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FHWA Home / Safety / Pedestrian & Bicycle / A Resident's Guide for Creating Safer a Communities for Walking and Biking

A Resident's Guide for Creating Safer Communities for Walking and Biking

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Section Two: Who can help me?

Once you have identified and assessed a problem, it is time to take action. In rare cases, a pedestrian or bicyclist concern (such as a broken pedestrian signal or burned out light bulb) can be resolved with a simple letter or call to the right person. More likely, you will need to engage others and build support for an improvement, and work collaboratively with a range of people to find an appropriate solution.

There are three key parties that can influence community change: 1) residents or community groups, 2) local government agency staff, and 3) elected officials. To have a good chance of improving safety, all of the parties need to support and work for change. For example, if your neighborhood wants to make pedestrian crossings safer on a roadway, you could work closely with local transportation planning and engineering staff to get approval for appropriate engineering treatments. You can then work with agency staff to help educate elected officials on the benefits of these types of improvements and show your support for them. Alternatively, you could convince elected officials of the need to improve the safety of pedestrian crossings on the roadway; elected officials would then ask staff to come up with specific solutions to make the crossing safer. A fourth group, the media, can also serve as a mechanism for raising awareness of an issue and influencing local residents, agency staff, and elected officials.

Photo: Man speaking to a crowd
Community members can meet and talk about
pedestrian issues with other residents to build support for change.

This section provides several strategies to engage these four groups and build relationships that will help you to effectively address pedestrian and bicycle problems in your community.

Engage Residents and Raise Awareness

Depending on the types of problems you've identified and how they affect other residents, you will likely want to talk with others in your community before taking steps to contact local agencies or other authorities. Find people with common concerns and build support for your projects. This can help you:

Identify partners

You may find partners and support more quickly and easily by coordinating with established organizations or community groups. These could include:

Walking groups, bicycling clubs, and advocates, such as America Walks (http://www.americawalks.org/) – a national coalition of local walking advocacy groups with links to local organizations around the country – or the League of American Bicyclists (http://www.bikeleague.org/). Members of these groups are particularly good at understanding the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists and organizing to provide support for an improvement.

Service-oriented or civic groups, such as the Rotary Club, Lions Club, Boys and Girls Club, senior centers or local AARP chapters, and YMCA. Retirees and club members often volunteer to support or help organize local events or collect data in a walkabout assessment effort.

The disability community or providers of services for people with disabilities, including local chapters of the Center for Independent Living (http://www.cilberkeley.org). The Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) website hosts a directory of Centers for Independent Living around the U.S. at: http://bit.ly/11CJWsE. These organizations can help identify pedestrian accessibility issues and may have insights regarding resources for making improvements.

Local businesses and developers, such as realtors, members of the chamber of commerce, local bike shops, and land developers. These may have a direct stake in making a community more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and a role in making improvements. They can support local efforts by providing funding or by learning more about the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists and making changes to their own policies, projects, or business practices.

The art community, such as art centers, local artists, or performance groups. These creative folks can be brought in to help with neighborhood beautification projects, street or sidewalk murals, or to liven up local events or outreach efforts.

School-based groups, such as parent teacher associations (PTAs) or the local Safe Routes to School coordinator. They can provide insights regarding child pedestrian and bicycle safety and make important connections with school projects and networks.

Photo: Chilcren riding bikes
Partner with school-based groups such as PTAs or Safe
Routes to School coordinators to identify and improve
child pedestrian and bicycle safety issues.
(Bike to School Day event)

Neighborhood and cultural groups, such as neighborhood and/or homeowner associations, cultural community organizations such as Latino or Native American organizations, or organizations that provide supportive services to immigrant groups. These groups may assist you in exchanging ideas and building diverse partnerships to support a cause.

Health and safety groups, such as Safe Kids (http://www.usa.safekids.org/walk-way/), the American Heart Association (http://www.heart.org), or community health programs. These groups may have funding to provide for walking or biking programs or ideas on how to connect with other health-based initiatives.

Local universities are sometimes an important resource. If there is a faculty or department with a common interest, such as injury prevention, health, and physical activity, they may serve as a resource to provide your group with technical expertise or help make connections with other grants or opportunities for support.

You may want to research other groups and organizations to identify ones that share similar interests and could provide resources and support for your efforts. Someone in your community may already have helpful knowledge and contacts. After you have figured out which groups to contact, try to set up a time to meet face-to-face to provide background information, discuss your concerns, and identify next steps, such as requesting to make a presentation or join the group's next meeting. There is value to meeting in person, even if it's just to make introductions over a cup of coffee, particularly when you are first establishing relationships with new groups.

Photo: People gathered outside
Speak with other residents and organizations to
share interests and build partnerships.

For More Information:
Section 4 contains descriptions and contact information for many different organizations that may be able to help you address safety concerns in your community or identify local partners.

Make it fun

Another way to engage other residents and partner groups is to plan or host a community event. Engagement often happens spontaneously through fun and meaningful events such as bike rides or other events celebrating walking and bicycling. These can also be much more appealing to residents, who may eagerly join you on a walking tour or bike ride to discuss a problem area but would be disinclined to attend another evening town hall public meeting filled with people standing in line to voice angry concerns. Some neighborhood groups host “Cops and Coffeeâ€� hours at local diners, bringing together neighborhood law enforcement officers with residents to express thanks, share news, and brainstorm ways to work together. Others have organized neighborhood walk to school day parades or invited residents to participate in a “charretteâ€� – a workshop to brainstorm solutions to a design problem. For more ideas on what types of events you or your neighborhood group can put on, see Section 3. Also check out Resource 11: Event Planning Tips.

Leverage technology and social networks

While meeting face-to-face with partners is helpful, there are a variety of technologies that can help you further your communication and outreach efforts to a wider audience. Consider following elected leaders on Twitter or Facebook so you know when important upcoming community meetings, ballots, elections, etc. are taking place, and can then share the news of upcoming events through your own social networks. You can join or start a neighborhood listserv, personal blog, community newsletter, or – if your organization has the resources – consider developing a website to serve as a communications hub. For more, see Resource 4: Tips for Working with Social Media.

Be inclusive

Some communities, such as neighborhoods with large immigrant or non-English speaking populations, may be harder to engage through traditional means or may require special efforts to bring into the fold of a community dialogue. If you are working in an area where English is not the predominant language spoken, be mindful of the need to provide translation services for any communications or community events. Also consider partnering or engaging with trusted community partners. For example, there are many cultural resource centers or other organizations established to promote and support Latino communities. These centers may also be able to help you by offering translators or making connections with important community leaders. Section 4 also provides some links to Spanish-language resources that you may find useful.

Similarly, it may take special efforts to reach out to or work within areas with high concentrations of impoverished families. Areas with low household incomes, high rates of unemployment, and low levels of education are, in particular, less likely to have access to choices in transportation (including owning a car) and may be most in need of safer facilities for walking and bicycling. There are many ways that you can be inclusive of such especially vulnerable populations, including:

Minimize potential barriers – If you want to engage with low-resource neighborhoods and families, you will have to make it as easy as possible to participate. Hold events or meetings at times and places that will be most convenient for everyone to join, such as right after school when parents are picking up their children, or maybe on a weekend at a center or neighborhood park that is central to the community. If possible, make the event family-oriented so that children can be involved and parents do not have to find childcare.

Make the connection relevant – The topic of sidewalks or bike lanes may not be at the top of the list of concerns for residents dealing with immediate or life-affecting issues such as homelessness, drugs, vacant properties, or neighborhood violence. However, bike lanes, sidewalks, and other facilities may in fact be very important for residents needing to safely access jobs, transit, healthcare facilities, and schools. Make the connection clear how walking and biking improvements affect issues that residents are concerned with, such as having “eyes on the street;â€� access to jobs, or improved lighting around a transit stop or high crime area. Emphasize that every resident's voice can be heard and that small improvements to the street environment can empower communities to make bigger changes over time.

Build on existing efforts – Seek to partner with groups already engaging in low-income areas. These may include partnership against crime groups, neighborhood watch groups, the church community, or interfaith council. You may use existing events, such as National Night Out (http://www.natw.org), as an opportunity to engage with residents and learn more about what pedestrian and bicycle efforts are needed.

For More Information:
The Community Success Stories provide several examples of how different communities have brought together diverse partners and worked in various ways and settings to improve conditions for bicycling and walking.

Identify and Collaborate with Agencies Responsible for Making Improvements

Identify appropriate department and agency staff

Decisions about roadway improvements and programs on public streets are usually made by the agencies that have jurisdiction over them. It is important to figure out which department or agency is responsible for maintaining the roads in your community. In the U.S., some roads are controlled and maintained by the State (roads with State route numbers), while others are under the jurisdiction of counties, cities, or towns. Still others are privately owned and maintained. Your local planning or transportation department should be able to tell you who owns and maintains the road in question. In some cases, you will need to work with government staff outside of planning or transportation departments. Below are descriptions of various governmental agencies and the role they may be able to play in helping respond to pedestrian and bicycle safety concerns.

Local transportation agencies – Your local transportation agency (these are also sometimes called public works, transportation, traffic, or street departments or public utility districts) is usually responsible for maintaining and operating local public streets and trails and developing plans for improvements.

Regional transportation agencies/metropolitan planning agencies (MPOs) – Regional transportation agencies and MPOs represent one or more communities in a geographical region. These groups are typically responsible for developing and implementing long-term transportation plans, programs, and projects for the region.

State or local pedestrian and bicycle coordinator – State DOTs (or highway departments) are often responsible for planning/designing, constructing, and monitoring improvements on State roadways (including sidewalks, crosswalks, and signals). Often these State roadways pass through local communities. Your State bicycle and pedestrian coordinator is a good person to contact for information about pedestrian safety statistics and ongoing State and local pedestrian programs (or links to others with this information). Your State coordinator should be able to answer questions related to pedestrian issues and direct you to appropriate contacts in your State or community. Find your State pedestrian and bicycle coordinator by visiting http://bit.ly/1tapnLD. Some cities and counties also have a local pedestrian and bicycle coordinator. Find out by contacting your local engineering or public works department.

Pedestrian or Bicycle Advisory Board – While the board or council is not a governmental agency, it may have a staff liaison that could serve as an important connection to help get your issue on the city council agenda. Many communities also have separate disability advisory boards, or sub-groups within the pedestrian or bicycle advisory board, concerned with issues related to children, bicyclists, older pedestrians, and people with disabilities. You can usually find the contacts for your local board through your city, town, or county website or phone directory. If your area does not have a pedestrian or bicycle advisory board, then you can work with your local elected officials to create one through an official action or resolution (see Section 3 for more).

Transit agencies – Transit agencies are responsible for providing bus service to the local community. The agency plans bus routes, operates service, selects preferred locations for bus stops, and maintains the stops. The agency must work with the owner of the roadway (often a State or local agency or private entity) to install the bus stops and any associated amenities.

School administrations – If the pedestrian or bicycle concern you have is on or near a school property, you may have to work with the individual school or broader school system to address the issue. A sympathetic school board member, a relevant school subcommittee or department (e.g., health, facilities, transportation, or curriculum), a school advisory board, PTA leader or member, or school staff member such as a principal or physical education teacher may be a potential partner or someone who can connect you to the appropriate person.

Police departments – Police departments are responsible for enforcing local and State laws, many of which relate to pedestrian and bicycle safety. Depending on the size of the town, some police departments are divided into different districts (such as a downtown district) and some may have special units, such as a bike squad or traffic safety unit. Additionally, most police departments have School Resource Officers that work within schools. In some places, police departments are responsible for staffing and training school crossing guards. See Resource 9: Enforcement Contact Worksheet for more on reaching out to law enforcement personnel. If you are in a rural area, a county Sheriff's office or State Highway Patrol unit may serve as your primary law enforcement agency that oversees traffic-related concerns.

Photo: Police Officer directing children in bicycle safety training.
Some police departments host bicycle skills training
courses for children or other safety events.


Local Sources of Information Worksheet will help you identify and organize important community contacts and agency staff.

Collaborate and communicate

Developing a relationship with government or transportation agency staff will help ensure that they understand the issues and have the information needed to make informed decisions. All public agencies in charge of roadway improvements have a public process that will allow you to participate in the decision-making at some level. Here are a few tips to ensure that your efforts are effective:

Photo: People meeting
Residents can talk with government staff, elected
officials, and others about safety concerns.

When you are coordinating or communicating with agency staff, it will help you to learn more about the process for making improvements, what upcoming opportunities exist to make changes, and the role that you can play moving forward. Some possible questions you can ask include:

For More Information:
See the Guide to Transportation Decisionmaking: http://1.usa.gov/1vwixpH.

Be a resource

Partnership is a two-way street. When working with agency staff, it is helpful to not only discuss your concerns but to also identify ways in which you or your community group can support the agency in making changes. You can offer to:

Engage with Elected Officials

Elected leaders (such as city council members, county commissions, board of supervisors, or school board trustees) can be important partners in advancing walking and bicycling issues. You can:

Photo: People on walk tour
Invite officials on a walking tour to experience
the conditions you seek to improve.

See Resource 6: Sample Fact Sheet: Making the Case for Walking and Bicycling, for some talking points you can use when talking to elected leaders, neighbors, or others about why it is important to make your community safe and inviting for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Connect with the Media

Savvy pedestrian and bicycle advocacy groups know how to leverage the local media to bring attention to their cause. Connecting with the media can help you to spread your message further in the community, or put a particular issue in the spotlight so that there is more pressure from agency staff and elected officials to address it. It can also be a way to build more community dialogue about a problem and potential solutions. There are several ways to make connections with the media, depending on what you are trying to do and what local media exist (e.g., television stations, newspapers, bloggers, etc.). You can write a letter to the editor, write a blog, or offer to be a “guest contributor� to another blog. If you are working with a governmental agency, you can work with their communication staff to issue a media alert to invite press to an event; or you can directly invite reporters or journalists that you know to attend and cover the event. Some tips for getting good media coverage include:

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Page last modified on January 31, 2013
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