While Congress creates the framework, the most important decisions about the use of federal funds are made at the state and regional level. As the capacity of statewide bicycle advocacy groups has grown, many leaders have started to look beyond their long list of individual project victories and ask an important question: How can we use our limited resources to have a long-standing, wide-ranging impact in communities across the state?
One answer: Get involved in the process that determines the use of billions of dollars in federal funding.
Money is like water. It flows easiest through the well-worn grooves and established channels that have been carved over the years. When it comes to federal funding streams, the policies and process at the state and regional level determine whether bicycle and pedestrian projects sink or swim.
In recent years, organizations like Bike Delaware, the League of Illinois Bicyclists, and the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation have gotten involved in this critical process. In the latest report from Advocacy Advance — Improving the Process: How Statewide Organizations Are Winning Federal Funding for Bicycling and Walking Projects — Darren Flusche, League Policy Director, explores the success of those organizations and how statewide groups can have the biggest impact.
“There’s increasing interest among advocates to take on more complicated and potentially more impactful campaigns,” Darren explains. “Many are turning their attention to the ways federal funding is spent locally. Campaigns that focus on the policies and practices that influence federal spending can have lasting impact. Instead of enabling just one bicycling or walking project, it can set the stage for years of bicycle and/or pedestrian projects to be built.”
There’s clearly the need and interest for best practices for advocates at the state level. “Advocates at several statewide organizations approached us to ask about what statewide groups are doing well and how federal funding campaigns differ at the state level compared to cities and regions,” he adds.
Drawing on the models of Delaware, Illinois and Missouri, the four-page report highlights and explains steps organizations can take to get more involved and, ultimately, increase federal funding for bike/ped projects.
“The basics are the same at the regional and the state level,” Darren says. “You need to know who sets the policies and makes the project selection decisions. You need to know who influences those people, what to ask for, and when to ask for it. But operating at the state level gives advocates an opportunity to fix state DOT policies that impact every region. In addition, advocates can share best practices among all of the regions in the state. State organizations have the opportunity to make systematic change on a large scale.”
As Congress debates the transportation bill, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of transportation programs. But one thing is clear: Bicycling advocates will have to learn how to compete for scarce resources against all types of transportation projects. The examples and suggestions in this report, taken from real successes in the field, provide an essential guide. And, as always, the Advocacy Advance Team is available to offer more information and technical support.