“Really, Dude? Opposition Is So 70s”: Local Officials Talk Bike Policy

Carolyn Szczepanski is the Bike League’s communications director. A version of this post was originally published on the Bike League Blog.

Last year, at the National Bike Summit, Douglas Meyer from Bernuth & Williamson unveiled new research on the perceptions of bicycling on Capitol Hill. Tuesday morning, at the 2014 Summit, Meyer was back with intel from the local level, revealing the results of 40 interviews with mayors and top city administrators from across the country (full presentation above).

The top-line take-away: “Everyone is bought in and support is increasing” for biking and walking in cities of all sizes. In city after city, Meyer emphasized, bicycling is supported, accepted, and acknowledged, and the opposition is in the minority.

“The idea of quality of life came up in every conversation — quality of life as defined by the millennial generation,” he said. Closely tied to economic development, city leaders see better bicycling as a means to attract young talent and the businesses that want to employ them. Bicycling fits into a larger shift to multi-modalism and, in a smaller numbers of cities, the effort to improve health measures.

Here’s are more of Meyer’s conclusions based on what city officials told him.

What messages aren’t working (or not working on a wide scale)?

  • Environmental protection: Not a major driver in the majority of cities
  • Safety: To bring up safety can backfire if it’s seen as questioning the city’s commitment to an essential duty
  • Equity: A positive impact and outcome, but not a critical issue
  • Congestion: Not a pressing topic in many smaller or mid-sized cities

What messages are backfiring?

  • If you have a “One Less Car” t-shirt, burn it. Anything anti-car, “adds fuel to a fire you don’t want to stoke,” Meyer said
  • Suggesting that bicycling is on par with other modes, like cars and transit, is simply not seen as credible

What can we learn?

  • Mayors are driving the support for bicycling and shift to multi-modalism, but they need an internal champion to “get in the weeds” of policy and implementation
  • Now that cities are buying into bicycling and seeing themselves as supportive, advocates need to work as allies, refraining from undue public criticism
  • Having the support of businesses and developers has a big impact

What are the essential ingredients of moving from support to implementation?

  • Political leadership: Someone at the top who’s willing to invest political capital to push bicycling
  • Community support… from the neighborhoods where infrastructure and projects are going in
  • Early demonstration efforts that prove the efficacy of projects.
  • Connectivity to a larger, not just bike, but transportation network