Friday, August 15, 2014

Advocacy Tips and New Orleans Bike-Ped Highlights at Last Week's Big Meeting

What a meeting it was!  And pictures to come!  Promise! 

In attendance: Lani Duke, Loren Demerath, Maurice Loridans, Stephen Pederson, Garrett Johnson, Cynthia Keith, Marion Collins, Ila Broyles, Dina Utter, Caryn Jenkins, Elka Anderson, Jim Broyles, Melisa Smith, Chris Chandler, Emilie Harmeyer, Cathy Smith, Katherine Sailer, Patrick Furlong, Matthew Ellis, Jonathan Toups, Victoria Provenza, Matthew Linn, Robert Trudeau, Feamula Bradley, Jennifer Ruley (via speaker phone).


Loren kicked things off with a description of the meeting he and Ila Broyles had last week with government officials, and how tonight’s meeting could help us take advantage of a significant opportunity.  As co-chairs of the HGIO Advocacy Committee, Loren and Ila met with Caddo Parish Commissioner Matthew Lin, NLCOG Director Kent Rogers, Caddo Parish Administrator Woody Wilson, Caddo Parish Engineer Ken Ward, and Metropolitan Planning Commission Interim Director Stephen Jean.  Kent Rogers gave us the welcome news that as part of revising our region’s overall transportation master plan, a kind of bike-ped plan would be created as well, and this could include a plan for a network of multi-use paths.
NLCOG has already selected the firm, Alliance Transportation Group, that will create the overall transportation master plan.  That firm has the contract for doing the LA DOT plan as well, and a bike-ped advocate Loren knows, David Levinger, said that those kinds of firms tend to be automobile focused.  In looking at the firm’s website they don’t appear to have the background in bike-ped planning that other firms do that specialize in that.  But it was noted that citizens groups like ABS might be able to request that the bike-ped component be sub-contracted out.  The city has an opportunity to create a better quality of life and a unique value that can lead to economic development if it’s done well.  A bike-ped master plan in Shreveport could include an extensive network of paths, not to mention bike lanes, and pedestrian safety components.  All are those features are relatively inexpensive and could be developed out of existing funds.  A good plan will make it easy for create those benefits for the city, but a bad one would make it hard, even impeding improvements into the future.  


Feamula Bradley, of the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) shared advice on how to be an effective advocacy group.  Feamula was one of the main people behind the smoke-free policies that have been established in the state, not to mention the ordinance passed in Shreveport, the first city in the state to pass one like it.
Feamula described how LPHI and the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco Free Living was able to get “boots on the ground,” and talk to decision makers in local governments and businesses to point out to them that they were all on the cusp of going tobacco-free, and would be able to do it if they all did it together.  Once the movement started, others joined too, not wanting to be left out of it.
Feamula described the various ways non-profit groups can advocate for an issue.  The point of advocacy is to distribute information on an issue, and that can be done through letters to editors of newspapers, articles and feature stories in news media, and posting on social media.  Calls to action are important to, where people are asked to share their points of view by commenting on a webpage, or by emailing decision makers.  Feamula noted that effective advocacy groups can end up shutting down the email accounts of decision makers that way, their accounts becoming so overwhelmed with incoming email.
Feamula pointed out that while non-profits are not allowed to lobby—where one requests that government officials make certain decisions on legislative issues—they can give officials information on the issues for which they advocate.   She described the effectiveness of sharing such information is facilitated by referencing issues which they find important.  And so, Feamula noted, as an organization, it helps to research decision-makers, and record what you find out. 
But maybe the most important thing Feamula advised (at least to this dimwit!) is that organizers need to set goals and timelines at their meetings, and to distribute the duties needed to reach those goals according to those timelines.  (Got it!)
Another tip Feamula gave for advocacy groups is not to overlook the small details and get distracted by the excitement of reaching the big goal at the end.  (Hmm.  Might be guilty of that one too.)  The more you tend to the details and little to-do’s the faster you’ll get there.
Feamula noted how important community mobilization was to the success of the Tobacco Free Living campaign.  When she’d give out t-shirts at festivals or shopping centers, she pause to ask the person, “hey, if you’re really interested in this, can I get your contact information?” and that info will later let you ask them to show up at city council meetings (“You don’t have to say anything, just your standing there will mean something,” she’d tell them), or to email decision makers (TFL has been known to stimulate so much email that officials’ accounts have crashed).  Helping community mobilization can be having a youth component, as well as using focus groups to projects.
Another of Feamula’s important points is looking at who’s NOT “at your table.”  That’s certainly a point our largely white, upper-middle class ABS should consider.  (Talking with Feamula later after the meeting, she emphasized the importance of diversifying our base.  This resonates with plans ABS had made before our summer break, to “take our act on the road,” and meet in other neighborhoods, pointedly inviting leaders of neighborhood associations and the like.  The plan was that ABS would learn neighborhoods different needs, interests and resources to see how they might fit with ABS projects, and in turn, to share what ABS is working on to see if they’d like to get involved and help us.  And, because it can be intimidating to come on to Centenary’s campus to meet, reaching out to the neighborhoods would involve meeting at various library branches.
Reaching out to decision-makers was another topic Feamula addressed.  She said it helps to develop profiles of such people, to research what it is they care about by attending to what they’ve spoken about, proposed, posted in social media, etc.  One can then look to connect to them through those interests.
            Last but not least, Feamula pointed out there are professional organizations out there ready to help, like LPHI.  Other organizations, like the Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations (LANO), are there for the offing as well.  In the end, it’s all about partnerships.
            And as an example of the advice and expertise professionals can provide in such partnerships, next up was Jennifer Ruley!


To give us a taste for what’s possible, Jennifer Ruley, an urban planner with the Louisiana Public Health Institute, then spoke to us over speaker phone, walking us through a powerpoint showing what she’s helped to do in New Orleans.
One of the highlights has been new bike lanes; they’ve gone from having 5 miles of bike lanes to 92 miles now in 8 years.  (Shreveport has zero miles, as readers may know.  So far.  Caddo Parish recently installing some on North Lakshore Drive. It’s a start!)
Another has bike enhancement in New Orleans has been bike parking: they’re about to add 500 more to an already substantial 4,000 spaces.
They’ve also added safety improvements like pedestrian refuge islands and crosswalks in the French Quarter.
And there’s been programming, too.  The first “Cyclovia,” (titled “Play Streets in NOLA) was held recently, (where a street is temporarily blocked off from automotive traffic).  And Better Block Demonstrations have shown on one set day how you can transform a block.  Using just temporary paint, artificial turf and planters, spaces can be provocatively repurposed.  Theirs were done by the Center for Planning Excellence.  And Bike to Work Day was a made into a party by organizing social events around it.
Although Louisiana now has a complete streets policy for state roadways (though it’s debatable how strong it is), New Orleans has passed a Complete Street Ordinance for the city “requiring that all transportation improvements are planned, designed and constructed to encourage walking, bicycling and transit use, while also promoting the full use of, and safe operation for all uses of the City’s transportation network.”  (Not a bad model, eh, Shreveport?)
As to the Shreveport Bike Ped cause, particular our interest in creating a network of multi-use paths out of our drainage ditches and levees, Jennifer said that the first steps should include targeting some relatively easy early successes (and heads nodded in the room).
Ila Broyles asked Jennifer Ruley what we might expect from the planning process, the kinds of early successes that can be done, and what communities have done this well? 
Jennifer said often there are projects approaching on the horizon, such as roadway projects coming up that are in the design process and might be amenable to accommodations.  You can do those projects sooner rather than wait for the whole city wide plan to be completed.  Once done they help the community come to expect such changes, even galvanize it to demand them.
As to what communities have done it well, Jennifer suggested we look at Jefferson Parish, which just completed their bike plan; she noted that it was pretty expensive and that there was a national expert that was part of that team;   Lake Charles has a good bike plan too.  Interestingly, Jennifer said Albuquerque New Mexico is worth a look for us in Shreveport, because it has a similar water layout with “arroyos” that work much like our bayous.
            Jeff Welborne asked how Jennifer maps the information on bike ways and make it all available to the public to see where all the bike ways are.  How do you keep track of that?  Jennifer said they track paths and lanes with Public Works in New Orleans and also refer people to the Master Plan.  But she noted one can also use GoogleMaps to consider where they’d be useful.  Victoria Provenza noted that Jill Mitchell at LA DOTD is a good resource for that.


Jan Elkins and Clay Kirby of KTBS will be our special guests on August 25th from 6:00 to 7:00 at the Wright Math Building.  Clay is head of social media at the station and Jan, a former news anchor, has been a longtime community media leisson there.   The topic will be how to use broadcast, print, and social media for advocacy.  Join us!

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