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Summit Preview: The Power of the People

In our September-October 2014 issue of American Bicyclist, we heard from the Cascade Bicycle Club on their innovative Advocacy Leadership Institute. Cascade will be presenting on the ALI in March at the 2015 National Bike Summit. Read more about their efforts below, and be sure to register for the Summit today!

The Seattle region has long been a great place to ride, but we’re entering the biggest boom for bicycling we’ve ever seen. Emerald City Cycle Share is launching in September, bike commute numbers are skyrocketing, and an updated Bicycle Master Plan was recently approved. Excitement and enthusiasm are overflowing from every neighborhood — and, to enhance our advocacy, we want to harness that enthusiasm to help drive policy and infrastructure changes.

That’s why, in 2011, the Cascade Bicycle Club created our Advocacy Leadership Institute (ALI). Building on Cascade’s mission of improving lives through bicycling, ALI trains passionate people from across the Puget Sound Region to effectively organize in their communities and advocate for better bike plans, effective policies and safer infrastructure. We knew we were onto an innovative idea, but the results have exceeded even our expectations, with graduates going on to start new bicycling organizations, be featured in national news outlets like Al Jazeera, serve on bike advisory boards and even manage Puget Sound Cycle Share.

So how does it work? Well, we offer two types of programs for students throughout the year: our intensive 10-week ALI courses in the spring and fall, and four shorter Advocacy Boot Camp courses in the summer and winter.

The 10-week ALI program begins with a retreat giving participants the opportunity to get to know each other and weekly guest speakers introduce participants to a range of important power brokers, from city planners and elected officials, to media members and industry partners. Through the training, students learn the skills to develop successful campaigns — and use those skills to dive into weekly workshops and class assignments based on the region’s priority infrastructure projects.

Understanding that many community members can’t dedicate 10 weeks, Advocacy Boot Camp is an opportunity to provide key training and resources in TK amount of time. Boot Camp can also serve as an advocacy appetizer or provide brush up skills for our ALI alums. Boot Camp focuses on specific priority projects and the tactics that are currently being used in the field.

Graduates of ALI are an invaluable asset to Cascade and the region. With the skills and knowledge to organize, advocate and hold decision-makers accountable, ALI graduates have become the leading advocates for bicycling and walking in their neighborhoods and cities. And because we’re training community members — parents, teachers, doctors, students, business owners — our graduates are even more connected to and invested in making sure our streets are safe for all ages and abilities.

We’re very clear that there’s a place for all types of bicycling advocates in the ALI program. Ann DeOtte Kaufman, a 2013 ALI graduate, is the founder of Iva Jean — a clothing line dedicated to creating fashionable and functional women’s bike clothes — and has used her skills to advocate for getting residents of all backgrounds to embrace bicycling. Merlin Rainwater, a 2012 ALI graduate, has gone on to spearhead the Safe Routes to Health initiative focused on engaging hospitals and healthcare facilities in making sure patients, visitors and staff can walk, bike or take transit safely.

“​ALI transformed me from an individual passionate about biking to an engaged member of an active and effective community​ passionate about biking,” Rainwater says. “Every day I see the results of our collective action in safer streets and smiling people on bikes.”

Other ALI graduates have gone on to lead local bicycling advocacy groups and engage hundreds in local advocacy initiatives, as well. Glen Buhlmann, of Kirkland Greenways; Janet Schull, of Walk Bike Burien; and Don Brubeck, of West Seattle Bike Connections, are just a few examples of ALI in action — and groups that continue to work with and support Cascade’s regional work in policy, funding and infrastructure.

“I had always been passionate about affecting change in transportation safety for bicycling and walking — but I struggled to find the most effective way to make a significant impact,” Buhlmann says. “ALI gave me both the skills I needed to be an effective advocate and exposed me to a large group of people who could help me focus and amplify my advocacy efforts.”  

Not only have graduates created campaigns and organizations together, but they’ve also created friendships. Perhaps the most important benefit of the ALI program is the relationships students build with other passionate people who share their vision for a great community. Yes, we’re building infrastructure in the Puget Sound Region, but we’re also building a community and culture that is accepting, focused and outrageously fun.