Civic crowdfunding reduces the risk of ‘bikelash’

Bike-sharing and dockless bike ventures are spreading as more people get around on two wheels. Cyclists, planners, environmentalists and others are excited to see these initiatives thrive.

At the same time, there are reasons for concern. Nearly 800 American cyclists died in 2017 after being hit by cars or trucks. Those fatalities were up 25% from 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

I’ve learned two things from accidentally becoming a bike lane expert through my research on community engagement. Transportation experts and bike enthusiasts agree that building more “protected bike lanes,” which physically separate motorized vehicle and bike traffic with planters, curbs, parked cars or posts, are a good way to reduce some of these risks. And it looks like crowdfunding, raising money collectively and online, helps ensure that local communities will welcome this infrastructure.

Bikelash

There are nearly 550 U.S. protected bike lanes, most of them built since 2013. Not everyone is cheering, though. Many communities have rejected the new lanes, due to hostility toward cycling and cyclists known as “bikelash.”

Consider what occurred with the four-block-long Folsom Street protected bicycle lane in Boulder, Colorado. Even though the city of more than 100,000 people is among the nation’s most bike-friendly, residents objected to the project over the heavier traffic it caused and shortcomings in the public comment process.

The opposition grew so strong that the authorities felt compelled to dismantle it only 11 weeks after it was built.

Bikelash signs. Umberto Brayj/Flickr, CC BY-SA
The Folsom protected bike lane’s demise was no anomaly. Since 2015, similar objections have also toppled protected bike lanes in San Rafael, California, Portland, Oregon, and Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

I’ve found that many places that have avoided bikelash as they roll out new protected bike lanes have something in common: a creative approach to cultivating public support. Instead of encouraging residents to attend public meetings, city officials and local civic groups are meeting community members where they live and work.

Civic crowdfunding

Civic crowdfunding has become a popular approach for engaging communities affected by local infrastructure projects, including protected bike lanes. It’s a good way for local governments to choose where relatively low-cost but potentially controversial infrastructure belongs. Going this route means that the authorities can back projects that have already attracted some dollars and public support.

Also known as community-focused crowdfunding or hyperlocal crowdfunding, it allows community organizations to raise funds for local infrastructure projects from residents and community members. This approach has helped to build neighborhood parks, community centers and protected bike lanes for the past decade.

The practice took off when ioby.org – the first civic crowdfunding platform – launched in 2009. Since then, the thousands of civic crowdfunding campaigns launched around the world on that platform and similar ones like Patronicity.com and Spacehive.com have raised over US$50 million, according to my calculations.

During a four-year study of civic crowdfunding, I found that this collective fundraising technique has been used to support projects like protected bike lanes in non-monetary ways, such as building consensus. This is often a primary motivation for starting the campaign. The buy-in that crowdfunding brings about often proves far more valuable than any help paying the tab.