You may have noticed it has been very quiet on the Bikes Welcome front for a while now. The short story is that I ran out of steam. Burnout.
Here is the longer story, the lessons learned along the way, and some questions about what happens next.
Bikes Welcome was an idea that just wouldn’t go away. I figured if we got businesses on board, recognising that their customers ride bikes and spend money, then we would build ‘social license’ (people who don’t object loudly) for biking in our towns and cities. Bikes Welcome ‘Bike Friendly Business’ was meant to be a toolkit that local advocates could use to build support in their backyards. Other objectives included providing some decent information on Bike Parking (no more wheelbenders please), building awareness of the importance of bike parking, and creating further awareness of everyday biking.
As a perfectionist it is all to easy for me to focus on what wasn’t achieved: the bike friendly business program never really took off. It did work when I summoned up a super-friendly and persuasive alter ego and approached businesses myself. However the whole model was meant to be about regular bike-using customers approaching their favourite businesses. That just didn’t fly. (Although huge thanks to the people who did do this!!)
I have a few theories why. Most bike users just want to ride their bikes. They don’t want to ask for stuff, especially in an environment where talkback jocks are stirring the pot of intolerance and they feel like a subclass who should be grateful they are still allowed to bike. And if they do ask for stuff, it will be infrastructure that saves lives. Advocates have enough on their plates, especially with submissions to write and present; and with staying strong through the ups and downs of advocacy. To avoid (or at least slow down) burn out, advocates need to focus, and businesses and building social license may not be part of that focus.
The other thing missing from Bikes Welcome was people power. It was less of a peloton and more a sole rider slogging it up a hill in a headwind. I started Bikes Welcome without really knowing anyone in the ‘people on bikes’ world. Luckily I was introduced to many wonderful people who helped put the wind at my back and inspire me to keep going. But big ideas take more than one person (especially when that one person is juggling other aspects of life); and I didn’t build a team around me. And it does take a team. So the big lesson for other advocates is build your team; nurture it; work together as a peloton and take turns in front so that no one person gets worn out. Advocacy is hard work, and the ability to oscillate our time and energy is important to avoiding burnout.
It is not all doom and gloom, and looking through the list of objectives in our Trust Deed, I can confidently say Bike Welcome did achieve many of them. I’m particularly pleased with the role we played in getting Bike Parking Guidelines into the NZTA Cycle Network Guidance. I had discovered that some councils struggled to include decent bike parking requirements into their district plans because they weren’t defined anywhere they could reference, and they didn’t want to write their own standard into the district plan. By ensuring there is a nationally recognised and published guideline they can reference, we have removed an obstacle to them including bike parking. Now we just need local advocates to ensure they ask for it when their district plans are up for review.
Now the big question that plays on my mind in the early hours of the morning is: where next for Bikes Welcome. Do I scale back the website further and just leave it in ‘maintenance mode’ as a source of information? Do I shut it down altogether and wind up the charitable trust and incorporated society behind it? Do I find some other biking group or person who would like to take it over? (let me know if you are keen!). These are the questions that the board and I will be considering prior to our AGM in April/May. If you have suggestions or ideas please share them in the comments below or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Image Credit: BrotherM on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcr/2149978524