Lessons from the National Bike Summit – Working with Reluctant Officials

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By Charles Pekow

Cycling West - Cycling Utah Magazine logoMaybe you live in a community with a mayor not very sympathetic to bicycling. Or commissioners on your county board represent the boonies where no one cares to bike. Does that mean you can't convince local government to support bike projects?

It may mean broken glass on the path but it doesn't mean it will give you a flat that you can't fix and move on. A mayor and an advocate from Nebraska explained at the 2019 Bike Summit of the League of American Bicyclists how bike advocates can deal with decision makers who appear unlikely to support bike projects.

Bellevue, NE, a suburb of Omaha, wanted to build a bike path to neighboring Offutt Air Force Base, mainly for the benefit of commuters, explained Rita Sanders, who completed her second term as Bellevue mayor at the end of last year. But the board of nearby Cass County “is a very conservative forum. They don't want bicyclists riding there,” she said. But the board had to approve bike lanes over a bridge on the route.

“Farmers said if we have bicyclists going over the bridge, our tractors will not be able to go over it,” Sanders said, explaining the opposition. Transportation officials promised to work with the farmers to ensure their tractors could get around.

So to put some pressure on the board, advocates for the route sought approval from everyone else first. Five other cities and county boards along the route approved it. Since they realized they were the only ones standing in the way of a popular project, the board ultimately voted 4-1 to OK the project. “There is always some commission who does not vote on reason or fact,” Sanders said.

And if you can't get a Complete Streets policy that requires bicycles to be considered in every project, take it one project at a time, advised Julie Harris, executive director of the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance.

For additional information, see https://2019nationalbikesummit.sched.com/event/JmxG/building-coalitions-of-support-in-red-states

 

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