What is cycling advocacy? And how is it done?

A cycling advocate points out what is needed to make cycling better, safer and more enjoyable. The advocate also asks for action to make the improvements.

Working with RTA and Local Government

Because improvements for cycling are usually done by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) or the local government councils (or both working together) the advocate needs to become familiar with how those organisations work and who are the best people to approach.

Often the cycling advocate will need to make a proposal in writing; and often this needs to be followed up by meeting with RTA or council staff to discuss matters further. Many councils have bicycle committees, so cycling advocates should be members of such committees.

As a cycling advocate gets more experienced he or she often become more effective in representing cyclists’ interests. It helps to gradually get a reputation with staff—whether they are council staff or RTA staff—that you, as an advocate for cycling, are a reasonable person with whom the staff can work. Staff are often grateful for the insights that a good advocate can give them, as not all staff are cyclists and may not fully understand what is needed for effective cycling. Staff also generally want to be able to say that they have consulted community users, and cycling advocates can fill that role.

Familiarity with Cycling Path Standards Helpful

While a cycling advocate need not be a road engineer, it helps to be familiar with the latest standards for cycling routes and paths. Various publications are available that the cycling advocate can study in order to get a basic understanding of design standards. These designs and standards can then be discussed sensibly with staff engineers and designers.

Persistence, Perseverance and Particulars

Advocates also need to practice the three Ps: persistence, perseverance and particulars. Sometimes an advocate’s good idea is not taken up right away (organisations, by their nature, are often slow to move) so that it becomes necessary to persistently follow up the idea and not allow it to become lost in a bureaucratic ‘black hole’. By persevering with matters that need attention the advocate gains a reputation as someone who will not be going away; so staff know that they will be reminded of the project or idea the advocate is pursuing. And an effective cycling advocate will also have the particulars of the idea or project well in mind. A too general or ‘woolly’ idea or project will not impress staff designers and engineers; they want to know precisely what it is that you expect of them.

Work with and Learn from Other Advocates

The main way to become a good advocate for cycling is to work at it with other advocates who are already experienced and effective. Then, as you gain more experience and learn from colleagues, you find yourself becoming an effective spokesperson for cyclists’ needs. One way of doing this is to join the CAMWEST-discuss mailing list.