Neighborhood Bicycle Activism: Think Globally, Bike Locally

The neighborhood I moved to almost two decades ago is one that I’ve lived in for much of the time since. Although as I detailed in my previous post, I’m in an older, funkier area. In fact, I was living nearby here the very first time I moved to Austin, long ago. Back in my usual digs, the Neighborhood Association (NA) is very organized, and it in turn has a Transportation Committee (TC). Recognizing it as a possible avenue to explore issues of Connectivity, Caution (Safety) and Cleanliness, I attended the meeting Tuesday. That’s what this is about.

All Politics Is Local

Source: LABike.org

Attributed to former US Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” ONeill, this phrase may mean less in the days of big money in elections. But when doing activism and advocacy for something like better bike lanes and sidewalks, it’s a hyper-local approach. If the Transportation Committee supports my ideas, and recommends them to the larger Neighborhood Association, then that is more effective than just A Dude alone trying to get governmental bodies to fix things. While I’ve managed a few, even that was due to something crucial to all human endeavors.

That is, relationships. The sidewalks I managed to have repaired was because I spoke with Council Member Greg Casar at an event last summer, and then I followed up. At the recent NA, I talked with him again. And with the members of the Committee, several of them are part of North East Austin Texas Bike Group. So knowing people with common ground and interests is obviously a huge help to making life better for people on foot and bikes. One needs allies when going up against the big (and often bad) Car Culture.

My idea is a resolution requesting city, state and regional agencies get involved in improving active transportation in our area. The reason is that to achieve Vision Zero, having no more traffic fatalities or injuries, requires improvement of the infrastructure. CM Casar was great and helping get bike lanes on a busy street, but they are poorly maintained. The plastic posts get knocked down, the concrete humps dislodged, and debris is not removed. This is dangerous and discourages riding, when the goal is more butts in bikes.

It’s Not Rocket Science

The thing about grassroots community organizing is that it is both listening to other views and also speaking your truth to power. True, there will always be opposing views, but in a democracy, things can be messy. At some point, you may need to meet and talk to your neighbors in person and try to be nice to them and win them over, instead of keeping hiding from the snarky safety of your computer keyboard. (Next Door bike haters, I’m talking to you.) Fortunately, so far we have not run into any of them (and they haven’t mowed us down), but I’m sure we will. But there are plenty of bicyclists out there, and plenty of places where the bike lanes or sidewalks don’t Connect, you must use extra Caution (since they aren’t safe) and they aren’t Clean.

It was good to hear other voices express similar ideas and also have their own good ones. NEATXBG has already had two impromptu group rides and is considering doing some that are family-friendly. The TC decided to have one along with Smart Trips Austin, which hosts walks and short rides for beginners. That’s fine when you’re not attached to getting credit for a good idea. I went on one of their events recently and one of their staff Jake was at the meeting. Again, knowing people is important to getting things done. You have to show up and speak up, and to be known and to know people. Once you do, you trust them and they you. Plus, it’s more fun and you get things done, too.

We’ll see if this effort bears any fruit. It might not. We’re all busy. For a city that is known for being environmentally conscious (thanks to the long struggles of environmentalists(, with a fit or at least active population, and horrible traffic which can only benefit from better active transportation facilities, we sure have a lot of work to do. Here are some photos from a good-sized neighborhood meeting that Bike Austin did with CM Casar in April 2017:

One Step at a Time Towards Justice

In the meantime, we all have other things to take care of: jobs, families, that Netflix queue, etc. Me too. And I get it — there aren’t many awards for volunteerism (although I got one), plus the pay is zilch. But the pay-off and rewards are valuable: a more liveable, bikeable, walkable, connected, safer and cleaner neighborhood and city, for starters. Meeting cool new people. In some small ways, saving lives and saving the planet. I would like to think that all sides in the false argument of cars v. bikes can agree on one thing: we can do better. What that looks like is up to all of us. For me the answer is clear: we need to organize about things that most affect and interest us. I’ve been 14 years plus without a car, and I do not want to die because of one. Plus I like clean air.

While it’s true transportation activism may not be as sexy a cause as others, who’s to say it’s not? Clean air is pretty darn important. And this is just part of a larger progressive wave toward a better society. It’s what Martin Luther King, Jr. (who rode a bike at least once) spoke of (quoting Theodore Parker, a Universalist minister): “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Saving the planet is not just about reducing carbon emissions from coal mines and huge corporations, it’s about taking personal responsibility. Of course, we have limited options with piss-poor public transit. Highways and cars are part of the problem, but many people need them for their jobs and families. The ecological cars are not affordable to many.

The ability to move oneself through time and across space safely is, in fact, a human right. One that migrants from impoverished and violent areas are finding very hard to do these days. So I think we need to work toward a greater vision. One where people can ride their damn bikes without constant fear of being murdered by distracted car drivers. One man who carried that vision and sang it out loudly across this land was Pete Seeger. I met the folk and protest song icon at where else? a protest. Later I helped with a concert he performed at.

He popularized the following song, though it’s been sung by John Gorka and many others. Sometimes the lyrics pop into my head. I’ve probably even used them before, but they’re good ones worth repeating. Carry them with you or the tune in your head (listen at the link below) the next time you are despairing about the state of the world. If you aren’t already, maybe it’s time to get to work on some good cause, whether it’s bike lanes or whatever makes your neck of the woods a better place. You just might have to stick your neck out to make it happen.

Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch
Singly none, singly none

And by union what we will
Can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill
Singly none, singly none


-old union song
Lyrics and clip from Genius.com
Image by 132369 from Pixabay

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