As you are riding down the road in a designated bike lane or on a local trail, you probably take for granted its existence. But more than likely a cycling advocacy group had something to do with it. So what are these advocacy groups all about and why the heck should you care?
Cycling advocacy organizations fall mainly into four major groups – national, state, local, and special interest. For the most part their goals are fairly aligned:
- Designing bike-friendly roads
- Creating more trails
- Helping communities become bike-friendly
- Influencing legislation
- Providing bike planning resources
- Educating bicyclists and motorists on how to share the road safely
As for the special interest groups, these organizations run the gamut, from women’s-specific causes to supporting a certain type of riding (e.g. IMBA – International Mountain Bike Association).
Engage your local advocacy organizations
I ride in the Chicagoland area and have had many opportunities to work with the folks at Ride Illinois (formerly League of Illinois Bicyclists). Ed Barsotti, chief programs officer, has attended our monthly club meeting to educate our members, worked with a local community that wanted cyclists banned from riding their roads, and helped in planning a better cycling infrastructure in the village I live in.
Some key pieces of legislation Ride Illinois helped to pass in my state include:
- 3-foot law – requires a minimum of 3-feet passing clearance for motorisst passing bicyclists.
- IDOT Complete Streets – requires IDOT (Illinois Dept. of Transportation) to accommodate bikes and pedestrians in its roadwork, when warrants are met.
- “Share the Road” license plate – created a specialty plate for cars, vans and light trucks. Proceeds fund Ride Illinois programs to educate bike riders and motorists.
Fighting the battle of CRAZY
Advocacy organizations are our voice, and without them cyclists would have very little concerted representation. In addtion to fighting for passage of proactive safety measures such as more bike lanes, safe-passing laws and the like, advocacy orgs fight against nonsensical, onerous proposed laws. Two recently proposed crazy bills (in a long line of crazy bills) have garnered a lot of attention in the press.
The first was in Missouri. Rep. Jay Houghton, a Republican, filed House Bill 2046 requiring bicyclists to attach a 15-foot-tall flag to bikes if they are on the road. The exact wording of the bill is “This bill requires every bicycle operating on a lettered county road to be equipped with a fluorescent orange flag visible from the rear and suspended at least 15 feet above the roadway.”
Most cyclists just shook our heads in disbelief when this hit the news in January. First, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do with his time and Missourian’s tax dollars? Second, there was no concern for the safety of the cyclist riding on a windy day with a 15-foot-high flag attached to his or her bike. Or the fact that 15 feet is pretty high to be poking something into the air even standing still; you could hit a tree branch, a bridge or, worse yet, an electrical wire. Besides local cycling clubs and bike shops voicing their disapproval of the bill, Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation planned to oppose it, too.
The second comes from South Dakota. According to House Bill 1073, it requires persons operating bicycles under certain conditions to stop, move off the road, and allow faster vehicles to pass. Those conditions are: in a no-passing zone and without a shoulder at least 3 feet wide. This one just makes me shake my head in disbelief. Really?
Fighting crazy legislation is just one example of why these organizations are so important to us. But they also work with officials when planning new roadways or repairing existing ones. For example, they educate officials about such things as placing rumble strips on a road shoulder, which can prevent cyclists from riding safely, or considering bike lanes when in the construction-planning stage.
Most advocacy groups are non-profit
Cycling advocacy groups typically are non-profits and rely on membership fees, donations and grants to survive. Getto know the folks in your area who fight for your rights as a cyclist, who work hard so you have a safe place to ride, and who encourage the next generation of riders. If you are not familiar with an advocacy group in your area, check out the Alliance for Biking & Walking’s website to search by state.
And consider supporting national organizations like the League of American Bicyclists, which typically lobby national governments on behalf of cyclists when it comes to overarching public transportation and planning, among numerous other advocacy activities.
(RBR Premium Members receive a 15% discount on the price of an individual 1-year membership with the League of American Bicyclists. When logged into your Premium Member account, you can access the Sponsor Discount Code for this offer.)
A lot that we enjoy as cyclists shouldn’t be taken for granted. Support advocacy so you can keep your wheels turning as safely as possible.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women's cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri's full bio.