How to Build a Local Bike Advocacy Group From the Ground Up
In a lush yard in Walnut Creek, overflowing with snap peas, lemons, and flowering sage, people mingle around. This isn’t a regular afternoon barbeque: these are bike riders and non-bicyclists who want to ride. Folks roaming through the garden are commuters, advocates, and parents who just want to bike with their kids. And they’re about to form Bike Pleasant Hill.
What does it take to build a local bicycle advocacy group from the ground up? Kristin Tennessen, Bike East Bay board member, Bike Walnut Creek founder, and host of the backyard meeting says, “The most important thing, and pretty much all it depends on, is forming positive personal relationships with people in your community.”
Kristin and her husband Danny Milks moved to Walnut Creek in 2011 and immediately saw the need for a biking network to connect the city’s already- established trail system. Getting to know their new town, Kristin and Danny went off the beaten path: “Bike advocacy — going to a city council meeting or the bicycle pedestrian meeting-was like date night for us.” Date nights quickly led to a social network and, with the support of Bike East Bay in 2012, neighbors, friends, and city staff allies became Bike Walnut Creek.
Eight years later, Bike Walnut Creek is still going strong, which Kristin credits to “consistent, passionate community members.” Kristin and Danny’s family has grown too. On a morning bike ride with kids in tow, all it took was a set of poorly-placed posts to spark the idea for Bike Pleasant Hill. The family was test-riding their commute to Pleasant Hill Elementary School, but the trailer holding the youngest kids wouldn’t fit through a set of posts designed to prevent vehicles from entering the trail. Kristin and Danny calculated that riding with their three children would mean logging more than 10,000 trips by bike to school. Acting now would be worth it.
Ten days after Kristin got in touch with the city, the posts were gone. She was blown away. She wondered if the city might be open to bigger bicycle improvements, and more digging supported her theory. Kristin found a draft bicycle plan for Pleasant Hill that hadn’t been made official, a key to securing larger bike improvements. Knowing the power of a collective voice, Kristin, Danny, Bike Walnut Creek, and Bike Concord started pooling their contacts to see who was interested in forming Bike Pleasant Hill.
A few months later, the crowd — built only through personal relationships and word of mouth — gathered in Kristin and Danny’s yard. Together they drafted a letter sharing hopes for the future of biking in Pleasant Hill: a low-stress network to schools, shops, and public transit. The first step? An approved bike master plan. Kristin nods to the power of having a consistent, organized, passionate group over many years. “If somebody doesn’t agree with you right away, eventually they will, you just have to be patient…People will come around.” Following in the footsteps of Bike Walnut Creek and Bike Concord, one relationship at a time, connecting with city staff, the community, and each other, Bike Pleasant Hill is ready to build the future.
Looking to join a local group near you? Visit BikeEastBay.org/CoalitionPartners