Advocacy generally goes through at least three phases: Protesting against what you don’t want, Pushing for what you do want, and Partnering with the implementing agency to make sure it’s done right and kept going.
If we ran the world we wouldn’t need to advocate for anything. We’d just do it, or order it done. Advocates are sometimes prestigious or influential; their requests are listened to, carry weight, and often followed by decision-makers. But, by definition, the need to advocate for something implies an outsider status, a less than all-powerful position – often a position of relative weakness or even marginality. Perhaps even a degree of invisibility. If power is the ability to directly make change, Advocacy is about influence – the ability to get those with power to make the desired change.
Advocacy is the mobilization of resources and power to deal with societal problems. It combines protest against what you don’t want, pushing for what you do want, and partnering with those responsible for implementation to make sure you actually get what you want – although it is the pushing that we most generally think of as “advocacy”. Advocacy starts through the spread of motivating information and bringing people together. Having ideas and energy is vital, but not enough. Success requires having the momentum and power to actually implement the desired change. Vision and talk are the starting points. Changed awareness – knowledge and empathy – and vital building blocks, but the goal of Advocacy is visible change in individual and social reality – which almost always requires action. Advocacy occurs when you seek change outside yourself, in the surrounding world.
Advocacy can be done in pursuit of specific benefits for an individual – although individual-benefit Advocacy, especially for yourself, has relatively little impact on society as a whole. Increasing the contribution of Advocacy to the common good requires moving up the slope from interested observer, to passive supporter, to low-key participant, to activist, to organizer-of-others, to catalyst for the self-organization of others.
At its most generalized, Advocates go through a process of:
-Identifying and defining a problem and proposing solutions through the creation and dissemination of a compelling story that embodies core values and vision and solicits support;
-Identifying, convening, and mobilizing potential contributors to the advocacy campaign to develop a unifying strategy;
-Leading or participating in the campaign, monitoring progress, and deciding when maximal likely success has been reached;
-Evaluating implementation and pushing for further improvements.Read more
In a break from my usual essay-length postings, here is a series of short comments and questions addressing a variety of bike-related issues: the growing number of all-year cyclists and their need for more bike parking, the changing tone of driver-cyclist interaction in cities and suburbs, the problem of signaling “thanks” to nice drivers and ensuring eye contact through tinted windows, my annoyance at cyclists who hog the road, and thoughts about where bike boxes should be located.Read more
- moving the focus from streets to networks and systems,
- emphasizing the community-creating and place-making aspects of transportation facilities,
- becoming more explicit about the different types of economic development stimulus a transportation project can provide,
- putting greater emphasis on making up for past neglect of those who were previously underserved.
GO WHEN IT’S CLEAR, STOP WHEN IT’S DANGEROUS: Why Bikes Should Treat Red Lights and Stop Signs as Yields
San Francisco is contemplating an “Idaho Stop” rule allowing bicyclists to treat red lights like stop signs and stop signs as if they were yields. Should Boston do it too?Read more
Instead of internally creating a capital spending plan and then asking for public reaction, Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack held a series of public discussions, in-person and on-line, to ask what was on the public’s to-do list. Her invitation has sparked some thoughts about themes that might shape future transportation system spending including:
- Making Safety, not Eliminating Congestion, the Only Rationale for Construction;
- Getting More Value and Better Leverage from Maintenance Work;
- Empowering MassDOT’s District Offices to be Accountable for Complete Street Standards;
- Changing What People Get Rewarded For;
- Bringing In New Ideas and Skills.
It’s a pleasure to be able to praise a government agency: civil servants who try to live up to their public service mission are over-worked and underpaid relative to private sector peers – and always under appreciated! It’s particularly a pleasure to praise the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR), a woefully underfunded agency whose roadway department has been exasperatingly difficult to work with in the past. Which is why we have to hope that newly inaugurated Governor Baker’s announcement of a freeze on hiring and contracting will not derail DCR’s historic commitment to create an updated Master conceptual Plan for how their metro-region parkways can reclaim their Olmstedian heritage and be once again made more park-like and more bike-and-pedestrian-friendly — as well as estimates of what it would cost to properly operate such a system.Read more
It wasn’t that long ago that Boston’s walking, bicycling, and transit advocacy groups saw each other as part of the problem. Faced with the hostile fragmentation, government policy-makers moved slowly or not at all. Boston wasn’t unusual. To the extent that cities had active transportation advocacy groups, the discordance was common.
Today, urban areas (and some states) have two general types of much-more coordinated active-transportation activism. In many cities the dominant group is an all-inclusive alliance of non-motorized movers such as New York-based Transportation Alternatives that combines walkers, joggers, runners, and cyclists. In other cities, mode-specific groups lead the way although they tend to work in partnership with each other. Boston has both: LivableStreets Alliance has, from its inception 10 years ago, seen itself as representing both foot and wheels; the other major advocacy groups – Boston Cyclists Union, MassBike, WalkBoston – maintain their single-mode foci.
Because there have been few walking-oriented advocacy groups around the nation (America Walks, the national coalition, is less than 10 years old), much of the national trend towards inclusivity seems to come from former bicycle-only groups expanding their scope, an evolution that makes enormous political sense since bicyclists are a small but well organized minority while walkers comprise a majority but are generally unorganized. Together they have many times the clout against their common enemy – our society’s car-centric infrastructure, policies, and cultural tendencies. However, whether internalized in one group or as a coalition among several, the emerging multi-modal alliance is not as deep or as tight as it needs to be in order to survive the coming challenges raised by more conservative political leadership at several levels of government. We need, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, to move together or we shall all go nowhere.Read more
Trucks are only 4% of vehicles in the United States but cause about 7% of pedestrian fatalities and 11% of cyclist fatalities. The disparity is even higher in urban areas – a London analysis found that the 4% of vehicles that were trucks were involved in nearly 53% of cyclist fatalities. In Boston, 7 out of 9 cyclist fatalities in 2012-13 involved trucks or buses. Many of those deaths were preventable.
It wasn’t long ago, when regional rail-trail conversions were the leading strategy for creating multi-use non-motorized travel corridors, that the biggest opposition came from suburbanites fearing that the bike paths would bring intruders (meaning poor or Black people) into their backyards and lower their property values. Today, as the action has shifted to our reviving cities, there is opposition from low-income residents worried that the neighborhood improvements they’ve demanded for decades – better transit, bike facilities, parks, street lights, new construction – will attract upscale newcomers, raise property values, and cause displacement. The fears of the suburbanites were always groundless. But, unfortunately, the fears of inner city people – especially in reviving cities such as Boston, NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco – have a strong basis in fact, especially around transportation facilities – a recent study found that rents go up about $43/month for each 100 meters closer to a station. The working class Davis Square where I once hung out disappeared with the new T stop. Planning for the Green Line extension to Somerville’s Union Square has unleashed property speculation and driven up rents. Smart investors are already gobbling up property along Dorchester’s future Fairmont Line.Read more