The bicycle lobby is growing up. Gone are the days when politicians could say it was “silly hippies talking nonsense”. These days, cycling is seen as a serious transport solution.
Fresh out of recent talks with European officials, ECF thought we’d share some expertise from Europe’s bicycle advocates. What are their top tips when you come to face to face with a transport Minister, a local politician or someone strategically important?
-Kevin Mayne, Director of Development, European Cyclists’ Federation.
Kevin Mayne knows a thing or two when it comes to lobbying, having headed the UK’s national cycling advocacy group for 14 years before coming to ECF.
What’s his advice?
When you walk into a meeting, don’t think you’re the only person that has an agenda in the room. Ask yourself what you have to offer that can help this person achieve their goals.
“Know the other person’s objectives,” Mayne explains.
“That way you can present your work to help them achieve their goals. Look for the ‘win-win” scenario.”
Cycling has a lot to offer politicians, so if you’re trying to convince an individual on why they should choose cycling, research and come prepared. Know your enemy, and they may just turn out to be your ally.
-Michael Kloth, International Transport Forum, Head of Communications.
When it comes to transport, politicians care about money and economics. Start waffling on, and you’ll have lost their attention.
“When it comes to [Transport] Ministers, making the economic case for cycling is key. Bicycle advocates must demonstrate that cycling can provide inexpensive solutions that can be implemented quickly,” Kloth told ECF in an interview earlier this year.
Take for example the fact that for the cost of 1km of urban freeway, you could build 150km of bicycle paths, 10,000 km of bicycle lanes or 100 well designed 30km/h zones. Politicians need to hear that you can move an entire city for much less money.
“Explain cycling not just in terms of cycling but look at the overall picture,” he says.
So before you talk, make sure know the answer to some pressing questions; how does cycling fit in with public transport? How much money can cycling save a city? Give figures and examples. You’re going to have show cycling is part of a greater network if you want to succeed.
Colm Ryder, Secretary of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.
The efforts of the Dublin Cycling Campaign and those of the national lobby, Cyclist.ie have managed to bring cycling into Ireland’s political discourse. The Government has committed to 10% of trips done by bike in Ireland as enunciated in Ireland’s first National Cycle Policy Framework.
The secret to success? Official recognition.
“To make your voice heard, you really need official recognition by the statutory authorities and by the different planning committees,” Ryder told ECF in an interview last year.
“Without this, it’s difficult for advocacy groups to have a lasting impact.”
Once Dublin Cycling Campaign and Cycling.ie were officially recognised, it made the rest a lot easier.
“Cooperating and discussing with local engineers, politicians and administrators was essential,” explained Ryder.
The Danish Cyclists’ Federation (DCF) are very impressive. They’re professional, strong, and respected in both national and local politics.
According to DCF’s Frits Bredal, the secret to lobbying is all about having a good argument.
“This means making your case in a way that makes sense. Supply them [politicians] with solid data and arguments. Remember that they have to sell the case to their voters.”
Bredal also suggests basing your argument on politically hot topics.
“You have to tap into the current agendas and debates which are going on. This could be traffic congestion, environment, health and the whole climate agenda. These kind of issues are global, and are not just found in Denmark.”
Bredal knows his stuff. This year alone, DCF managed to convince Danish politicians to allocate millions of Danish Kroner on a network of bicycle super highways, and they also made sure that the government did not shelve plans for a new bike share scheme.
Ceri Woolsgrove lobbies on road safety issues, and he believes that if you want to be successful than you must know exactly how the issue stands in relation to the procedure.
“Lobbying can depend on many things, such as politicians, circumstances and the particular issue you’re fighting for. But above all, you’ve got to know the procedure,” Woolsgrove explains.
He believes that if you don’t actually understand the decision process, then there’s not much point talking to anyone.
“If you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know who to lobby, what to lobby for and how to lobby.”
Know what’s actually happening with regards to where in the procedure you are and what is going to happen next, this gives you the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ to apply pressure.
“There’s no point talking to the European Commission when the procedure is now being decided in Council and Parliament, and it’s difficult to ask a politician to do something for you if you cannot tell them exactly what you want,” says Woolsgrove.
“Do you want to change an amendment? If so, which one? Of which document? How many votes are necessary, in which committee. Knowing the procedure allows you to set your targets and focus on specific political groups that have particular points of view.”
-Paolo Pinzuti, Italian Cycling Blogger behind Italy’s Salvaiciclisti (CycleSafe) campaign.
Salvaciclisti went from the brain-child of bloggers to a unified movement receiving praise from none other than Italy’s Prime Minster. As one of the key players behind the movement, Pinzuti advises that getting public opinion in your favour is essential.
“Politicians think in term of votes, if you show them a way to get more preferences they will follow that way,” explains Pinzuti.
“If you convince the director of a main media outlet to support you, it will be pretty easy to get the support from the politicians.”
In other words, make sure your message is accepted by the general public and media. After all, elected politicians are meant to be accountable to those that voted them in, and they’re always looking for more votes for when the next election comes around.
-Adam Bodor, Former Cycling Commissioner of Hungrary, ECF’s Director of EuroVelo.
Adam Bodor knows the world of politics and advocacy like no other. He used to work for the Hungarian government as the National Cycling Commissioner, and these days he lobbies European institutions to fund and build vital cycling infrastructure at ECF.
What works for him? Well, he believes you need to ‘talk the talk’.
“You have to talk to politicians using their own language. Use the same words that they would use, refer to their strategy and explain how cycling can contribute to their goals.”
Also, don’t try to pretend that you’ve come up with a great idea. Let them do that.
“Don’t try to sell something to them that is not in their head already,” explains Bodor.
“Use their existing way of thinking and build on it to help change the conversation towards cycling.”
Bodor’s technique is somewhat reminiscent of the movie, Inception. Plant the idea in their head, but let them own it.
Julian Ferguson is the Communications Officer for the European Cyclists’ Federation. Originally hailing from Australia and a keen bicycle advocate, he plans one day to ride his bicycle from Brussels to Melbourne