October 03, 2013
Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer
Transalt's Paul Steely White in 2009. Image: Pedal Power Pete (Flickr)
In an interview last month with Rapha Performance Roadwear, the executive director of New York City's main bike advocacy group shared a memorable bit of wisdom for anyone who believes in bikes:
A hard lesson for anyone to learn, especially for self-possessed
leaders of progressive change, is that there is always a better
messenger than you. What I mean by that is that however articulate or
convincing you may be as a bike advocate, it's so much more effective to
mobilize a doctor, a real estate exec, a tech mogul, a union, or a small business association. At my best, at our best, we are cultivating and activating strategic partners
who share our passion for liveable streets, protected bike lanes, and
the whole toolbox of measures that make our streets, neighborhoods and
cities greener and happier. That's how you move politicians. As bike
advocates, we are a one note band, and they know our song. With myriad
and diverse allies you can create the symphony that makes politicians
get off their duff and dance.
Steely White's advice (via BikePortland)
captures a big part of our thinking here at PeopleForBikes. It's
related to something we discussed this week when I joined an episode of
the Los Angeles-based Bike Talk podcast and radio show. My favorite insight came at 22:22, from Kevin Mayne, the development director for the Brussels-based European Cyclists' Federation.
He told the story of how, 10 years ago, his organization had an
epiphany about the need to make arguments for biking that aren't just
"It took us five years or more to finally sit down and say, 'You know what we're missing? Economic arguments.'
... It was a politician who bluntly looked back at us and said, 'You're
not a proper movement. Because when the car industry comes to me, they
bring me a business plan. When the railroad industry comes to me, they
bring me an investment plan. When the developers come, they tell me what
the economic future is. And all you do is turn up and moan.' ... I am
really really excited at the global level that we can sit down with the
UN, the EU, the federal governments, the national governments, the
health sector and say, 'This is the case for cycling.'"
We hope this is the future of bicycle advocacy in the U.S., too: not
just arguing that things should be better for bikes, but showing how
more and better biking makes things better for everyone.