Sitting on a BPAC (Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Committee)
This blog was written over the summer by one of our former Federal Policy Fellows, Connor Herbert. Connor has since departed to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Durham as a member of the 75th-anniversary cohort of the US-UK Fulbright program. Find his Fulbright bio here. Make joining a local bike advocacy group part of your resolutions for the New Year!
What is it like to be in one of the several rooms where your city makes decisions regarding the future of its infrastructure?
That is one thing you might be wondering if you aren’t a planner or a traffic engineer and you want to help out with the planning process in your city. Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Committees (BPAC), sometimes referred to as Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advisory Committees or PBACs, are the perfect way to do exactly that. I have been sitting on one in my city, Lincoln, since January, and it just so happens that I have a couple of older friends who have been sitting on it for much longer than I have.
Our BPAC was started long before I joined as a result of the pressure of Elaine Hammer, a longtime biking advocate in Lincoln who passed away last year. Today it sits within the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department, and we hold monthly meetings to mostly discuss developments relating to our trail and recreational biking network. Because of Elaine’s advocacy, citizens like me now have a voice in the city’s planning and decision-making regarding bicycle facilities.
I decided to join after meeting with one of the members, Suzanne Rodenburg, for coffee one day to hear more about some of her contributions to bicycle advocacy in Lincoln. Suzanne and her husband, longtime friends of Elaine’s, worked with her to buy out a rail line and convert it into a trail in the ‘80s. This, combined with other bike-related efforts, laid the groundwork for the interior trail network that I love and use today in Lincoln. She mentioned that if I had any deeper interest in getting engaged in local advocacy some spots were opening up on the BPAC and that I could apply through city hall if I wanted.
Our BPAC is composed of a group of citizens and some of the planners involved in the decision-making process. While much of our work involves discussing trail maintenance and development, we can also write letters to our mayor to provide advisory opinions on other things relating to the biking and walking experience in Lincoln. In the past, for instance, we have encouraged the consideration of shifting to the Idaho stop model for bike traffic enforcement.
At a recent meeting, we discussed several subjects and also had a special attendance from the state’s bike advocacy organization Bike Walk Nebraska. They spoke about their upcoming state summit and a weekend bike ride they have planned to go along with it.
We also spoke on the city’s most recent revision to the 10-year bike plan and discussed some of the options the city could consider for using our Carbon Reduction Program funds over the next five years. Earlier this year, we helped the city identify a bicycle pedestrian bridge project eligible for the funding— it will be the first project funded through this program which was created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
As an advocate, this is always an awesome opportunity to learn what the city is planning in the coming months as we also receive regular updates on the acquisition and construction process for the trail network. As an example, I am leaving to pursue a fellowship in the UK in a month, but I know that the city intends to begin construction on a bike trail a little bit north of my neighborhood this fall or early next spring and that it should be done by the time I return—meaning I will have a more direct route that doesn’t involve biking through neighborhoods and parks once I get back, which is awesome. While I’m away, I’ll come back to a bit of the city totally transformed!
Sharing developments like these with fellow bicyclists whether you sit formally on the committee or not also means that you get the chance to hear what kinds of problems they have been experiencing as well. Has the pavement on a certain trail been settling? Or is it jutting out to the point of being a trip hazard? Share with them that they can contact your city hall about the matter or do it for them! Sitting on a city commission means you get to be empowered with more institutional knowledge and can do a better job at shifting the conversation towards productive actions.
Relatedly, it will also expose you to other advocates who may not be in your circle already. I, for one, am the youngest person on Lincoln’s BPAC. That means I bring a unique perspective on the one hand and that also means that I can learn about my city’s development from people who have been here significantly longer than I have and know a lot about what has and has not changed during their time here. That makes for a strong learning opportunity that goes beyond simple advocacy!