February 16, 2015

Taking Advocacy Upstream

OK! So you may have found a good cause to volunteer for and have done that for a while. During your volunteering, have you ever wondered why a problem related to your cause keeps on coming back? Have you been asking yourself what could be done to overcome that obstacle, or who needs to be approached? Are there other like-minded organizations facing the same challenges which yours could collaborate with? If you find yourself asking these questions, sounds like you are ready to take your advocacy efforts upstream, which is something I have been exploring lately.


What is “upstream advocacy”?

Before getting started, how do we define upstream advocacy and how it differs from downstream? Upstream advocacy is calling on elected representatives to address the causes impeding progress on an advocate’s or organization’s core activities. Those causes could also be called enabling activities. Downstream advocacy, therefore, involves establishing or partnering with other organizations on support activities addressing the consequences triggered by core activities. Here is an example of upstream and downstream from a cycling advocacy perspective.

Enabling Activities
(upstream)
• Municipal Budgets (to fund infrastructure)
• Design Guidelines (to ensure safe designs)
• Consultation Process (to get input earlier)
• Senior Governments (funding, design, etc.)
Core Activity • Cycling infrastructure
  (e.g. bike lanes, bike share, bike parking)
Support Activities
(downstream)
• Maintenance (e.g. snow removal)
• Do It Yourself Bike Clinics (e.g. Bike Pirates)
• Education and Training (e.g. Street Smarts)
• Events (e.g. Bike Month, Group Rides)

Downstream is usually not as significant an issue, given either the core organization or several partner ones are already providing support activities. Upstream, however, does not get as much attention. This may be caused by the limited opportunities for public input, the requirement of special skills, and/or the need for certain connections. Even so, organizations need to take advocacy upstream in order to facilitate their core (and support) activities.

Upstream Cycling Advocacy

Richmond at Spadina - Truck illegally blocking bike lane

One of the most significant irritants to cycling advocates is poor design. This is evident by numerous photos on social media of motor vehicles blocking bike lanes. While this action is subject to a $150 fine in Toronto and underscores the need for proper separated bike lanes, there are legal designs which are unsafe. Case in point, the dooring lane compared to the cycle track below.


Not only are cyclists at risk of getting the dreaded “door prize”, hence the name “dooring lane”, a hazard is created when motorists have to cross over the bike lane to park. This issue is also evident with certain right turn lanes. Instead, the traffic lanes should be narrowed to 3.0 metres where possible, the bike lane moved to the curb, and a buffer added between the parking and bike lanes to create a cycle track. Grey dots representing plastic bollards indicate physical separation, though separation could also be done in the form of barrier curbs or planter pots. Protected intersections could be used to solve the right turn issue.

Right turn and bike lanes poorly positioned on Strachan

The municipal budget is also important for cycling infrastructure, given cyclists can advocate as much cycling infrastructure they want, but it is contingent on funding and staff operating capacity. Not to mention, separated bike lanes cost significantly more than painted lanes. (up to $320 000/km for hard curb separation vs $50 000/km for bicycle boulevards) For more on the budget, please refer to this recent budget submission I worked on with six Cycle Toronto ward groups.

The two other issues of focus are the public consultation process and senior levels of government. Consultation needs to be done as early as possible in order to correct more controversial issues sooner and senior governments can help ensure best design practices and funding are available across the board.

Final Thoughts

Upstream advocacy can be applied to other fields. For instance, poverty advocates could work with employers or employment agencies to get jobs for the homeless as a way to get them off the streets. Health advocates could lobby governments to make physical education daily to reduce health care costs down the road. It’s all a matter of researching the external factors impacting your organization’s advocacy efforts and working on solutions to mitigate those factors.

Fight on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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