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Who Speaks For Cyclists?

A guide to biking advocacy organizations in Vienna, Fairfax and beyond

Have you ever found yourself wishing there were a better, safer way to get from point A to point B? Have you gotten somewhere, only to discover there’s no safe place to park your bike? Or have you had an interaction with a motorist that made you feel that you were put at undue risk?

Most of us have experienced something like this, and have wondered what can be done to make things safer and more convenient for cyclists. Well, that’s where bicycle advocacy organizations come in.

In much the same way that the American Automobile Association and other “motor clubs” speak for drivers of automobiles, a number of organizations also work to advance the interests of bicyclists.

Right here in Vienna, we have the Vienna Bicycle Advisory Committee, which was created to give local citizens input to the Town Council on issues related to cycling and to promote the use of bicycles as an alternative form of transportation. Most recently, the BAC advocated f In addition, they are working with local businesses to improve bicycle parking facilities throughout town. If you have a specific, local cycling concern, the VBAC is probably who you want to talk to.

 A bit broader focus is found in Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, which, as the name implies, is working to “make bicycling an integral part of the transportation network of Fairfax County." Among other achievements, FABB was instrumental urging  the county to create the position of Bicycle Coordinator, currently held by Charlie Strunk. FABB members have been very active in providing input into county-wide issues related to cycling, including the Tyson’s redevelopment plans and the creation of the county’s bicycle route map.

 In the greater Washington, DC area, the primary advocacy organization is the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. If you’ve ever participated in you’ve witnessed WABA at work. Founded in 1972, WABA is working hard to create a truly bicycle friendly transportation system in the region. They have been instrumental in the creation and preservation of many of the bike lanes, routes and other cycling infrastructure throughout the area, and have a very active education and outreach operation as well.

At the state level, the Virginia Bicycling Federation acts as cycling’s voice in Richmond. Working with state and local governments, they promote cycling as a means of transportation, tourism, and economic development. Among other approaches, the VBF makes a point of recognizing those individuals or communities through their “Bicycling Friendly Awards."

Last, but by no means least is the great-grandaddy of bicycle advocacy, the League of American Bicyclists. Founded before the turn of the 20th century as the League of American Wheelmen, the LAB has long worked at the national level to promote the cause of cyclists, beginning with the “Good Roads Movement” in the late 1800s, which was in large part responsible for creating the road infrastructure we have today.

To this day, the League continues to be instrumental in working with government officials to ensure that cyclist’s voices are heard and heeded. Every year members gather in the nation’s capital for the National Bike Summit, an event which includes sessions with members of Congress, seminars in bicycle advocacy, as well as a bike ride around the city. In addition, the League has a network of instructors who teach traffic skills to cyclists of all ages and levels of experience.

So the next time you find yourself wishing that “somebody” would do something to improve cycling in the area, remember these organizations that are hard at work for you. Don’t hesitate to approach any or all of these groups with your concerns. Better yet, think about joining them in their efforts. All of the groups mentioned above welcome new members and their input. Each of us can do our part to help make our communities and our world safer and better for cyclists.

Richard Layman July 26, 2011 at 04:11 PM
another level of advocacy is more specialized, comparable to VBF, there is the Mid Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE), which advocates for off road biking. They are a member of International Mountain Biking Assn. Similarly, VBF is probably a member of the League of American Bicyclists, which does national-level advocacy and supports state and local advocacy. Rails to Trails Conservancy is a national organization focusing on trails, and has many affiliates across the country--like the Friends of the W&OD Trail...
Alan Young July 27, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Good article Tim! I don't think the majority of cyclists realize that just belonging and occasionally attending public meetings makes a huge difference when advocating for change. Our political class responds positively to relatively small numbers of interested citizens, numbers count!
Tim Fricker July 28, 2011 at 04:29 AM
Thanks Alan! It's true, people would be surprised what a difference they can make, simply by signing up and showing up. I think we all often forget that our society as a whole works better the more we participate in it. It's all too easy to get caught up in our own day to day things, and assume someone else will take care of some things. I know I fall into that myself sometimes.
Tim Fricker July 28, 2011 at 04:32 AM
Excellent points! I didn't really address the off-road advocacy folks, and I apologize for that. Most of my focus here is on getting around town by bike, and that's reflected in the groups I mentioned. But IMBA and MORE and other groups give the off road cyclists a voice as well.

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