Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: Final Steps

First of all, many thanks to Grist and Planetizen for promoting this series, I hope it's helpful to my fellow crosswalk lovers out there.

In the previous step, I talked about gathering support from other groups and individuals who could help champion your cause. To finish up, let's move on to:

Step 8: How do I apply pressure?
Now that you've gathered the details you need to make your case, rallied your supporters, and identified the people you need to influence, you can begin the real work of advocacy. Successful advocacy strategies could make up an entire series in itself, so I'll only offer a few thoughts here.

First, publicize your case. This could mean anything from starting a facebook page, to contacting your local paper (Tip: you don't have to focus just on the big news outlets. Many communities have their own small, but influential, papers), to holding a rally or walk-in at your crosswalk location. The more outlets you use to raise awareness the better.

Second, use your contacts. Follow up regularly with the contacts you've met at the staff and elected level within your jurisdiction. By this I do not mean calling and/or emailing every hour, or even every day. You're looking for the happy medium between calling often enough that your contacts realize you're serious, and calling so much that they want to set fire to their phone whenever they hear your voice on the other end. This can be a fine line. However,  unless there's immediate urgency I suggest that a follow up call or email every few weeks to a month is sufficient.

Third, use your supporters. It's important to demonstrate to decision-makers that you are not the only one who cares about this crosswalk. Some options include asking your fellow advocates to sign a petition, having them contact their elected official to indicate their support (the simplest thing is for you to draft an email yourself, and provide it to others to copy and send out themselves), or asking them to testify at a public meetings.

That last one is particularly important, because one of the most critical things you can do as a crosswalk advocate is to attend meetings and testify. I will not sugarcoat this: public meetings are long, boring, and often occur at inconvenient times. However, they're the way things get done here in our fair country, and if you're serious about your crosswalk you're going to need to attend them.

You can start with meetings of your local community planning group (if you have one), but you'll also want to show up at meetings of your city council or county supervisors. Even if your crosswalk is not on the agenda, you can use the period at the start of the meeting (when the public is allowed a short time to provide testimony on off-agenda items) to promote your cause. I also suggest doing this for crosswalks on state roadways, as your local elected officials can help you pressure folks at the state level.

I don't have to remind you of my earlier warning to avoid costumes for these hearings, right? You might think that dressing in head-to-toe zebra print will really hammer home the advantages of installing a zebra crossing, but I promise you that it does not help your cause to be known as "Zebra Man" in your city's sacred halls. Ditto on any overly-aggressive speeches (yelling, name-calling, finger-pointing). Also, be aware of any time limits that are placed on public testimony, and draft your speech accordingly.

Finally, be patient. The public process is many things, but "fast" is not one of them. Continue to use your contacts, rally your supporters, and apply pressure to the appropriate decision-makers. Also, be aware that your jurisdiction may not have the ability to fund any new crosswalk projects in the current fiscal year. Because of this, even with the full support of staff and elected officials, you might still have to wait many months before action can be taken. (Towards that end, you may want to time your advocacy to the period when budget decisions are being made. Often this is in the early part of the year, a few months before the start of the new fiscal year in July.)

Step 9: Enjoy your crosswalk
If all goes well, your efforts will pay off and you'll soon be admiring the sparkle of bright white lines against asphalt. Congratulations!

And if not? The reality is, even the best advocacy doesn't guarantee results--particularly not in today's fiscally-crunched world. But even if your work doesn't result in the crosswalk of your dreams, don't let it go to waste. Continue to build relationships with the staff and elected officials you've met. Maintain contact with your supporters. You've managed to establish yourself as a smart leader who's serious about improving pedestrian conditions in your community, and you shouldn't waste that political capital. Instead, use it to continue to work towards enhancing your neighborhood's walkability--because there's always another crosswalk out there that could use some stripes.

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