Boulder cycling group seeks 1 million supporters
The Daily Camera
Vail, CO Colorado
BOULDER, Colo. – A Boulder-based bicycle advocacy group is looking to leverage the support of one million riders to advance cycling across the country.
The Bikes Belong Coalition, with its national headquarters located on Pearl Street, is one of the largest nonprofit cycling groups in the country, with an annual budget of more than $4 million. The coalition’s goals include securing better funding and support from lawmakers on legislation that improves bike paths, lanes, trails and other facilities.
Toward that end, the group has launched its “People for Bikes” campaign, an effort to have at least 1 million bike riders of all backgrounds and ages sign an online pledge stating that they support cycling.
“We’re trying, with this campaign, to simply get as many Americans as possible who enjoy riding bikes … to sign a pledge that says, ‘I support bicycling and I would like our leaders to support it, too,'” said Tim Blumenthal, president of the Bikes Belong Coalition.
Blumenthal said that about 50 million Americans use a bicycle, but only a tiny percentage speak out in support of cycling issues.
“A lot of people aren’t comfortable writing letters to their elected officials or newspapers,” Blumenthal said. “A lot of these legislative bills are long, complicated acronyms – hard to understand, hard to decipher.”
So the group has turned to the Internet and social media – including Twitter and Facebook – to reach a broad variety of riders. The hope, according to Blumenthal, is that cyclists with even a casual attitude about getting involved in advocacy will take the time to add their name to the list of pledges.
Twelve days into the campaign, about 16,500 people have signed on.
With a massive list of names in hand, Blumenthal said the coalition could use the show of support as leverage with the White House and members of Congress when transportation funding and other bills affecting cycling come up.
“That’s credibility,” he said of having the backing of so many people.
It’s also an experiment in mass lobbying.
Some political scientists have credited social media for stirring up grassroots support and campaign contributions that led to the election of President Barack Obama.
But it’s taken longer for social media to be captured as a tool for general lobbying, said Anand Sokhey, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado.
“It’s been a little bit slower that we’ve seen this stuff develop around really specific issues,” Sokhey said. “I think we’re going to see it more and more on specific causes.”
Sokhey said politicians do pay attention when large numbers of people come together on an issue, but it’s not yet clear whether online movements – where people can casually click a button – have the same political impact as traditional petitions. Some people, Sokhey said, view online movements as “Astroturf,” or a fake grassroots movement.
“Exactly how people are viewing the electronic stuff is kind of hard to say,” he said. “We’re just starting to understand more about the real impact of this kind of grassroots organization.”
But there is still power in numbers, he said, and the ability for social networking to carry a message to a vast audience shouldn’t be underestimated. For example, international cycling superstar Lance Armstrong last week sent a message via his Twitter feed asking his more than 2.4 million followers to sign the People for Bikes pledge.
“You’re harnessing networks,” Sokhey said. “You have this public figure, this elite, who has an ability to reach a lot of people.”
The everyday users of social media also play an important role in spreading the message.
Ray Keener, for example, shared a link to the pledge on his Facebook page. The longtime cyclist and owner of Growth Cycle, a Boulder-based film company, said he signed onto the movement to help the cycling industry better promote itself among average riders.
“This gives people, where cycling is not a huge part of their life, an opportunity to express their dedication to and their love for cycling,” he said.