Taking on any policy-related project will likely require time and patience, but the rewards can be outstanding. Policy change can enable a more rapid change to more sustainable communities, and can have a real and lasting impact on peoples lives and livelihoods. Getting your city to approve new bike lanes can vary in difficulty, depending on whether you live in a small town or a big city. Generally, we recommend this project for groups that are comfortable taking on moderately challenging tasks, as it can take several weeks to months to get your city’s approval for new bike lanes. But regardless of your group’s experience, if you’re eager to get new bike lanes, don’t be afraid to give it a try—sometimes all it takes is a little noise to make your voices heard!
Step by step
1. Do some local mapping
Before asking city officials to consider a new bike path, sit down with your group and allies who may have more expertise (like a local bike coop or bike commuters) to discuss where bike lanes are most needed in the community. Is there a particular intersection or thoroughfare that is dangerous to cyclists because there isn’t currently a safe place in the road for them to ride? Or a route that you think would be especially beneficial to the community, perhaps connecting a park or school to a library? Think about questions like these as you develop a short list of potential bike paths and infrastructure improvements. Do some research as to your town or city's current bike and alternative transportation plan (if one exists).
2. Reach out to city officials
Contact your city’s Department of Transportation (an Internet search should bring up phone numbers and e-mails of the people who work there), explain that you’re a concerned citizen interested in having new bike lanes put in, and ask what the next steps are. Their response will vary depending on your city’s size and protocols. Take note of their response and report back to your 350 group.
3. Consider your next steps
Depending on the response that you got from your city’s Department of Transportation, you’ll likely need pursue one of the following next steps:
If they were sympathetic to your request and seemed interested in making more bike infrastructure possible, great! Push to set up a meeting to determine next steps, and on what timeline they plan to complete the projects. We’d also recommend that your group write and send in Letters to the Editor, thanking the Department of Transportation for the new bike lanes and underscoring the importance of having city-wide access to safe, carbon-neutral transportation.
If they didn’t agree right away (the more likely scenario), follow any advice or instructions that the Dept. of Transportation staff offered to you. You may need to attend a few city planning or Town Hall meetings with your 350 group, or start a petition and get a certain number of signatures to lend weight to your argument before you contact them again.
4. Delegate tasks to your group
Make sure that everyone in your group is responsible for specific elements of this project, for the purposes of being inclusive and to make sure that one person isn’t doing all of the work unnecessarily. You can assign someone to map out a calendar for city meetings that need to be attended, to handle outreach for any events that you host related to your bike lanes project, and have someone in charge of being a liaison between your group and city officials, for example.
5. Set up a timeline
Sit down with your group to decide upon a timeline that works for everyone. How long do you anticipate this project will take? Is everyone in your group comfortable following through with the project until completion, even if it takes six months? Who in your group will be available to attend meetings if they come up, especially if they happen during regular business hours? Discuss questions like these with your group to make sure that everyone's concerns are met, and make a tentative calendar listing out important dates, deadlines or goals that you’re hoping to accomplish by a certain time.
6. Take action
Now that you’ve delegated tasks and have a calendar drawn up, it’s time to put your plan into action! As you’re working on this project over the next few weeks to months, try your best to stick to the timeline, and make sure to check in regularly with everyone in the group so that folks have a chance to share updates, challenges or other important news. If you hit any particular road blocks along the way, always feel free to write to firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance, and we’ll do what we can to offer advice.
7. Consider your next steps
When dealing with city policies and bureaucracy, the process can be slow and arduous—try not to get discouraged if your request isn’t granted right away. Be persistent and public with your campaign to get the new bike lanes installed, and incorporate fun elements into your work as much as possible. If you’re doing a petition drive, for example, consider partnering with a local bike co-op or repair shop to host a bike rally or bike maintenance event, something that can double as both exposure for the bike lanes project and an easy way to gather large numbers of signatures at one time.
8. Report back!
Did the city grant your request for new bike lanes? If so, congratulations! Please tell us about the process that you went through, and share any advice that you may have for other organizers thinking of taking on this project. If the city hasn’t agreed to the new bike lanes in the timeline that you had set for your group, not to worry. Each project is a learning experience, and we’d like to understand—through your feedback and expertise—what the best practices and obstacles are to getting new bike lanes approved by a city.
— a resource for bike planning advocates (US based)
— a fantastic blog and resource for bicycling advocacy worldwide