PeopleForBikes was founded in 1999 as Bikes Belong by the leaders of the US bike industry. While bicycle companies fiercely compete in the marketplace, they decided to work together to improve the conditions for cycling throughout the country. The focus then – and now – was on places for bikes: better bike infrastructure of all types that makes riding safe and appealing for people of all ages and bicycling experience.
Although it’s a USA-specific organisation, the strategies and practices translate worldwide, and PeopleForBikes share and work with counterparts and other organisations country-wide and globally.
It was clear from the outset that the combined weight of bike companies working together under one banner and with a common aim had significant clout, and PeopleForBikes went straight to the top.
Their first success was lobbying US Congress to increase federal funding for bike projects: in 1999, $204 million of federal money supported 724 projects nationwide. In 2014, $821 million boosted 2,485 projects. Big numbers that translate down to making a massive difference at grass roots level, inspiring and educating new and returning cyclists.
The Worldwide Cycling Atlas spoke with Tim Blumenthal, President at PeopleForBikes who explained more about the organisation’s aims, initiatives and achievements.
“We are proud of our work to increase federal funding. We’ve also invested more than $10 million cash in grants to great bike projects and the organisations that are developing them,” he says.
“During the last three years, we have backed the Green Lane Project, which has inspired a 300 percent increase in the number of protected (separated) bike lanes in US cities. During the last five years, we have developed a grassroots army of 1.1 million individuals who support bicycling.
It’s perhaps inevitable to learn that one of the biggest challenges facing PeopleForBikes is a perception within Congress that bicycling is not a significant, contemporary solution for pressing societal problems.
“In fact,” continues Blumenthal, “it is – and already helps reduce road congestion, air and noise pollution and parking infrastructure costs. Last year, 103 million Americans rode a bike at least once. If bike infrastructure improves, more of these people will ride more often, and our communities, nation and planet will benefit in a variety of ways.
To help get this strong message across – and implement practical ways of making it a reality, PeopleForBikes partner with a number of organisations in the US and around the globe. These include the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, the Alliance for Biking & Walking, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, NICA (high school mountain biking), the League of American Bicyclists, the UCI, and the European Cyclists Federation.
Blumenthal’s view is pragmatic, yet refreshingly broad: “PeopleForBikes focuses on the US. This said, our logo, messaging style, strategies and tactics have received praise from a broad mix of countries around the globe. We will continue to share best practices and communicate and partner regularly with organisations, events and cycling leaders worldwide.”
At home, amongst the major new projects, PeopleForBikes are now directing the National Bike Challenge, which encourages Americans to track their rides and ride more. “This program will engage close to 100,000 individuals this year, who will ride more than 30 million miles,” says Blumenthal – and the expectation going forward is even more ambitious: “We believe that the Challenge can grow a lot in 2016.”
As well as getting people in the saddle, PeopleForBikes encourages a growing community of cyclists to share their experiences and their enthusiasm. First-hand stories of cycling converts are both demonstrate that the schemes are working and provide useful ammunition for exerting pressure on Congress and elsewhere.
“When people ride bikes, great things happen – all kinds of great things,” says Blumenthal. “Bicycling makes people, and their communities, healthier and happier. Bicycling saves money and preserves the environment. Bicycling is fun. The stories people share with us feature these themes and many others.
PeopleForBikes has shared its own bit of storytelling in its Shed the Monster video – momentarily sidestepping the arguments about fitness, saving money and changing a nation, and focusing on the simple belief that a bike ride has the power to turn your day around.
How can more people get involved with this growing community?
“Visit peopleforbikes.org. Sign up as an individual supporter: it’s free. Track rides through the National Bike Challenge: also free. Donate! Share our messages with friends and family members.”