Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Step 1: How to Get a Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan Adopted in Your Small Community


I wanted to entitled this post “How to Get $#!+ Done!” but I also wanted to draw in those with softer sensibilities.  Now that you’re all here…let’s dance!
Last night I presented a draft Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan to the Fiscal Court of my home county.  The unanimously adopted it.  I am now a rock star.
Okay, back to reality.  They did approve it with a unanimous vote.  And I am a rock star. 
Ah, maybe I’ll get to the point eventually.  Still listening to the crowds cheer in my head.
To the point…
Here’s what I’ve learned in typical rambling Pavement’s Edge/Chainring fashion (hopefully not):
1) Identify your stakeholders first thing.  Get contact info for the affected elected bodies.  In my case it was two city councils and the fiscal court.  Notify them of all of your meetings, if possible address them prior to beginning the public input phase.  This is just good manners.  And it will win you more support.  I did not do this.  However, it wasn’t the end of the world.
2) Build interest before your public meetings.  Talk to people.  Have plenty of lead in time.  Get a notice in the local paper.  Have the local radio station announce your meetings as well.
3) Hold public meetings to gather input for your plan.  Planning documents should reflect the wants and needs of the community not your local Don Quixote.  I am the local Tilter-at-Windmills.  I realized it could not end up being the “Chris Chainring Plan.”  It barely made it out of that category, but it did.
4) Build education into your planning process.  In small rural communities few people are going to know what a bicycle boulevard is. Don’t talk over anyone’s head.  Choose your battles.  Don’t get hung up on getting a bike lane where one isn’t needed.
5) Keep it simple, stupid.  My home county has a population of 12,000 and change.  There’s no reason for it to have a bike-ped plan that looks like War and Peace.  With appendices and a map my final draft was 25 pages.  That was still too long, but it’ll work well for us for a few years.  My first draft was growing toward forty pages and I was looking for more stuff to plug into it.  Ugh.
6) Dazzle ‘em with photos, regional examples (does it really make sense to show a photo of a multiuse trail or bike lanes in Chicago when there are perfectly good examples two counties away?), and relatable issues.  I chose to focus on health and tourism benefits that could be achieved with the proposed bike-ped projects when I felt the transportation component was the most lacking.  It’s about telling a story people want to believe in.  If no one cares about the issue at hand, frame it in another light.  See #3.
7) Beg, borrow, and steal local talent.  Get other people involved who have the skills to do graphic design, maps, charts and graphs, and wordsmithing.  Each community has a wealth of talent hidden just beneath the surface.  By employing your friends and neighbors to help put the plan together you will also end up with more buy-in and a better product.

Basically you need to do the legwork up front.  Do your base study (demographics and current conditions) so you have talking points when you approach your stakeholders.  Have at least one good project idea to share and build on.  A short list of priorities that you see as an advocate really goes a long way in stimulating conversation. 
Once you have as many people on board as you can set up your public meetings.  Have at least two.  Make at least one informal where people can feel comfortable talking openly.  Print maps, have draft plans and pencils and markers handy.  Invite everyone to tear it up and give you harsh criticism.  They probably won’t.  Keep asking for the abuse you need to refine the document into a clear community vision.
Plan ahead of time to present to your affected elected bodies.  Get on the agenda.  Make sure members have copies to review.  Draft a resolution, or make sure a resolution gets drafted for the adoption of the plan by the body.  Be prepared to make changes and revisit the body the next month.  Announce on social media and in the local print media that you need support. For the plan.  Invite people to speak to the elected body on behalf of the plan.  Bring extra copies in case the elected officials come empty handed.
Have a simple map which aligns with your plan and proposed projects.  Don’t forget the map!

I am not an expert at this despite my job title.  I’m working at becoming an expert at writing bicycle & pedestrian plans, but I have a long way to go.  What I would advocate strongly is that having a bike-ped plan for your community is better than not having a bike-ped plan.  The simplest advice I can give is: get a lot of public input, document it, present it and ask for adoption, and revise if necessary.
The benfits?  Now we have a basis for dialogue and legitimacy for seeking funding and further public support.  This is not a comprehensive guide to getting a bike-ped plan adopted.  I just needed to add that.  Caveat Emptor.
Part 2 will be entitled: How to Get Your Bike-Ped Project Built.  I'll get back to you once I have more data.

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