essential. In some cases this was overtly stated in the organisation’s published values, in other cases it was simply recognised amongst members. Most people I spoke to said that if there wasn’t an element of fun and friendship, they wouldn’t be involved.
Result = engaged volunteers who hang in for the long term
The importance of communication
All the groups I met with regularly communicated with members and stakeholders. All had websites, most had a printed newsletter and some had a printed magazine. Electronic newsletters, Facebook and Twitter were not being extensively used (it’s a different story in the US). Keeping websites updated was recognised as being essential for keeping current members and other stakeholders informed as well as developing legitimacy and respect. Printed updates in the form of newsletters and magazines were seen as more important for attracting new members.
Result = engaged members, informed stakeholders
The importance of inducting new active members
Most of the groups I spoke to had an approach to inducting new active members to the group. Approaches included: a buddy system where more experienced team members partnered with new members on projects; and delegating contained tasks to new members such as writing an article for the newsletter. A number of groups pointed new active members to their website for information that would help bring them up to speed with issues and campaigns.
Result = new active members are quickly made useful members of the team and feel productive and valued
I've also been noting the issues advocacy organisations are campaigning on or working towards. The ones which have relevance to Australian groups are:
• Political will – encouraged by demonstrating that there is HUGE community support for alternative means of transport to cars and evidenced by political leaders speaking about and recognising the need to tackle sustainable community mobility through policy and funding
• Whole of government approaches to cycling – evidenced by high level policy, programs and agencies that support cycling and regularly report on their plans and progress against those plans
• Serious funding for infrastructure, education and behavioural change programs – evidenced by significant funding for range of programs at all levels of government
• True engagement between government and the community – evidenced by the community being consulted with and listened to in the early stages of program development (cultural and infrastructure)
• High profile encouragement of cycling – evidenced by extensive communication about the benefits of cycling rather than warnings of its dangers
• Agreed priority approach to infrastructure solutions – evidenced by a published statement outlining the suites of infrastructure solutions appropriate to particular traffic and road conditions
• Bicycle counts – evidenced by long term reporting of the number of people cycling and the increase or decrease of people cycling based on the length of trip and the type of trip against other transport choices
• Qualitative research of the cycling experience – evidenced by measures of how pleasant it is to ride a bicycle in a particular area
• End of trip facilities – evidenced by sufficient and well designed bicycle parking
• Legislative changes – evidenced by road rules, tax laws, planning codes etc that encourage people to choose to sustainable transport options over single car occupancy
• Training for adults and children - evidenced by numerous programs available across local government areas for adults and offered directly through schools and universities
• Liveable streets – evidenced by urban planning for people (pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and motorists) and including traffic calming measures, plans to reduce single car occupancy, putting pedestrian, cyclists and public transport needs on an equal level to other transport users
• Commercial support for urban planning for people - evidenced by research and case studies showing retail benefits of liveable streets and public support of shop owners and retail organisations
• Connected and signposted routes – evidenced by routes that connect over council boundaries and the existence of complete routes that can be navigated with street signage
• Integrated transport – evidenced by walking and cycling routes to public transport stops and stations, end of use facilities (at least parking) at public transport stops and stations, acceptance of and design for carriage of bicycles on public transport
And that’s a wrap for now. I’d be interested to hear what you think about any of this. I’m quite excited about it because I think it shows there are so many opportunities.