We sat down with the leaders of three national active transportation advocacy organizations to discuss the current climate of mobility advocacy, opportunities to collaborate, and what comes next for the future of biking and walking advocates working together.
Bill Nesper is the executive director of the League of American Bicyclists
Kate Kraft serves as the executive director America Walks
Cass Isidro is the executive director of the Safe Routes Partnership
What work is the passion that drives your organizations’ work?
The shared vision of our organizations is that we believe everyone should feel safe walking and biking around their neighborhood, to work, to school, and where they need to go. Our organizations work together to support communities, advocates, businesses, decision-makers, and residents in advancing policies and programs that improve mobility options and equity. The infrastructure that creates walkable neighborhoods, is also the infrastructure that supports stronger social connections, thriving local economies and greater quality of life for all residents.
What has brought us to this point? Why should we be working together?
We’re all concerned about the future of mobility and how communities will create connected, multi-modal mobility options. As advocates for safe, active, and economical modes of transportation, our shared mission is to work together to restore a healthy balance in our transportation options.
Collaboration also supports progress in the day-to-day work of national staff on the ground. Our staff intersects on all sorts of national committees, and we have worked together to build programming at conferences, advocating at the federal and local level as well as learning from each other how to better operate as smaller nonprofits in a very competitive environment. We work together because we achieve more through collaboration.
Bicycling and walking advocates face similar challenges in that federal, state, and local transportation institutions have traditionally focused on moving motor vehicles and considered biking and walking as amenities, alternatives, or not at all. Fortunately, in the last two decades we have seen a broad movement that recognizes the benefits of bicycling and walking - seen in the rise of placemaking, urbanism, complete streets, and physical activity as a health priority. Now is an important time to work together to continue the momentum gained and capitalize on the changing nature of transportation.
What do you want walking and biking advocates in the field to understand about your work?
We think there is a tremendous opportunity for increased collaboration among local walking and biking advocates. Too often we see the same issues being taken on by different organizations not working together, or we see complimentary challenges that could be better addressed by working together. There is potential for us to make our movement bigger, rests in our ability to work better together—both on the ground and at the national level—and create a more inclusive movement.
People are at the center of our work. Whatever we can do to help people get around in a healthy, sustainable, and simple way is going to benefit all. We need to get it right, and now is a time of incredible change. The only way that is going to happen is if we can work together, not just with other transportation organizations, but also with community based organizations, businesses, schools, hospitals, and the list goes on.
What would you like to see in the future for biking and walking working together?
Mobility advocacy must put social justice and equity front and center. Let’s develop a shared vision for healthy communities that ensures connectivity and safety for all modes of travel, and that prioritizes improving access and creating equity in all areas, not just mobility. Let’s work together to make sure we have the models, the strategies, the funding needed to realize this vision. We need a better balance so that walking, biking and safe routes are all considered with the same importance. Walking advocates have often felt excluded from biking advocacy. Bike advocates have often only given lip service to walking. Safe routes can be perceived as an independent silo. We’re working torward a culture change within active transportation that isn’t either/or. This culture change will find its power in the vision of walking and bicycling not as some special interest or thing you only get to do on vacation, but part of our national narrative of the good life. In order to get there, to the place and time where it is easy for people to walk or bike, we will need models beyond the bigger cities. We need urban, suburban, and rural models that people can see themselves in. In order to do this we need advocacy models that include walking and bicycling to share with more groups. We need bicycling and walking advocates not just uniting against common foes but uniting for common goods. We need larger arguments that can smooth out our smaller disagreements.
What are the threats to not working together and speaking with one voice?
At the end of the day, biking and walking are small parts of our transportation mix. We’ve seen them diminished by nearly a century of planning, designing, and building for high-speed automobile traffic. The outcome is all around us in traffic death rates twice as high as any other developed country, transportation as the largest greenhouse gas contributor, and high rates of diseases associated with physical inactivity. We need to be united to address our current challenges and make changes large and small to create a better future. We may not always agree on tactics, but we should all agree on a direction that improves traffic safety, public health, and environmental sustainability.
Our influence and contribution to the future of mobility will be diminished if we do not speak with one voice. Sidewalk space, curb management, re-design streets and use of public space are all areas where we can contribute to improving the future.
What’s coming next from each of you and together?
We’re all continuing our commitment to equity, and are increasingly looking internally and externally to ensure we have the right experience for the job and the right partners to understand and support communities as they seek to start, support, or expand walking and biking efforts locally.