In a recent op-ed article in the Guardian, Andrew Gilligan draws a political lesson from his tenure as cycling commissioner in London. It’s worth a full read. Gilligan points out that proposals to expand bicycling infrastructure – lanes and paths – have great popular support in Britain but often aren’t put into action. He blames politicians for succumbing to opposition by a vocal minority or for simply lacking initiative.
How might cycling advocates overcome roadblocks to democratically supported improvements? Gilligan mentions the importance of producing persuasive evidence of cycling’s benefits and popularity and of anticipating objections. Ultimately, however, his op-ed suggests that it’s vital to curry the favor of bold officials – or to foster boldness in ones who are already friendly.
My observations and experience support this. But what should advocates do when the officials are unswervingly hostile or impossibly meek? There’s no universal answer, but it’s worth considering alternatives to nobly pursuing the best improvements when the chances of success are predictably close to nil.
- Is there a good project that you can promote in a more supportive jurisdiction?
- Are there different types of project in the same jurisdiction that don’t require the obstructing official’s support?
- For example, bicycle parking instead of a path
- Can you hold your resources in reserve until the circumstances are more propitious?
Perhaps you’ll choose to take a longer view and devote some resources to keeping the original dream alive, despite likely failure in the short term. Nonetheless, you should strongly consider diverting the bulk to other projects until the human roadblock is gone.