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Thread: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happen.

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    Default Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happen.

    As I've mentioned previously on VS, I'm on the city council in Kingsport, Tennessee, a factory town of about 50,000 people in Northeast Tennessee. In the last five years or so, we've taken some pretty big steps to make this place more bike-friendly. I figured that there might be some Salonistas out there who would like to do the same things in their towns, so I thought I'd run down some of the things we've done and give some pointers how we did them, in the hopes that other Salonistas wouldn't have to totally reinvent the wheel.

    I'm not saying this to brag or pat myself on the back. I'm saying it in the hopes of encouraging some Salonistas to go out and do the same kinds of things in their communities. I think a lot of people would be stunned at how easy this was for the local clubs and cycling community. If there's one message you ought to take away from this, it's don't be afraid to ask. I will say that this is probably more applicable to small towns than, say, NYC.

    On to the projects, in descending order of importance:

    1. Adopting a "Complete Streets" Policy.
    Contrary to a lot of cyclists' opinions, local traffic engineers are your friends, not your enemies. They go to their continuing ed conferences, they see things like Complete Streets presented, and think, "Man, that's cool. I wish we could implement something like that." And then they go home and the conference materials get stashed in the back of a filing cabinet because they know there's not the political will or the money to implement it, and they go back to designing roads for cars only. The scary truth is that most traffic engineers want to design bike-friendly roads, but they need to feel free to do it. The way to do that is by making it the policy of the city. To do so, you'll need to develop champions for the policy both within the community and among the elected officials. Now, whenever we build, reconstruct or resurface a road, we're obligated to make sure it's useful for cyclists, pedestrians, public transit users, etc.

    Takeaways: (1) Getting a bike lane built is an accomplishment. Making bike lanes (or "sharrows" or whatever) the norm on every roadway, as a matter of course, should be the goal. Fight the fight once, rather than every time a road gets built or rebuilt. (2) To make this happen, you need to recruit three people: (a) the person on your city's planning staff -- either someone in the transportation department or the MPO Planner -- who's into this stuff (and I promise there is one), (b) a sympathetic elected official, and (c) a champion from the public. It helps if the public champion isn't a cyclist as we think of cyclists, but someone with kids, or who wants to revitalize downtown, or whatever. (3) Magic words to elected officials -- GRANT FUNDING. The federal government and most states have grants available to help pay for these kinds of projects.

    2. Appointing a City-sanctioned committee to promote healthy living.
    No matter how enthusiastic I or the other cycling advocates are, we'll eventually roll off boards, get burned out, die or whatever. Unless there's someone whose job it is to continue the push, the efforts die off. So we had the Mayor establish the "Healthy Kingsport" committee, and made the recommendations of who ought to be appointed. This board is responsible for making recommendations to the city about anything and everything affecting the health of the community -- from the aforementioned bike lanes to school nutrition and everything in between, operating or capital.

    Takeaways: (1) Broaden your focus beyond cycling to healthy living in general. You'll go from being a fringe group to one that's advocating for an issue that affects every citizen of every town in the country. (2) There are at least a dozen people in your community whose job it is to worry about these issues every day -- from hospital personnel to HR managers to city staff to the outreach people at your local YMCA. Putting them in a room together does amazing things. They become difficult to ignore.

    3. Funding the construction of MTB trails.
    Our local MTB club hosted an IMBA trails conference. Several of our city staff and I showed up, which did two things: (1) it gave us the ammo to make the economic and quality of life cases for construction of MTB and multi-use trails, and (2) it allowed the club guys to bend our ears. The long and short of it is this: Because of that meeting, the city and the club are about to sign a deal in which the city gives the club enough money to buy one of these:
    S800TX | Mini Skid Steers | Equipment | Vermeer

    and the club agrees to build a certain quantity of trails at our local . It's a mammoth win-win, since the club had been building trails by hand for years and can now build in a month what would have taken them a year or more, and the city is getting lots of new trails at its 3500-acre nature preserve at a fraction of what they would have cost had they been contracted out. (It pays to note that the volunteers from this club have a tremendous amount of knowledge and a great relationship with and reputation among our park staff.)

    Takeaways: (1) The purchase of this equipment was totally out of the question for this club, even though it's active and well-organized. For a municipality with a $200M annual budget? The decision was (literally) made over lunch one day. (2) Government entities (smart ones, anyway) love bargains, and getting something done well and on the cheap made this one an easy sell.

    4. Putting on a UCI2 CX race.
    We went from never having had a CX race to having a UCI2 race in two years. We approached the local convention and visitors' bureau, and asked them to partner with the local CX promoters to put on some races in Kingsport. The pitch was pretty simple - the CVB guaranteed the prize money, and the race put heads in beds in local hotels (which is, broadly speaking, how the CVB's success is measured). So far, I think everyone's been very happy with how it's turned out.

    ***

    OK, that's all I've got for now. Feel free to ask questions or share your own victories. Again, lots of people have the idea that this stuff is impossible in their own communities. It's really probably not. Just be persistent.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    That's an awesome intro to the subject, and it's great to hear it from someone who's both a cyclist and an official. I think your emphasis on relationships is right on; I make the point to clients and colleagues a lot that, if a decision is going to be made in a meeting, if you have a relationship with the majority of folks who'll be in the room, you'll know the decision that's (likely) already been made before the meeting even happens. I guess the point is that those relationships are what allow cyclists (or any interest group) to get in the process earlier before firm plans are made and funds allocated.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts on this. Thank you.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Way to go.

    The bike lane in Northampton Mass was mainly due the work of one person, a project manager for a private entity, and member of the planning-zoning board. Now there are bike lanes on Route 9 westbound, and bike boxes at the stoplights.

    Well done, man. I wish more enthusiasts would get involved, even if it's just supporting advocacy efforts like the LAB and local bike coalitions.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Thank you, inspiring!

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    John,
    You are 100% spot-on, especially in smaller communities and ESPECIALLY in the south. Building those relationships is absolutely key. And on all of these projects, I (and everyone involved) knew to a certainty what was going to happen when we walked in "the room" because we had done our homework ahead of time.

    One thing I intended to mention but didn't: Never ever "kick off" your efforts by going to a city council meeting and giving a speech during the "crowd participation" time. That's how projects become DOA. Instead, build your relationships outside that formal meeting. Ideally, you should only go to a city council meeting is at the end, when they're voting to approve your project. In 99% of cases, the mayor will thank you for your time and effort.

    TH,
    You're exactly right. It really only takes one or two people to make some pretty massive changes.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Quote Originally Posted by 962 View Post
    Thank you, inspiring!
    what he said. can i buy you a beer?

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Quote Originally Posted by DarrenCT View Post
    what he said. can i buy you a beer?
    Thanks, both of you, but the thread really isn't about how awesome I am (Extremely, for the record). It's meant to be more of a resource/source of encouragement to help people get out and do the work. Compared to what most people envision, a lot of this stuff is easily within reach.

    But yeah, I'll take a High Life.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    What if I'm of the opinion that the local drivers are too tolerant of the Fat Fuks that call themselves cyclist and I want to raise tensions in my area to clear the roads of some of these losers. Do you have any advise on how I should handle that?

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Information should be sticky.

    Thanks.
    -Eric

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    I'm still taking all this in. Stick around I'm really glad you are here.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Nice work, Ben. Thanks for the post and the links.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    I don't want this thread to die without at least giving it a bump. If there's anything you'd like to accomplish in your town, and you'd like to have the insider's perspective on what makes local government move, I'd love to hash it out.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    This thread has given me a lot to think about. I volunteer at a co-op that has multiple branches and due to funding cuts the branch I'm at may be faced with a situation where we either close or set out on our own. I'm thinking about how we can expand our focus to general health and fitness to be relevant to a larger audience, thanks to the ideas above.

    Chapeau Ben. I'd like to talk some.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Write letters to the local newspaper and educate motorists. Cranky motorists and myself are having a heated debate in the press right now. Many local cyclists are attending planning meetings and supplying valuable input to bike lane infrastructure. Los Angeles County is planning on building 695 miles of new bikeways and has 285 million bucks to make it happen. It's a long term project but it wouldn't happen without input from the local communities of LA County. They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease! We're making it happen in SoCal.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Ben, thanks for taking a pull on this one. Recent events in my life encourage me to get involved, get motivated and start agitating (in the proper way).

    SEE MORE BIKES!
    Start slow, then taper off.

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    Quote Originally Posted by VonVelo View Post
    Write letters to the local newspaper and educate motorists. Cranky motorists and myself are having a heated debate in the press right now. Many local cyclists are attending planning meetings and supplying valuable input to bike lane infrastructure. Los Angeles County is planning on building 695 miles of new bikeways and has 285 million bucks to make it happen. It's a long term project but it wouldn't happen without input from the local communities of LA County. They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease! We're making it happen in SoCal.
    That's awesome. Your point about it being a long-term project is an important one. It's worth saying that a lot of this has that "plant a tree, the fruit of which you will never eat" quality. Changes in physical infrastructure are so monumentally expensive and time-consuming, that even things like painting bike lanes become a much bigger investment than you'd think.

    That's why having a policy is so important. If I have road segments A-B-C in order, and the city is going to re-pave section B only, it makes no sense in the short term to put bike lanes in B that start and end abruptly and don't connect to anything else. But the city will eventually re-pave A and C, and if they're committed to putting bike lanes there, it makes sense to put them in B as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by nahtnoj View Post
    This thread has given me a lot to think about. I volunteer at a co-op that has multiple branches and due to funding cuts the branch I'm at may be faced with a situation where we either close or set out on our own. I'm thinking about how we can expand our focus to general health and fitness to be relevant to a larger audience, thanks to the ideas above.

    Chapeau Ben. I'd like to talk some.
    That's awesome. I'd encourage you to at least look at the YMCA's "Pioneering Healthier Communities" initiative. It's supported by the CDC and funded at least in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and is doing on a national scale exactly what you're talking about doing. According to the Y's website, there is a PHC team in Philly that could probably serve as a terrific resource. (I don't know who, specifically, to put you in touch with, but if you call their main office and ask who's in charge of their Activate America/PHC efforts, you'll eventually get there.) I would also encourage you to take a look at their best practices manual.

    Good luck!

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    Default Re: Want your community to be more bike friendly? Get off your ass and make it happe

    wow, this really is an excellent post/thread. Thanks for posting.

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