The New Normal for Community Engagement

All traffic is local, and unfortunately, most motorists don’t know about an issue that affects them directly until it is too late. By the time they notice, the street has been road dieted or closed, and it is near impossible to give your two cents after the fact.

Now that local council or commission in-person meetings no longer exist due to the COVID-19 crisis, motorist rights advocates need to work even harder to get their voices heard. Remember, urban planners and many city/state DOT officials want you to stop driving—that is the aim and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Keep the US Moving co-founder John Russo recently said in a conversation, “It’s easier than ever before to get involved in the process, but it’s also easier than ever before for elected officials and bureaucrats to suppress your free speech.”

The new normal has pushed most city council, and county/parish commissioners to stream meetings live via Zoom or some other teleconferencing app. Also, state or local Department of Transportation presentations are also done in this same manner or in a webinar format.

Of course, these officials all insist they want feedback, but in the end, they can turn you off much easier now since you are not right in front of them standing there live. And if the decision had already made, which seems to be the case in many instances for road diets, you will have to be better advocates with your elected officials and bureaucrats to be heard.

One crucial way to stay engaged is to bookmark your city’s council and county websites to stay up-to-date on the current meeting agendas and minutes. If there is something of interest that you would like to engage with the council or commission, make sure you know how and are ready to make a possible impact.

Keep the US Moving co-founder Matthew Schneider is also a city council member in Waverly, Iowa. Here are some of his suggestions for small-town advocates:

“With many public meetings being done by Zoom, the best way to contact the City Council would be first to contact your mayor and ask him how to best communicate with the council.”

This is going to vary by city, obviously, with some mayors being more accommodating than others. Through the pandemic, most cities are accepting public comment by email, as well as by phone-in during the meeting.” 

It might be more challenging to have your voice heard during this time in larger cities and counties but learn how by checking out the website or calling the staff person for the council or commission. 

So, how do you get started in fighting that road diet or that proposed traffic calming device in your town or neighborhood in the time of the pandemic?

  • Find out the contact information of your locally elected official by looking up the information on the council or commission website. If your city or town has districted elected officials, then find out who yours is and make sure to note down his or her name and contact information (email, mailing address, and phone number).
  • While on the website, find the name and contact information for any staff member that you might be able to contact about the issue.
  • If you do not know these people directly, ask family and friends if they might know them so they can perhaps introduce you. Also, ask your friends and family for information about how best to approach them.

Officials give more weight to motorists who live, work, or own a business in their district. Learn something about them so you can engage with them on a personal level.

If you have a concern and it is not on any meeting agenda, the best way to advocate for yourself and your neighbors might be to write an email (only one issue at a time). If you want follow-up, make sure you make that request in your initial email. You can even ask for a short conference call to discuss. Then if they agree, make the call short and only about the subject from the email. You want to build credibility, and not taking up too much time and keeping to the subject at hand will hopefully leave an impression.

The same idea of how to become engaged goes for broader issues that affect the entire state or country.

These are essential things to remember:

  • Be a constituent of that elected official
  • Be respectful in tone and of their time.
  • Ask about one issue at a time (you can always write an additional email about another issue)
  • Personalize and engage with them as a person.
  • Remember, elected officials work for you, and it’s their job to help.
  • If they don’t want to hear your concern, find someone who will even if it is a member of the media.
  • Engage family, friends, neighbors, and strangers in the issue. Become a voice to be reckoned in the community.

If you have any questions or need help in advocating against a road diet or traffic-calmed street or intersection, please contact the National Motorists Association at [email protected] or Keep the US Moving at [email protected].

The Keep the US Moving blog is a collaboration between the National Motorists Association and the Keep the US Moving (KUSM) group written and curated by NMA Communications Director Shelia Dunn (with some guest authors as indicated). The KUSM weekly blog focuses on road diets, traffic calming, and programs such as Vision Zero and Complete Streets.

The NMA and the KUSM believe that it is important to include stories that oppose our viewpoint. We try to indicate those as needed.

Keep the US Moving Blog Resources

Check out the NMA Facebook Page called the War on Cars Watch! If you are interested in joining the closed group, follow the directions on the page. If you would like to know more about the National Motorists Association, check out our website at motorists.org. Also, if you would like to contact the NMA with a question or a link, feel free to contact us via email at [email protected].

Keep the US Moving is a grassroots organization dedicated to publicizing the detrimental effects of arterial road diets. We connect people who want to share experiences and information to help their communities craft truly safer roads. KUSM has a very active and closed Facebook group. Connect with them at [email protected] and find additional information on their website at https://www.keeptheusmoving.com/.

Here are a few NMA Blog Posts that might interest you:

Road Diets and Traffic Calming

Vision Zero and Complete Streets

If you would like to keep track of the many issues currently involved with the War on Cars and road diets, take a daily peek at the NMA’s Driving News Feed or subscribe to Driving News Daily, a five times per week email.

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