By Emily Ranson - June 8, 2015
A major goal for all advocacy organizations is proving its worth to government agencies. Bicycle advocates do not lack for a shortage of ideas on how to improve their communities for bicycling. With the stream of ‘asks’ from the cycling community needs to come the offer of support. Providing support to the agencies making those improvements legitimizes the advocates role, builds the relationship with the agency, and sets the stage for future success. In Maryland, bicycle advocates across the state have developed symbiotic relationships with local government agencies to benefit both organizations and the communities as a whole.
Last winter the Harford Cycling Alliance was born. Since that time they have been forming the partnerships to make themselves an effective advocacy force for better cycling in Harford County. Much like Bike AAA and the Bicycling Advocates of Howard County, the Harford Cycling Alliance accomplishes this by serving as a resource for the county government. All of these groups have open lines of communication with politicians and county departments, which allows for easy cooperation. Bicycle improvements are inexpensive when added on to an already planned road construction project, such as paint on the ground denoting bike lanes or bike-compatible shoulders, improving detection of cyclists at intersections, and signage. However, Departments of Public Works, Transportation, Planning and Zoning, and others need help identifying which roads should include these improvements. Another issue cyclists frequently complain about is debris or potholes along the routes we take, and again this is a simple enough fix for the local government if they know about it.
In Harford County, these lines of communication are open between the Harford Cycling Alliance and liaisons in county government. The county now asks this new advocacy group to point out problem areas and allows them to review upcoming paving projects, letting the county to improve its road maintenance and network efficiently. Cyclists have intimate knowledge of the roads we take and can be a vital ally in identifying issues before they become a problem. Through the Harford Cycling Alliance, Harford County now has an easy way of accessing this trove of information.
When Howard County launched its Tell HoCo app, which allows citizens to easily report road and other issues to county government, they almost immediately realized that the app was wildly popular with cyclists. Unlike motorists who encounter a missing sign or fallen tree, cyclists can easily stop and report the problem at the scene. This allows the county to fix the problem quickly, and is a positive relationship for both the cyclists and county government. We get potholes fixed and the county has hundreds of eyes scanning the roads for issues.
When the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE) invested six years with Baltimore City Department of Public Works to open Loch Raven Reservoir to single-track mountain biking, they offered something in return: to responsibly and sustainably built trails much like they already had in Patapsco, Gunpowder Falls, and Seneca Creek. Likewise in Western Maryland, Garrett Trails serves as the Parks Department for Garrett County.
Symbiotic advocacy is an important tool in the bicycle advocacy arsenal. It demonstrates that bicyclists do not just take – we do not simply just ask for more infrastructure and more trails, but we will help our local government fix issues, plan for the future, and, in the case of mountain bikers, will go in and build an important recreation and tourist attraction for the benefit of all.