The Secret Diary of a Bike Advocate, Part 1

For my very occasional series on bicycle advocacy, I interviewed Barb Chamberlain last December. Barb is Executive Director of Washington Bikes (nee the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, the bicycle advocacy organization for the state of Washington.

Barb Chamberlain Washington Bikes

Several people who read Cyclelicious have expressed interest in learning how to get into bike advocacy. There are many paths to becoming the head of a statewide bike advocacy organization, but there’s no formal apprenticeship or bachelor of arts degree in “bike advocacy.” I asked Barb how she became involved.

I’ve always been politically minded and have looked to the public policy world as the place I want to work to make a difference. Once upon a time I served in the Idaho state legislature (youngest woman ever elected to the House and then to the Senate) and ever since then it’s been my goal to run a nonprofit organization doing work I believe in wholeheartedly. I get to work at my dream job every day, which is awesome!

How I got started is part infrastructure, part organization. The infrastructure part is that the City of Spokane put a bike lane in front of my house and I started riding to work. I think practically anyone who bicycles anywhere will think some things could be improved. Thanks to my parents raising me with the idea that you should give back to your community in the form of service, it’s been my lifelong habit to follow that kind of thought by volunteering and getting involved in making change happen, so inevitably becoming a bike commuter meant becoming a bike advocate.

Back when it was the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, in 2007 some of the staff of our organization came to Spokane, where I lived at the time, and asked a gathering of people who bicycle what could be done to make bicycling better in Spokane and what the Bicycle Alliance (now WA Bikes) could do to help. As a result, I volunteered to head up the creation of an active Bike to Work Week promotional effort. We really took off and had a highly visible and successful first year in 2008 and it’s still rolling today. Our organization served as the fiscal administrator for the funds we raised and provided technical and moral support—much easier than trying to start from scratch by ourselves!

I was appointed to the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board, which I chaired for a while, and was appointed to chair a committee and then serve on the board of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council (the regional metropolitan planning organization—a critical player in funding, especially after the latest federal transportation bill). These activities gave me tons of transportation policy exposure alongside the work I was doing in higher education working in community/economic development, marketing communications, and issues management. All of this served as great preparation for the work I do now as an Executive Director and when the job opening was posted in 2012 I jumped at the chance.

Tomorrow: Barb and Washington Bikes are heavy users of social media to promote their message. Learn how they use online media to engage with their membership and share action alerts.

2 Comments

  • January 8, 2014 - 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Love reading Barb’s blog, and even though I’m not in Washington, she is a great source of information for people who cycle all over the country. Nice to see her featured here, too!

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