In Melbourne, working to create healthy environments always felt like an uphill battle. Probably because we were trying to intervene in systems driven by economic, social and legal factors that we hardly understood, let along had an influence over… you know, such as supply and demand?
Systems which determine things like the types of foods available, housing density and street design. All factors which impact on what people eat and how they get around, which in turn impact on health, but which are not normally recognized as such. There were always more direct and powerful factors influencing the local area and community.
In the team, we’d get all passionate in our discussions about creating a “community demand for health”. Getting the community to ask for healthier food, city structures and walkable/rideable streets. Surely community demand would be a powerful force which couldn’t be ignored!
Sounds pretty straight forward right? Who wouldn’t want all of that? Despite this, effectively generating community demand from within government wouldn’t have been easy, and then channeling that into an influential form would have been even trickier! It gets all political and stuff.
Here in SF there are at least a few (if not many more) not-for-profit organizations doing just that- creating community demand- and they’re damn good at it! Two of the major organizations I’ve come across so far are ‘Walk SF‘ and the’ San Francisco Bicycle Coalition‘. I’ve recently gotten involved with the SF Bicycle Coalition through a couple of projects which advocate for better bicycle facilities and capacity on board trains. Upon showing interest, I was put in touch with a group of extremely dedicated and skilled volunteers called ‘Bikes on board’. These guys sure know how to advocate, and now they’re teaching me too. Recent involvements for me include advocating for the installation of on-board bike racks as part of BART’s new rail car design and for an increase in on-board bike capacity on Caltrain.
Since getting involved I’ve seen just how much tireless effort, of both Bikes on Board and the SF Bicycle Coalition, goes into encouraging community to stand up and have their say. Not just me (even though I am a bit stubborn when it comes to speaking up), but facilitating the broader community to report the times they and their bike were “bumped” from a train to help build a case for increased capacity, or to express their opinion about bikes on BART.
Of course, proving a cause and effect relationship between any project and it’s success is pretty much impossible in the real world, but check out how bikes have become more and more accepted on BART and Caltrain over time anyway.
I’ll end in saying that my very favourite thing about the SF bicycle Coalition is their genuine focus on making riding easier for bike riders of all ages and demographics. People who ride for all purposes- on roads, off roads, to get to work, childcare, school as well as for fitness and for fun.