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New Report: Collaborative Advocacy in Action in Portland

Who benefits from bicycling in your community? Alison Graves, executive director of the Community Cycling Center, posed that important question in the May-June issue of the League’s magazine. In the story, Graves outlined the efforts of the Portland nonprofit to identify and effectively respond to the cycling disparities in nation’s most bike-friendly city. With its Understanding the Barriers to Bicycling initiative the advocates cultivated relationships with new partners and developed new programs with the insight and leadership of low-income, largely immigrant communities in North Portland.

Now the CCC has released a full report that delves into the process and lessons learned from the multi-year project. Perhaps the biggest take-away: True collaborative advocacy is “a big shift” from the status quo of many bike organizations. From the report:

Until this point, we had focused our efforts on running a community bike shop and delivering hands-on bicycle programs. This project would require we understand community health frameworks and policy development processes. Both represented significant new territory for us. In addition, we were pushing the organization to grapple with cultural competence. While bicycle advocates often have good intentions, the majority of bicycling organizations in Portland lack cultural competence and racial and class diversity. This lack of diversity means most discussions and decisions about bicycling issues have a limited perspective, which often excludes the concerns of many groups, including families or individuals living on low incomes and people of color.

One of the first steps to understanding the concerns of traditionally excluded groups was building genuine partnerships with other community organizations. After 70 meetings, the CCC found dedicated partners in New Columbia and Hacienda, two housing developments predominantly populated by Latino, African and African American residents. In 2009, the CCC worked with the partners to gather data through surveys and focus groups to assess the perceptions and barriers to bicycling for members of the New Columbia and Hacienda communities. Among their findings:

  • The most commonly noted barrier was costs associated with bicycle ownership. 60% of participants shared that the cost of purchasing a bicycle was a major obstacle, and 25% expressed concerns with the cost of bicycle maintenance.
  • 100% of the African American participants were concerned that drivers would be hostile to them while riding a bicycle.
  • 43% of the Latino/Hispanic respondents were concerned about being pulled over by the police.
  • 33% of the Latina and Somali women participants expressed interest in learning how to ride a bicycle so that they could bike with their children.

The findings — and the relationships built in the process of discovery — led to an evolution in the CCC’s approach to programming. For instance, instead of simply providing free bicycles, the CCC began “clustering” programs and resources to create a sustainable community of riders at both locations.

Between Hacienda and New Columbia, we held six Create a Commuter workshops, through which 77 adults earned fully-outfitted commuter bicycles, and 11 Bike Clubs, where 102 elementary-age kids earned bikes to ride to school. To build on this momentum, we organized outreach events at both Hacienda and New Columbia. Skilled volunteers repaired bicycles, fit helmets, and taught youth and adults how to change flats and understand how to keep their bicycles in good working order. We were able to empower hundreds of people. Every time we set up our tool kits and stands, we were overwhelmed with demand for repairs because there was not reliable access to bike repair in these communities. We realized that a more permanent solution needed to shift toward more of a capacity-building model. This meant building the skills and knowledge of community members to be able to create a sustainable solution.

They also realized a more permanent solution started in-house. As well as external outreach, the organization looking internally.

We knew we needed help to become a more diverse, inclusive, and effective organization, and in 2010, we started the process by forming an equity committee and participating in the Center for Diversity and the Environment’s (CDE) Environment, Health and Equity program. The CDE program provided specific feedback, trainings, and support and started by performing a comprehensive equity audit of our organization. They then followed up with specific recommendations for improving our organizational cultural competence. The equity audit provided a comprehensive set of recommendations, ranging from hiring practices, culture building, physical space design, and board development. The findings advanced the work of the equity committee, which then developed a three-year plan to provide trainings to increase organizational cultural competence, revised our bike shop’s layout and signage to create a more welcoming environment, and continues to evaluate our policies and procedures to ensure our organization is equitable and inclusive.

The project had a significant impact on the development of the organization’s new strategic plan, informing a new direction and focus for the CCC. “The plan will demonstrate how, in the coming years, we will transform the Community Cycling Center to fully move beyond direct service and become a catalyst for community change.” A must-read for advocacy organizations, click here to download the full report.  

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