Building Public Support for Better Bridge Projects
Dec 09, 2013
Somerville, MA and Marin County, CA may be on opposite sides of the country, but bicycle and pedestrian advocates in both regions gained major successes with engaging their communities to champion for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations in local bridge projects. In both cases, bridges were planned to be removed or repaired as is without public input. With the help from our Rapid Response Grants, advocates from LivableStreets Alliance and Marin County Bicycle Coalition built the political clout to modify planned bridge projects to redirect funding for bicycling and walking.
Somerville, Massachusetts – LivableStreets Alliance
An elevated section of Massachusetts State Road 28 known as the McGrath/O’Brien Highway cuts right through Somerville – thereby separating neighborhoods and business districts, and created the lack of connection between the two parts of town. In 2010, MassDOT, under the Massachusetts’ Accelerated Bridge Program, sought to spend $11 million to repair the crumbling elevated highway while maintaining its existing design.
Responding to the lack of public input and outreach from MassDOT, LivableStreets Alliance organized community residents and businesses to advocate for a better bridge design. LivableStreets spearheaded the “Remove McGrath” campaign and regularly met with key stakeholders, city and state agencies, and local residents and businesses to galvanize support and build consensus. To build support, LivableStreets also engaged the local community to not only send postcards to the Secretary of MassDOT and the Mayor of Somerville with personalized stories about their experiences crossing McGrath, but also to attend and speak out at a public meeting with MassDOT and local officials.
Initial bridge revisions from MassDOT included new crosswalks and bike lanes; however, LivableStreets continued to advocate for the ultimate win: to remove the elevated portion of McGrath Highway entirely to ensure safety for everyone, and more importantly, to reconnect the two sides of the community. In March 2013, MassDOT consultants released a new vision for McGrath, which included improved intersections, buffered bicycle lanes, designated areas for buses, improved traffic signals, and closing of ramps and tunnels.
Grounding the McGrath on Vimeo.
Marin County, California– Marin County Bicycle Coalition
Across the country in Marin County, California, residents were facing a similar problem. As a part of the Greenbrae Corridor Improvement Project, the Transportation Authority of Marin proposed $120 million in freeway improvements for cars, which included tearing down a pedestrian and bicycle crossing over Highway 101 and redirecting pedestrians and bicyclists to an existing, more dangerous underpass which required many crossings of highway on- and off-ramps.
Photo from Marin County Bicycle Coalition
In response, Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) mobilized and used online petitions to request the county to replace the existing crossing with an equally accessible and safe overpass. Over the course of 10 months, MCBC mobilized support from not only their existing members and nearby residents, but also broadened the conversation to include nearby jurisdictions and school districts to include resolutions that support bicycling and walking. Through their effective outreach and engagement, MCBC also broadened the project’s scope and added a new element, which resulted in greater support for bicycle and pedestrian projects over freeway construction.
In September 2013, MCBC delivered 680 signatures from a diverse group of stakeholders who showed support for better bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. The Transportation Authority of Marin voted to support funding for a suite of projects, which won over $15 million out of $40 million for bicycle and pedestrian improvements from Regional Measure 2 – a $1 toll increase on all regional bridges except for the Golden Gate Bridge. The projects include a building a new pathway along Highway 101 and widening an existing pathway over Corte Madera Creek; providing environmental clearance for a separated pathway and bridge along a rail line; and studying bicycle and pedestrian underpasses near two busy intersections. The projects are pending final approval from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in early 2014.
In both cases on opposite sides of the country, both LivableStreets Alliance and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition notes the importance of stamina to see a campaign through and the power of sustained public support. “It is critical to stay on top of a project day in and day out, month after month, to ultimately see change” says LivableStreets Executive Director Jackie Douglas. “Only a portion of our work is high visibility and public, but it is critical to have dedicated staff and volunteers who can stay on top of the project even when it’s not in the news everyday. We could have not done it alone. For this campaign, it was critical to show that there was public support.”
For MCBC, they engaged a broad group of stakeholders, which required being flexible and able to adapt to changing conditions. “Because the scope of the project was changing throughout the 10-month process, we needed to be both adaptive and nimble so we could maximize what was in our greatest interest for the campaign,” says Andy Peri, MCBC Advocacy Director. “What was key is that we were present for every public meeting and every decision-making point in the process with a strong show of MCBC member presence all of the way.”
If you or your organization is considering a campaign to build public support for better bridge projects, Advocacy Advance has developed a resource called "Bridging the Gaps in Bicycling Networks: An Advocate’s Guide to Getting Bikes on Bridges" (PDF). Please also check out our other resources for advocacy and popular campaigns or consider applying for a Rapid Response Grants to take advantage of unexpected opportunities to win, increase, or preserve funding for biking and walking.