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Partnership & Persistence: Bike Pittsburgh

Cross-posted from the Advocacy Advance blog. In 2011, Advocacy Advance awarded Model Grants to advocates in Pittsburgh and Atlanta to provide multi-year support for efforts to significantly increase public investments for biking and walking. Three years later, these grants have come to a close, resulting in exciting progress, major wins, and stage-setting advocacy in both communities. This blog series about the wins and lessons learned from our Model Grantees.

“We need a mayor like that!”

That’s the sentiment heard from many people after Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto concluded his remarks at the 2014 National Bike Summit. Moments earlier, Mayor Peduto had announced to the 800 bicycling advocates in attendance that he was appointing Bike Pittsburgh (BikePGH) Executive Director Scott Bricker to his region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. (You can see the video here at minute 5:30.) That appointment means that bicyclists have a seat at the table for important regional transportation planning and funding decisions.

Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto speaks at the 2014 National Bike Summit and announces the appointment of Bike Pittsburgh’s Executive Director Scott Bricker to the MPO board. Photo by Brian Palmer.

That’s just one of the outcomes of the Model Grant that Advocacy Advance awarded to BikePGH three years ago. “Above all, it was our persistence, our partnerships, and making sure our voice was heard loud and clear during the last mayoral elections that helped us score our biggest wins,” says Scott Bricker of what made BikePGH effective.

Building relationships and creating champions

First, they focused on elevating their relationship with the City. In collaboration with the City, BikePGH started a working group so that we could identify projects and apply for funding to pursue them. BikePGH:

  • Helped shed light on current biking trends with their Better Bikeways Vision
  • Researched how other cities approached bike/ped projects
  • Helped draft applications
  • Contributed to the City’s new bike plan and the county’s Active Allegheny plan
  • Immersed themselves in as many neighborhood plans as possible
  • Sought out ways for existing plans to include biking and walking elements
  • Got involved with major local development projects like Bakery Square 2 which will house Google’s new expanded Pittsburgh offices BikePGH’s Better Bikeways Vision stresses that bike routes must be interconnected, safe, attractive, and comfortable in order to appeal to people of all ages, especially those who are interested in riding a bike but concerned for their safety. Image courtesy of BikePGH.

And they got much more involved in the regional planning organization, the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission, or SPC, which ultimately makes the decisions on how and where transportation dollars are spent. That involvement, plus that support of the mayor, is what lead to Bricker’s appointment to the organization’s board. “By getting onto the selection committee and immersing ourselves in the process, we were able to better understand how the funding streams work and use that knowledge to help make sure Pittsburgh and other municipalities applied for this funding and that their applications were competitive,” Bricker says.

Building relationships and creating champions 

A major priority for BikePGH during the Model Grant period was engaging in local politics and focusing on the 2013 mayoral primary. BikePGH launched their We bike. We walk. We Vote.campaign and collected over 2,500 signatures from Pittsburghers demanding that the mayoral candidates take up walking and biking as part of their platform.  They also:

  • Presented their policy platform to the mayoral candidates
  • Helped form a coalition with other non-profit environmental groups to host a forum where the mayoral candidates addressed key environmental issues to our city
  • Helped transform the coalition into a non-profit advisory council for the new mayor

All of that lead to one of the most exciting developments in Pittsburgh: they now have a mayor who is a great champion of biking and walking projects. “I think we successfully demonstrated to the Mayor just how important walking and biking issues are to Pittsburghers,” says Bricker. 

Millions of biking and walking funding won

Over the past 3 years with their Advocacy Advance Model Grant, BikePGH has made tremendous progress. For example, they have:

And this is just the beginning. Since 2012 alone, the City has more than doubled the amount of money in the budget dedicated to biking and walking.

  • The City just passed a budget that includes the largest allocation for biking and walking projects, since at least we’ve been around – about ten times the previous capital budget.
  • The Mayor just launched his draft budget, and the biking project allocation is ten times what is was in the previous capital budget.

We applaud BikePGH for their hard work and effectiveness building partnerships, creating political power for bicycling and walking, and sticking with it.

Click here to learn more lessons from other Model Grantee, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

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