Want to start your own project but need some inspiration? Our Learn from a Leader blog series is profiling past ioby Leaders who succeeded in bringing more fresh food, active transport, green spaces, and other healthy improvements to their neighborhoods. Read on, and imagine what you could do on your block!
About the project:
“Initially, the Arapahoe Street Protected Bike Lane project was about creating more facilities in Downtown Denver that would cater to a wider variety of bike riders and improve our city’s general quality of life by getting more people out on two wheels,” says Aylene McCallum, Director of Downtown Environment for the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP), a membership organization that creatively plans, manages, and develops the heart of this thriving western city. The facilities she speaks of included a network of enhanced bikeways (also known as protected bike lanes) centered in the Downtown area that would radiate outward and improve connectivity within and between neighborhoods.
The DDP approached the city and proposed a plan: the DDP would identify the top several corridors that could benefit from protected lanes, and the city would implement them. The city was interested, but wound up wanting to switch roles: the city would do the research and planning, and DDP would handle implementation. It was a deal!
- Vet your idea. Pitch your plan for creating new bike lanes to your peers and ask them: Am I thinking about this right? Do you have any suggestions? You want to be as sure as you can that when you start “going public” with it and asking people to throw their support behind your idea that it’s the best it can be. (Pro-tip: This vetting process is also a good way to identify potential volunteers and funders! Take note of who seems most excited by your plans and circle back to them later.)
- Network for your project. You network when you’re looking for a new job; you should network to help get your project off the ground for all the same reasons. Approach local bicycle advocacy groups, your city’s parks and transportation departments, community groups and business associations in the neighborhoods around your proposed bike lanes, local representatives… Try to gain their interest and support, but also be sure to ask each one: Who else should I talk to? I try to get three other contacts each time I ask that question.
- $$$! At some point, you’ll need to start crowdfunding. Make sure you dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s throughout this process: that means things like taking the time to read tutorials and attend trainings, and making sure you understand all the tools at your disposal. Then, spend some time mapping out your fundraising strategy. Think it through from A to Z, and have plans B and C ready to go in case something goes awry. Think about why people would donate to your project, how you’ll communicate with them, how you can make your outreach feel different every time, how to create a sense of urgency… ioby provided us with a very useful worksheet that helped us plan everything out and set our expectations appropriately.
- Circle back. Remember all those awesome people you talked to in steps 1 and 2? Think now about who among them can help you more forward: Whose business or organization might be willing to donate to your project? Who can help you run your planning meetings? Who would be good at phoning potential funders to ask for contributions? You can try to do all of this yourself, but it can quickly turn into a lot of work, plus different people have different strengths and connections—use them! (Pro-tip: Don’t skimp on the personal interactions and phone calls when fundraising. These customized types of outreach are almost always more successful than just blitzkrieging social media.)
- Just do it! A project like this that involves multiple stakeholders can seem intimidating, but your project simply won’t happen if you don’t act—and you definitely can’t raise money if you don’t ask! Once you have your idea refined, your strategy in place, and some good people confirmed on your team, there’s nothing left to do but go for it!
Regarding the start-to-finish time you can expect to get a bike lane in place, every city is different, so definitely ask around to make sure you form reasonable expectations. (Your funders will ask about your timeframe, too, and you’ll want to give them a sound estimate!) It took the DDP five years from start to finish to get our first protected bike lane in place, but the second one only took 12 months.
Fundraising is much easier to time. You should probably plan for a six-to-eight week “live” period—whether you’re trying to raise a few thousand dollars or $100K. Take as long as you need to get your strategy mapped out, but once you launch, keep the pace snappy and always show that the end is in sight. Donor fatigue is a real phenomenon!, and taking too long will breed skepticism.
Again, every city is different and the extent of every project is different. We worked with both the city and ioby to hone our budget, then ran it by a bunch of our constituents before we publicly launched. You also definitely need to talk—and keep talking—to your stakeholders to make sure they think your budget is realistic and they’ll stand behind it. If your nearest and dearest aren’t willing to do that, you shouldn’t expect others to!
- ioby’s training materials helped me focus my existing organizing and crowdfunding experience. They really gave me confidence!
- People for Bikes. This national organization has a ton of resources on their website, which can be particularly helpful if you don’t have a strong local organization to turn to.
About the author:
Aylene McCallum has been working to transform Denver’s transportation landscape since 2003. She lives in SE Denver with her husband, two kids, and two dogs; her multi-modal life includes balancing family hikes, bike rides, and train trips to various kid-friendly locations.
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.