This page offers guidance on how to create a Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee in your town. Although any bike/ped campaign will be in many respects unique and specific to a community, one thing that is common to all advocacy efforts is that an individual cannot do it alone. Creating a group around your issue is the beginning of the advocacy process. Getting people to agree and join the cause is an advocate’s primary job.
A person may have defined an issue in his/her mind that seems important and needs attention, (e.g., Jones Drive needs bike lanes), but until he/she gets others to agree that the issue is important and needs attention, the lone advocate is just a small voice in the wilderness representing no one but themselves. To be effective, you need to represent a bigger piece of the community you are seeking to help. All advocacy begins with a single person getting passionate about an issue and then recruiting like-minded folks to assist in the effort. If you can create a group to help in your efforts, you greatly multiply your effectiveness.
The Necessity of Committees
- An organized group is perceived as “official”, even when it’s not. Your town and your community will take you more seriously if you are part of a larger group.
- If 5-10 people are willing to join and work on a committee, then the goal of the committee must be fairly compelling, which bodes well for how your full town will accept your goals.
- The more people you have, the more information you’ll have. The more information you have, the more informed your decisions and work will be.
- The more people on your committee, the more people you have to spread the word about your issue. Change is difficult for people. Many people may not like your idea the first time they hear it, and they will need to hear it a few times from multiple sources before they start to consider it. You’ll need help from others to help communicate it.
- The more people in your group, the greater the chances of one of them being connected to a key person or hearing key information.
- This work will require various skills and roles, e.g., researcher, communicator, fundraiser, technology person, etc. No one person is good at everything.
- There needs to be more than just one key person doing all the work, so that if that person becomes unavailable, the work doesn’t stop.
- The core of your group should be 5-10 people.
- Your group should be as heterogeneous as possible. The more people in your group, the more viewpoints/income levels/political orientations/age groups/areas of expertise are represented. If everyone in your committee sees everything the same, then you won’t be ready for your opposition, and there will be opposition.
- Enthusiasm and perseverance will only go so far in this work. You also need experts from a range of fields, e.g., road engineering, communications, etc..
- Bike riders, runners, walkers are obvious choices for involvement.
- Town planners, councilors and recreation and public works staff persons are key town officials to get involved, if possible.
- Business owners bring economic credibility.
- Teachers can involve kids.
Forming A Group
In many respects, the process of forming the group takes the individual advocate through the same seven-step process as is needed for a larger campaign. As an individual considers how to recruit others to a campaign, he/she will need to:
- Define the Issue. Ex. Anytown ME has bad roads and no sidewalks. It needs to improve its bicycle and pedestrian conditions.
- Set Goals. Ex. Form a bike/ped committee to put the need for bicycle and pedestrian improvements on the public agenda; get official town recognition.
- Assess Resources. Ex. People in your circle of friends or in town might want to help with this.
- Strategize. Ex.Where and how should I talk to people about this idea?
- Communicate. Ex. Post a news item on the town’s website
- Set Tactics and Timelines. Ex. Host a booth at a community health fair to talk to people about this idea.
- Manage Resources. Ex. Do you have the time for this? Where will you find the time?
A person planning to launch a bike/ped committee will need to have a case for the necessity of doing so. You might have identified problems with the bikeability or walkability of your town, or seen people on bikes riding unsafely. These observations can be turned into talking points and reasons for actions that you can use to enlist a core of stakeholders to assist with your campaign.
After you’ve thought about your issue or challenge a bit, start informally, by talking to people you know who might care about the issue you’ve identified. Meet with the town planner or town manager and talk about your ideas. Visit with a bike shop owner. Refine the definition of your issue. Have a coffee (beer?) social event to talk about the issue. Talk about organizing a group to address the issue, and see if you can get others to join. Ask your town administrator if you can recruit a bike/ped committee and ask if (s)he has ideas for members. Post a message on the town’s website asking for volunteers. Consider holding a public meeting for folks interested in forming a bicycle and pedestrian committee. Develop a brief general mission statement for the group, and draft a vision statement.
Defining Group Values
A Mission Statement is a brief, one or two sentence statement that describes the work your committee or group does. (E.g.: DRAFT MISSION STATEMENT: The mission of the South Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian committee is to improve bicycle and pedestrian conditions for the benefit of all South Portland residents. )
A Vision Statement is a brief paragraph that describes how your town will be different as a result of your efforts. (E.g.: DRAFT VISION STATEMENT: As a result of the Committee’s efforts:
- South Portland will be a city where more people walk and bike for transit, recreation and health.
- City roads will include facilities which support all transportation modes as appropriate.
- Walking and bicycling connections to public transit modes will be improved.
- Motorists and bicyclists will be educated on how to share the road.
- Congestion will be reduced as use of single occupancy vehicles for short trips decreases.
Types of Committees
A group may start as little more than a bunch of friends getting together to discuss issues over coffee. But at some point, some kind of formal or official standing may be desirable or necessary.
One relatively simple way to gain some recognition as a stakeholder in a community issue is to see if you can get considered as an ad hoc advisory committee. or as a subcommittee of an existing town committee or group. You may even align yourself with a community group or school—can you imagine a Bike/Ped Committee of the local PTA?
A local advocacy group may eventually want to consider seeking official standing as a committee or subcommittee within a town government. As a sanctioned town committee (e.g., the bicycle and pedestrian committee), your group may be able to gain access to some administrative functions, like map making or photo copying. In addition, such a committee will usually have easier access to decision makers like the town council or town manager. On the other hand, town committees will have to be more formal about posting agendas and meeting notes etc. The town manager or clerk usually has the necessary information about the process of forming a committee. A special kind of municipal committee, the ACE Team, is discussed below.
In rare cases, a group will decide that it is best for them to become a stand alone non-profit organization. Such groups, also known as “501c3’s” (a reference to the tax code rule that grants such groups tax-exempt status), can apply for their own grants, and generally set up shop as “community service businesses”, with paid staff working to fulfill a specific mission. There are stringent rules involved with becoming a non-profit organization. For more information on forming a non-profit group, contact the Maine Association of Nonprofits (www.nonprofitmaine.org).
An alternative to becoming a stand alone non-profit is to become an organization operating under the 501c3 status of another, more established, non-profit group. In this case, the non-profit group becomes the host and fiscal agent of the smaller group.