Earlier this month, I presented “the advocate's dilemma" in a post that I hoped would get my brain (and yours) primed for the National Bike Summit.
The dilemma, I postulated, is something of a Catch-22: bicycle advocates need to demonstrate demand to improve cycling but bicycle advocates need to improve cycling to create demand.
Both of those clauses are true. Advocates do need both to improve infrastructure and to create demand. But, it is more of a "little from column A, little from column B" situation rather than a mutually exclusive situation. We can do both A and B at the same time, and probably be more effective overall if we take a more holistic approach to advocacy.
I'll offer an example from my personal experience that illustrates the holistic approach–an example that probably should have smacked me in the face when I was considering the advocate's dilemma several weeks ago.
At Revolution Cycles, a company with a handful of independent bike shops in the DC metro area, there is a position for an Events and Advocacy Coordinator. And it makes sense. (Yes, Revolution is my employer, so I may be slightly biased, but I also get to see how this position works firsthand and am completely convinced. Or I just wouldn't mention it, right?)
This Events and Advocacy Coordinator focuses on executing events that get people on bikes and on improving education and local advocacy efforts to make cycling safer in our communities. It's not an either/or situation; it's really not much of a dilemma. It's an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Lead casual rides and teach new riders how simple and fun cycling can be, taking care of education and demand issues at the same time.
There are plenty of other examples of advocates and organizations who were way ahead of me on solving this dilemma. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association's (WABA) current priorities include complete streets projects and bike safety programs, but they also coordinate events like bike movie nights and bike valets at big events to get people excited about bikes.
We need a balance of advocating for bikes and enjoying bikes. If we ignore one part of the equation, we either end up advocating for something that nobody is really invested in outside of a smaller, devoted group, or we struggle to really enjoy riding bikes for transportation or for pleasure in a safe environment. And, of course, there are studies aplenty indicating that the more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer we all are.