To be more effective, advocates need to learn as much as possible about the proposed project. Outlined below are suggested steps for finding information about the project and preparing specific, constructive comments about the design.
Copies of the engineering plans, even if they seem overly detailed, contain much important information. To get the plans, establish who owns or has jurisdiction over the road, which agency is handling the project and who is the project manager. Local officials, particularly the project manager, will be an important source of this information. Copies of plans are kept on file and are usually available at a nominal cost from the agency. A full set of drawings can be a lot of work for the agency to assemble. They contain more information than is needed for most advocates’ purposes. Copies of the plan view sheets provide most of the needed information and are likely all that is needed. Plans become obsolete whenever the design is changed, and revised plans are typically available after each of the key design stages, replacing the previous versions.Information to determine when first looking at the project plans:
Lane width, traffic speed, and traffic volume are the main considerations in determining whether or not a road needs dedicated bicycle facilities. On-road bicycling accommodations include regular shared travel lanes, bike lanes, wide curb lanes, and paved shoulders. Some roads need no special on-road bicycle facilities due to the low traffic volumes and speed. The following chart gives guidance on the type of bicycling accommodation to select as operating speed and traffic volume vary. Charts of this type are used in some bicycling design manuals. However, recommendations should not be regarded as absolute as it may make sense to select facilities based on the specific location. For example, extending an existing bike lane may be better than shifting bicyclists from a bike lane to a shoulder and back. Continuity and well-planned transitions are essential for safety.
"Vehicular bicyclists" believe that they are safest when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles, and they ride on the road together with motor traffic. Other bicyclists prefer to ride partially or completely segregated from motorized traffic. A single road project should be able to meet the needs of different types of bike riding.
Building up a network of advocates with knowledge of bicycling design details will prove valuable in examining proposed projects. Some local advocates may already have some type of engineering or technical background and may be willing to review or interpret the plans. It is also always useful to seek out local bicyclists who ride the location for their insights and recommendations. Reviewing the plans together should generate some specific comments and requests for submission to the design agency. Another good source of expert information is the project manager and the engineering staff working on the project. They may be willing to meet to go over the plans and explain the design details. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (the Bike Guide) is an excellent resource when looking at what is proposed for a particular location. Appendices D and E list a number of other manuals and websites with additional technical assistance.
Showing up at public meetings is a key piece of advocating for improvements. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is responsible for holding most public meetings in Virginia as VDOT controls most of the public roads.
Meetings may be formal, informal or a combination of the two. While some public meetings are required to meet the project implementation rules, others are held at the agency’s discretion. Check local newspapers for advertisements, or check the VDOT website for notifications. Local county and city department of transportation (DOT) offices provide information about upcoming county or city public meetings also. Many county supervisors will notify interested parties or homeowner associations about upcoming meetings, and local officials may notify known stakeholders.Types of VDOT public meetings:
A public hearing is a formal type of advertised meeting for a project that occurs after the project has completed the preliminary design stage. At the hearing, the design group usually does an engineering presentation, which is followed by questions from the audience. To take full advantage of the hearing, do some advance preparation: view the plans, visit the site or research designs and design issues. When speaking at the hearing, stay on message and within time limits and avoid side issues. Frequently, constructive ideas will be considered by the agency. Advocates should note their approval of good features of the design for the record to try to protect the accommodation from elimination during subsequent revisions.
Coordinate with other advocates, so that even if they don’t share the same perspective on the improvements, everyone will reinforce one another rather than argue in a manner that could cancel out their respective comments. For example, one advocate may insist upon an on-road bike lane and another may prefer an adjacent shared-use path. Simply emphasize the advantages of the preferred accommodation rather than publicly bicker about its relative merits.Responding to criticisms that arise in public forums:
Many present at a public hearing own frontage along the project and may view the space required for bicycling accommodations as coming directly from their front yard. Adjacent property owners will likely be the most motivated to oppose any bicycling improvements, so be respectful and highlight benefits to the wider community.
Explain how bicycling accommodations will benefit non-bicyclists. Antagonizing officials or members of the public may cause a backlash against the bicycling accommodations and will not help in achieving goals. The best policy is to be patient, polite, and persistent.
Some audience members may oppose bicycling facilities. Others may oppose bicycling or have mistaken beliefs about bicyclists' rights. While some of the issues raised may have little to do with design concerns, be prepared to correct inaccuracies and also to disassociate the vast majority of bicyclists from the poor behavior of the few. A number of websites such as the League of American Bicyclists (bikeleague.org) offer excellent information directly addressing these issues.
Generally, few take the time to submit comments on how a design could be improved or expanded to accommodate bicyclists but it is extremely important that agencies receive written feedback on projects. Written comments allow for more thoughtful explanation of the issues than is possible in the short time allotted at a hearing. Comments should be submitted within the specified time period via e-mail, letters, or public hearing comment sheets. Comments may also be submitted to a court reporter, if present, at a public hearing. Other cyclists in the community should be encouraged to send in letters of support as well.