Future Bike: Naomi Doerner
Naomi Doerner is at the helm of change. She began her new job as the Executive Director of Bike Easy in April, and it’s her job to help guide the New Orleans advocacy organization as it asks itself, “What does bike equity mean in our work?”
“My charge is to have us all internally ask that question and then build the internal policy and have it reflected externally in outreach, messaging and partnerships,” she says. While her organization has been very successful in reaching the low-hanging fruit — the people already tuned into bike advocacy and bicycling — but they’ve recognized they need to develop methods to reach a broader audience: “Our mission is to make bicycling easy, safe and fun, so now we’re looking at making sure we’re really doing that for everyone.”
“We’re really starting to understand that while bike advocacy is our core, there is a much broader coalition to build in order to make our streets truly easy, safe and fun. That includes people who walk, who take transit and those who bike by choice or because of need. I look to see where the values of our organization overlap and mesh with the values and mission of organizations we have not partnered with previously. We look to see what intersections we have.
I just recently met with an organization here in New Orleans that does on-the-ground community engagement around the arts, particularly with young people. They also offer studio residencies. And one thing we realized was that they love New Orleans, and people who come for residencies love New Orleans, but it’s difficult to get around New Orleans. So there’s a lot of synergy between the two — our missions are to engage a broad audience to have public discourse about our primary goals. Whose streets? Whose arts? How do communities shape that art and public space?
The lesson I’m learning is that it’s important to have people see us as more than bike advocates, but advocates for quality of life and easier streets and safer streets. Without a broader base of support, it’s going to be very difficult for us — as tirelessly as we work as advocates — to truly create that institutional change that we want so badly to see within our governance. For me, my role is not to bring the community along but to build the foundation and amplify voices of the broader community who want to create change and make streets safer for all. If just bike advocates are asking for change, it’s just not going to move the pendulum as quickly as we want. What we’re learning is that the implementation process is slow — what will make that more rapid is growing our support base. The only way to do that is to talk to partners who might seem like strange bedfellows but they want the same things.
Our organization is at the beginning of this process and as the new Executive Director, I’m navigating it and taking it very slow [as it relates to bike equity]. I know people will be at different comfort levels. I think criticism or concern should be expected and accepted — and it needs to be worked through. Don’t try to rush through it because that’s actually the growth. We’re at the beginning of it here and there are going to be some uncomfortable times, but, again, if the mission is better quality of life for our neighbors, our family and our friends, then it’s worth it.”