The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How a Spokane Valley cyclist used social media to save a road safety project

Marc Mims of Spokane Valley had never been involved in local politics and admitted he couldn’t name the mayor or any of the city council members. But in May, when comments printed in the Valley Voice section of the Spokesman Review came up several times in conversation with fellow cyclists, he had to read them for himself.

Some citizens opposed to an already approved, funded and scheduled safety project on Broadway Avenue were speaking out, urging city council to scrap it. Known as a road diet, the project will reduce Broadway from 4 lanes to 3 (a travel lane in each direction with a continuous center turn lane), add bikes lanes and make upgrades to the sidewalk.

Marc wondered why there weren’t comments in favor of the safety improvements, so he recruited a fellow cyclist to attend the next city council meeting with him. He heard the all too often “Bikes don't belong on the road."  It was clear that political support for this project was waning.  Ironically, during this period of anti-bike rhetoric, Spokane Valley held its first Bike/Pedestrian Master Plan Workshop.

“It was clear that unless we could get citizens in support of the project to the final council meeting before the vote to suspend, we would likely lose this valuable project. So, I turned to Facebook, Twitter, and email---the social networking tools at my disposal,” recalled Marc.

After starting a Facebook page to save the Broadway Avenue safety project, Marc contacted bike advocates, members of local bike and racing clubs, bloggers, and cycling friends. He amassed nearly 100 "fans" on his Facebook page within a couple of weeks.  The Bicycle Alliance of Washington and others dispatched action alerts, and posted info on our web site and to our Facebook page to reach Spokane area cyclists.

On June 29th, Marc and friends arrived at a packed city council meeting armed with facts. When it was time to comment, people lined up to speak about the Broadway Safety Project. Marc didn't recognize many faces and he was worried.

"For. For. For... Although I didn't know their faces, I recognized many of the names as 'fans' of our Facebook page,” Marc related.  "Thirteen of us spoke in favor and only one person spoke in opposition," he added.

Then the vote to suspend was called: 2 in favor, 4 opposed. Victory! The project will move forward.

Marc is buoyed by his success and is now partnering with the Bicycle Alliance to organize a Pedal with the Politicians ride in Spokane Valley sometime in August.  Stay tuned for details.


  1. I learned a great deal from this experience.

    Bike lanes are great for cyclists, but many non-cyclists perceived the project as taking traffic lanes away from the majority of road users for the benefit of the minority that ride bikes.

    The project, however, is not about bike lanes. It is first and foremost about reducing automobile collisions. Adding a continuous center turn lane meets that goal. It is also about upgrading sidewalks to meet ADA requirements.

    When we focused on the benefits to motorist, school children, and pedestrians, it was easier to convince our opponents.

    I also learned that sound, reasoned arguments aren't what it takes to sway politicians. Numbers count. They don't need to hear WHY you are for or against an issue as much as they need to know how many are for or against it.

    My voice, and the voices of my cycling friends were not enough. Using social media and email, we were able to reach other like minded citizens who stepped forward and spoke out. That, I think, is what made the difference.

  2. It really does make a difference to stand up and be counted! Way to go, Marc.

    And now he's turning out people to "Pedal with the Politicans" Aug. 18. Facebook event link and Eventbrite

    Co-chair, Bike to Work Spokane

  3. Outstanding effort in Spokane Valley. You should all be proud of yourselves and the elected officials that listen to you. Bill Gothman also sits on the Transportation Improvement Board and one of the topics discussed in June was the USDOT Policy adopted in March 2010 to make bicycling and walking equally important in transportation decisions and funding. He noted the link between local issue and the national policy.

  4. What this shows is that it matters what politicians hear. If they don't hear things that support cyclists, they assume there is no support. Don't leave it to someone else to get it done. Invoke Nike: Just do it (yourself if you have to).

  5. I joined Marc's group. I had NO IDEA this was going on and thank Marc for bringing it to my attention. We are keeping a closer eye on our city council now.

  6. For For For!

    I live near Broadway and Woodruff. I bought the house I grew up in. Back in the 70's when I was a kid the nieghborhood was quiet and clean....Broadway was only 2 lanes then. Now it's like a freeway, speeding cars all day and night, pounding car stereos, and accidents seem to be the norm now. the quiet peaceful place I grew up in is gone. They may as well rezone it commercial.

    I believe reducing it back to two lanes of travel would slow trafic, reduce accidents, reduce assosiated noise, and reduce the number of cars due to some choosing other multi-lane routes they can speed on.

    IMO it can't happen fast enough!