This past year has involved many transitions at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Staffing has been particularly affected — over the course of 2009, nine full time staff left and six new staff were hired (some at less than full time).
These transitions culminated with the November hire of Susan Peithman to the newly created position of Statewide Advocate. The position was created around, and is partially funded by, a 2-year, $82,000 grant from the Northwest Health Foundation.
The goal of the grant is to work with individuals and organizations in three communities outside of Portland to advocate for increased funding for active transportation in the 2011 legislative session, said Angela Koch, BTA’s operations and communication director. The grant will help the BTA better fulfill its mission, Koch said, as well as other goals: “Part of our strategic plan is to increase our statewide advocacy efforts.”
Peithman’s first task under the terms of the grant is to identify three communities with which to work closely. Strong contenders, Koch said, include Washington County, Eugene, and Bend, among others.
Reached by phone yesterday fresh off the MAX from meetings in Washington County, Peithman said she is currently juggling a full calendar of meeting with anyone and everyone with an interest in bicycling and active transportation in potential partner communities. She is also, she says, meeting with public health stakeholders and agencies who can play a role in the BTA’s 2011 legislative agenda.
The final decision on which communities to work closely with on this give-and-take advocacy will be announced in early 2010. Several factors will play into this decision, Peithman said. “We need population bases [that care about bikes]. And we need communities that we have some existing relationships with.” There are strategic political factors to consider as well — “for instance, thirty percent of State Representatives on the House Transportation Committee are from Washington County.”
The grant’s goal is to serve the selected communities, as well as asking for their support in advocating for increased funding, Peithman said. “In order to advocate, we need support from people on the ground in these communities. Support for them means the BTA is there to provide them with services.”
Routes towards creating a successful agenda for the 2011 legislative session will likely include the BTA helping the target communities strengthen their internal capacity for advocacy — in whatever way makes sense for those communities, and that they want.
“I’m not going to dictate anything, am in the process of listening, learning, understanding the context. As an outsider, a Portlander,” Peithman said, “I feel it’s extremely important to listen.”
Peithman comes to the BTA from a two year stint at Alta Planning and Design, where she worked directly under former BTA advocate Jessica Roberts. She worked in active transportation outreach and advocacy in Chicago before that. She foresees that her experience “being able to talk to anyone and everyone about why bicycles are an import part of their community” will be key to success in her new role.
With Peithman’s hiring the BTA now has two full time advocates, including Advocate Manager Michelle Poyourow. With the departure of former Executive Director Scott Bricker, who also did a considerable amount of advocacy work, other staff and board members are picking up many of his projects piecemeal, Koch said.
Last month the BTA also hired longtime volunteer Chris Knott as part-time finance assistant.