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Building Business Support for Biking
This blog is cross-posted from the Advocacy Advance blog, and is authored by Brighid O'Keane.
Chambers of Commerce – at the local, regional, state and national level – are organizations of businesses that advocate on behalf of the business community.
As advocates, we know that safe infrastructure that gets more people biking and walking in their communities is good for business. If your Chamber develops a platform that represents this, elected officials will hear the demand not just from us, but from the voice of businesses themselves.
Missouri’s Chamber of Commerce recently endorsed its Transportation Commission’stransportation policy statement for 2014, in which they strongly support biking, walking and transit. Included in their platform are the following statements:
“…The needs and priorities assessment and recommended strategy (for transportation infrastructure) must not only focus on the improved quality of our roads and bridges, but itmust also concentrate on the movement of people and goods via public transportation, passenger and freight rail, ports, air travel, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, as well as increased safety and the growth of our economy.”
“ The Missouri Chamber supports legislation to identify increased funding sources that would allow the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to enhance multimodal programs throughout the state of Missouri…”
The Chamber did not always take this stance, but through education and informed persuasion, advocates were able to gradually develop support, acceptance and the change they wanted to see.
How did they do it? According to Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation Executive Director Brent Hugh, “this was honestly the easiest advocacy battle I have ever worked on.” Here are his steps:
- Your organization joins the statewide Chamber of Commerce
- You ask to join the Transportation Commission
- Next time there is an opening, you are on it. Not that many people are very interested in this issue.
- Make sure to attend every meeting. All of ours are by phone, maybe 2-3 times per year. Only a few people are on the call usually.
- I just talk about our same issues just about the same way I do in any other committee, just always trying to put a business angle on everything.
- Key: We always had a few other allies on the committee. Particularly helpful are those businesses and contracts that plan, design, and build bike/ped infrastructure and trails. They always spoke up in support of bike/ped (sometimes more so than I did!) and they made a huge difference. They are probably members of the Chamber already--just have some employee ask to join the Transportation Commission.
- Before you know it, the Chamber's position is the same as your position.
Remember, not all Chambers are alike, and aren't nesesarily affiliated with or in lockstep with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Another tip: get to know the Chamber’s lobbyists. After years of visiting the Capitol, the Chamber of Commerce’s four lobbyists are familiar with the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation and the impact of their lobbyist. During the Transportation Commission meetings, which are organized and led by the Chamber lobbyist for that area, bike/ped interests are accepted and incorporated.
“The Chamber lobbyist was probably the single person who could have effectively stopped the change,” Hugh said. “Instead, she is the one who wrote the particularly strong language that was finally adopted. That was based on committee discussion, yes, but she could have phrased it a lot more mildly.”
The great strides that Missouri advocates have made with their State Chamber of Commerce is part of their coalition-building efforts around Missouri’s proposed $8 billion transportation funding proposal, a campaign funded by an Advocacy Advance Rapid Response Grant.
MoDOT's new long-range plan, which lays out their approach to spending the proposed $8 billion over the next 10 years, is being released November 7. MoDOT has promised repeatedly that this will be the first to actually incorporate biking, walking and transit fully.
In many states like Missouri, the Chamber of Commerce is one of – if not the – most influential lobbying entity in the state capitol. Lobbying your Chamber to adopt a position friendly to bicycling and walking can reap many long-term rewards for legislation and funding that benefit active transportation.