Idaho & Wyoming Groups Use Advocacy Advance Grants to Protect Biking and Walking Dollars
By Mary Lauran Hall on January 11, 2013
Advocacy Advance, the collaborative advocacy team composed of staff from the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking & Walking, recently awarded a series of Rapid Response Grants. These quick-turnaround grants help state and local advocacy organizations take advantage of unexpected opportunities to win, increase, or preserve funding for biking and walking. In this series of blog posts, we follow up with advocates on the ground to check in on their campaigns and see how the grants worked out.
Under the new transportation bill (MAP-21), most states saw a decrease in the amount of funding designated for bicycling and walking improvements — even though overall transportation dollars remained level.
In Idaho and Wyoming, advocates had to act fast if they wanted state transportation agencies to save biking and walking funds.
Faced with a short timeline and high stakes, statewide advocacy organizations Idaho Pedestrian and Bicycle Alliance and Wyoming Pathways both applied for and received Rapid Response grants from Advocacy Advance. Both organizations hoped to preserve as many funds as possible for local communities hoping to make their streets more walkable and bikeable.
Idaho: A Reinvigorating Setback
Idaho Pedestrian & Bicycle Alliance advocates knew that any decisions about walking and biking funds would need to go through the Idaho Transportation Board, a group of seven decision-makers appointed by the governor.
The Board was considering devastating cuts to biking and walking funding in the state — without Idaho Pedestrian & Bicycle Alliance action, the board would transfer half of Transportation Alternatives funds away from local communities and into highway construction and eliminate the state’s successful Safe Routes to School program.
In response, the Idaho Pedestrian & Bicycle Alliance launched a campaign to encourage the Board to fully fund the Transportation Alternatives program and preserve Safe Routes to School.
“We’ve built a really good partnership – Idahoans for Bike and Pedestrian Funding Under the New National Transportation Bill. We’ve got people all over the state talking to their own transportation board member,” said Molly O Reilly, a board member for the Idaho Pedestrian and Bicycle Alliance.
Funds from the Rapid Response grant enabled the organization’s executive director, Cynthia Gibson, to travel throughout the large state to garner support.
“These small towns all see the importance of walking and biking,” said Cynthia of her travels around the state. “I went to a little town called Weippe that received Transportation Enhancements funds to build a sidewalk between their school and their library. Those funds were huge for them. Mayors see this as something they want in their communities, but it might be harder to see at the state level.”
Funds to support Cynthia’s travel have helped propel Idaho Pedestrian & Bicycle Alliance’s campaign. “We’re a huge state geographically for a relatively small population,” explained Molly. “The advocacy grant has been just extraordinarily important.”
Thanks to the organization’s efforts to create new partnerships throughout the state, walking and biking supporters have submitted over 50 letters and unknown dozens of phone calls to the Transportation Department and Board in support of saving Transportation Alternatives and Safe Routes to School.
“I am really excited with the progress we’ve made,” said Molly. “We’ve built more than I had thought we might and in a way more diverse way.”
As for a final decision from the Board, the group has delayed its decision. “We think they’re going to vote in February,” Cynthia explained.
For now, Molly and her fellow Idaho Pedestrian & Bicycle Alliance advocates are not worried. “Who knows how it’ll come out, but we’re way better positioned for the long term even if we lose this round.”
“Setbacks sometimes can reinvigorate, and this setback has been important,” Molly clarified. “This campaign has been extraordinarily important for us as an organization to build, to reach a new level, and tackle something that our members and donors consider very important. None of this would have happened without that grant!”
Wyoming: Building a Base for Future Wins
Meanwhile, advocates at the newly formed Wyoming Pathways faced similar issues. The new transportation bill would mean a 40% cut for biking and walking programs in the state unless the Wyoming Department of Transportation decided otherwise.
“We’ve had good progress meeting with the director of the Department of Transportation,” said Tim Young, executive director of Wyoming Pathways. “We secured confirmation that Wyoming will hold biking and walking funding at 2012 SAFETEA-LU levels — a total of $6 million per year — rather than accepting a cut.” Wyoming’s DOT will transfer funds into the Transportation Alternatives program to compensate for MAP-21’s cuts.
Tim considers this a major victory. “It was really a nice win for Wyoming communities and for Wyoming Pathways,” he said.
The Rapid Response funds from Advocacy Advance helped Wyoming Pathways pay for Tim’s travel to the state legislature in Cheyenne and for online tools to boost organizational communications.
Tim says that the Department of Transportation’s actions are part of a broader shift in the state towards recognizing the benefits of investing biking and walking. “I’ve testified at several legislative hearings, and we’ve been making a really successful economic case.”
In fact, three major statewide departments — Transportation, Parks, and Health — have now expressed support for walking and biking investments.
“Our state’s travel and tourism folks now recognize that outdoor recreation includes bicycling,” noted Tim. “The governor has allocated Recreational Trails funds to the state’s Parks department, so that’s moving through.”
The Health Department is on board, too. “We’re hosting Wyoming’s first state bicycling summit in June, and we have signed up the Wyoming Health Department to be a lead sponsor. We’re hopeful that Senator Barrasso will be a keynote speaker.”
Overall, says Tim, “the rapid response grant was super helpful. Wyoming Pathways is a brand new statewide advocacy organization — there’s never been a statewide group here previously — and we’ve got a lot of base-building to do. Thanks to the grant, we’ve done outreach to groups around Wyoming. I’ve been to six cities in meetings with clubs, leaders, and supporters.”
This particular campaign lays groundwork for federal advocacy, too. “These are the people who will write to Senator Barrasso down the road. We’re building a base for the future.”
Photo credits: Idaho - Cynthia Gibson, Idaho Pedestrian and Bicycle Alliance; Wyoming - Tim Young, Wyoming Pathways
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