What do you need to start a chapter?
Only one committed person! It’s easier to start with a team of several people, but even if it’s only you to begin with, you can do it. Through publicity efforts (notices in the local paper, MassBike emails to area members, postering, etc.), you can let others know about the chapter formation and get them involved. To formally create the chapter you must sign and execute a Chapter Agreement. (.doc)
How is a MassBike chapter different from a Bike Advisory Committee?
A BAC is focused on one specific town or city, and can either be officially sanctioned by the city government or function independently. A MassBike chapter is not affiliated with city government and is regional in scope: for instance, the Berkshires; Pioneer Valley; Worcester; MetroWest; North Shore; South Shore; Metro Boston; and Cape and Islands. Some MassBike chapter members will also be BAC members in their towns or cities and can get chapter help on issues they’re working on.
What are the benefits of starting a MassBike chapter, as opposed to running my own local bicycling group?
MassBike is Massachusetts’ only statewide bicycling education and advocacy group. We were founded in 1977 and have many years of experience working with state and local officials. MassBike’s statewide clout and technical expertise can help get results on issues you care about in your local community. Additionally, because of our 501)(3) status, contributions to your chapter will be tax-deductible-a big draw for many supporters. The central office can also provide support to your local chapter.
How can the MassBike central office and board help us?
We can provide technical advice on roads and facilities; give advice on reaching out to local officials and the media; and write letters or apply pressure to state officials if the issues can’t be resolved at a local level; among other things. In general, both the board and staff will be available to provide support, advice, and volunteer help.
What are the responsibilities our MassBike chapter has to the organization?
The membership of the Chapter is comprised of all MassBike members in good standing, as specified in the MassBike Constitution and By-Laws, in the communities listed above. MassBike chapters must act in accordance with MassBike policies, and not violate our tax-exempt status (i.e., the chapter cannot endorse particular political candidates). MassBike chapters are strongly advised to consult with the central office before speaking with the media, in particular before making any negative remarks about local officials or conditions. (It may be possible to pursue other options before going to the press.) Local chapters shall raise and keep their own funds, and may pursue grants for their local advocacy work. In general, it will likely not require much money to operate a MassBike chapter. If a project is determined by the board to be a major priority, the chapter may apply for funding from the central office.
What do MassBike chapters work on?
MassBike chapters work on the projects that matter most to their local communities and regions. As your chapter forms, you’ll want to determine what these issues are. Examples may include such things as getting more bike parking; ensuring that bike paths are properly plowed in the winter; addressing local road problems such as dangerous intersections or sewer grates; making sure that road repavings are done with cyclists in mind; advocating for a community bike plan; etc. Also, you can table at local fairs, organize your own events, sell MassBike t-shirts, get the local traffic department to give out bike information along with parking stickets, keep track of road repaving schedules in local communities, etc.
How do I grow this chapter initially?
To begin with, place an announcement in your local paper/s (don’t forget even small weeklies!) announcing your meetings. MassBike will also send email notices to members in your area, and postering your local coffee shops, bike shops, or libraries may be helpful. Post notices on any area cycling e-mail lists, such as ride clubs, racing organizations, colleges, etc. See if you can get a story in the paper about the formation of your group. You should also try to make things fun: organize social events, parties, or group rides in addition to your regular meetings.
Who makes a good board member?
Remember volunteers set their own level of commitment and that advocates often become involved in multiple issues. You’ll want to find folks that enjoy riding and who are interested in local politics as well. Local politicians are great as champions but few have the time to become board members. Ride clubs leaders are great to talk to about local bicycling issues in your area. Clubs serve the role of making biking a fun and social activity. I’ve found that any regular bicyclist supports bicycle advocacy – they may not just be willing to slosh through the meetings and political bureaucracy. Realize that some attrition always occurs in volunteer organizations. Some people will be initially excited but may drift away during the often slow grind to make progress.
How often should MassBike chapters meet?
While there is no firm requirement, we suggest meeting at least once a month, and not fewer than six times a year. This keeps the activist momentum going and keeps projects on task. Subcommittees may want to meet in between regularly scheduled meetings, and members should stay in touch regularly via phone or email to network and compare notes on projects. The MassBike central office is always available for help or to answer questions.
How do I go about actually getting things done?
When your group has formed, you’ll want to make a list of priorities that matter to you and the cyclists in your community. Then, you can determine who is responsible for those items and try to make friends with them. Sometimes this will be easy; other times, it will be more difficult. Good friends to have include but are not limited to:
- State reps and senators, who can help you obtain support or funding for trails and other projects requiring state funding
- The Department of Public Works in your region’s towns and cities, which paves roads and maintains paths (that are locally-controlled)
- The Transportation Department in your region’s town and cities, which sets priorities and can help in making local roads more bike-friendly
- The mayor and city council, who can provide important political support for particular projects, and can give you good advice about how to get things done.
- The local Metropolitan Planning Organization, which determines a long-term list of regional priorities (including bike projects, if you work hard!).
In general, you’ll want to make as many friends as possible, have meetings with them, take their advice if it seems useful, and be generous in sharing praise and credit. If certain officials prove difficult, MassBike’s central office may be of help in determining strategies to move them toward our positions.
How do we keep people engaged?
Just remember – all work and no fun is the surest way to burn your chapter members out. Balance your advocacy work out with fun events and events that build your connections and reputation in the community – such as family rides and helping out or holding bike safety fairs. What you’ll find is that the more your chapter gives to your local community the more the community will be willing to give back to the cycling community.
Good luck and congratulations on starting your regional MassBike chapter!