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Silicon Valley Bike Coalition Shiloh Ballard Named One of Six “Women of the Year”

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Shiloh Ballard, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, will be recognized by Senator Jim Beall as a "Trailblazer" and one of six "Women of the Year" in his Silicon Valley District.

Ballard is being recognized for her advocacy for bike riding as well as affordable housing in the Silicon Valley. Before she came to the SVBC, she worked with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to pass inclusionary zoning in San Jose, and co-founded an affordable housing nonprofit in Santa Clara County.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition advocates for safer bike conditions over a huge territory that encompasses San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and the numerous cities within them. Advocating for so many differing areas has been tricky, says Ballard. "How do you cover that may cities and towns, especially when each is in its own state of bike evolution?" she asked.

She contrasts San Jose, which has been actively building "a rapidly designed and implemented Better Bikeways network--not just a cool bike lane, but a network" with Milpitas, which "doesn't even have staff with enough time to think about active transportation." She says the organization has found the best way forward is to focus on "building and growing an engaged membership that is savvy and trained to do advocacy in their own communities."

"We are trying to raise our profile, and to get people activated in their communities," she said. "That may be why people have the sense that the SVBC is more active," she said.

Ballard is quick to acknowledge the work of her predecessor at the SVBC, Corinne Winter, who, she said, "handed over a very healthy organization. All the key people were in place" when Ballard took the job four years ago. What had been "a scrappy nonprofit run by volunteers," has over time become more professional. The SVBC now has a staff of ten, including development and policy experts, backed by volunteers.

Ballard said that at the same time, "a confluence of events--climate change; the obesity epidemic that people are beginning to recognize is very serious; traffic, of course, continues to be horrible"--have combined to highlight the importance of bike advocacy and make it more visible.

In addition to growing the organization, Ballard has guided it on a mission to find its focus. She joined the SVBC the same year that CalBike held its summit in San Diego that focused on equity. The conversations at that summit raised questions about how to be a bike advocate without stepping on the needs of people in the community or forcing a particular bikey vision on others.

The summit inspired Ballard and the SVBC to spend time figuring out how to center equity in their work. "It started with self-education," said Ballard. "I didn't feel equipped to really know the answer: if you want to center equity and be welcoming and inclusive, how do you do it?"

Asking those questions led to seeking a grant to help staff engage in a year-long self-searching process. The result is a just-released framework for their work going forward, including a statement of values and a work plan.

Among the organization's goals is to build a "culturally humble community of members and volunteers who reflect diverse communities and strengthen our community accountability."

Instead of holding to a simple overarching goal of replacing car trips with bicycle trips, the SVBC will focus on improving the communities it works in by being inclusive and empathetic while working towards better access. Therefore one of its goals to "improve transportation and land use planning, including bicycle infrastructure, to create just and equitable access to safe riding in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties."

Ballard will be honored by Senator Beall, along with five other Silicon Valley leaders, at a reception on Friday in Campbell.

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