Piep van Heuven

Bike advocacy, demystified

ad·vo·cate: n. a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc(usually followed by of): an advocate of peace

What’s a bike advocate?

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Since I have a job in bike advocacy, I get asked this question often. Usually it sounds like this: “But, what do you DO? How do you convince transportation and political officials to do a better job for people who ride?”

The quick answer is we work to improve policies, practices and laws to increase safe biking. Policies like permitting bike events in parks, practices like ticketing cars that park in bike lanes, laws like three feet to pass.

The “how” to the work usually involves relationship-building, building a case for change, aligning partners and messaging and speaking up to the right people at the right time with the goal of getting everyone to “win-win.”

Though I’m a professional bike advocate, advocacy is much broader than that. A bike advocate is, first and foremost, someone who rides a bike or supports others who do. And one of the most important things we do working in bike advocacy is to help you understand that it’s you!

Are you a bicyclist?

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photo: David M. Budd

You can start by asking yourself, “Am I a bicyclist?” That is a simple question, and it’s the most important one. Invariably, when I ask a group of people this question, about 10% say “yes” and everyone else waffles and says something like “well, I don’t ride my bike every day…”

But there is no accreditation system in biking, no participation requirement, no class distinction—biking is for everyone. It doesn’t matter how often you ride, how long you’ve been riding, what or where you ride, or what you wear when you’re riding. So, you ride a bike and so do many of your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. And each and every one of you is a bicyclist.

Are you a bike advocate?

Now here is the next fun question, “Am I an advocate?” This question makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The word advocacy stirs up images of protesters in handcuffs or diatribes at the podium, and confrontational approaches. Let me help you put those images away by sharing the dictionary definition of an advocate (above). Put simply: to advocate is to support. In this case, supporting the cause of increased safe bicycling. Not too scary, right?

A quick quiz

Check out these questions and see where you fit in:

  1. Have you ridden a bike in the past few years?
  2. Do you think your community benefits when it is safe for people to bike?
  3. Do you think increased biking is a good thing for the environment, local business or community health?
  4. Have you ever asked a school, business or neighborhood association about a bike issue like bike parking, speeding or signage?
  5. Do you participate in rides, races or kids bike events?
  6. Do you give money to, or volunteer with, bike-friendly organizations?
  7. Have you ever participated in a survey or poll and indicated that you support safe biking?
  8. Have you ever written or met with an elected official or transportation official to support biking?

If you said yes to one or more of these questions, consider yourself a bike advocate!

Five easy ways to rule the advocacy game

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photo: David M. Budd

Now that you’re in the groove, and are (hopefully!) considering your role as an advocate for biking, I ask you to do five things to support increased safe biking this year.

  1. Identify yourself as a bicyclist. There are so many of us with the same vested interest in safer biking for everyone. Step up and claim your place, and get your friends to do this too.
  2. Do one thing for biking. Attend an event, become a member or support biking via a poll or social media.
  3. Speak up at least one time. Ask for what you want! This can be as simple as asking your workplace about indoor bike parking or your local elected official about what bike lanes are planned for your area.
  4. Be courteous and positive, and take the time to say thanks and support the progress you see in your community. It’s important to support elected officials and others who are fighting for improvements. Hashtagging #StreetSweet will go a lot further than #StreetFail. So compliment someone when you see something that deserves it.
  5. Finally, have fun out there!

If you’ve done something to advance the cause lately, shout about it in the comments![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Piep van Heuven

About the Author: Piep van Heuven

Piep heads up the effort to make Denver a top city for safe bicycling and active transportation. She connects with partners and city leaders to develop leading policies, practices and infrastructure that can serve as a model for the state. Her interests include skiing, cyclocross, acapela and volunteering for Safe Harbor Lab Rescue.

COMMENTS (7)

Steve Jenkins - Reply

I greatly enjoyed all of this, Piep! Thank you for the points.

Steve Jenkins

Don - Reply

Cool. Is there a statewide citizens’ bicycle advocacy organization?

    Piep van Heuven - Reply

    At your service! Please use the “become a member” link to lend your support.

Gary Kleeman - Reply

A big shout out to the Denver Police Department for making the Cherry Creek bike path safe again.by finally getting rid of the drug dealers and users that have been hanging out there for years! I now regularly see motorcycle officers at the bottom of the ramp from Colfax next to the needle box where there was usually a crowd of people waiting to buy or sells drugs or standing on the path, causing a problem for bicyclists and pedestrians. Let’s hope that they keep this area safe into the future.

    Piep van Heuven - Reply

    It’s encouraging to see Denver doing more to beautify the trail and keep it safe for all users.

David Lawful - Reply

Thanks for the great article Piep. I really never thought of myself as a bike advocate, more a supporter of bike advocates. Turns out I answered yes to all 8 questions.

MC Linde - Reply

I would love to see Bicycle Colorado work with all the communities around the state to replace the “Share the road” signs with the “Bikes may use full lane” signs. Everywhere. Or to work on converting 4 and 6 lane roads to 2 and 4 lane roads with bike lanes.

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