Almost 600 bicycle advocates, including Consider Biking's Jeff Stephens, John Gideon, Tricia Kovacs, and Lois Moss, converged on Washington D.C. for the 9th annual National Bike Summit. The Summit, hosted by the League of American Bicyclists, is a chance for bike advocates to wear our neon-colored bike buttons and enter the halls of the Capitol to speak to our elected officials about the issues and bills that support the interests of cyclists here at home. And, prior to that critical "lobby day" we spent two days conferencing with our peers from across the country to network and learn of best practices to initiate in Central Ohio.
Why We Go & What We Accomplished
This year's Summit was critical due to the impending authorization of the 6-year transportation funding bill, which provides the guidance and funding for bicycle-related projects at the local level. For the 20-year period of 1971-1991, only $41 million total made its way from the federal coffers to the local level for "alternative transportation enhancements." In the subsequent 15+ years, we've realized over $7 billion through the transportation funding package via the ISTEA, TEA-21, and SAFETEA-LU acts that mandate enhancements for our cause. But that's not enough.
With 13% of trips made by cycling and walking, and only a measly 1% of the total transportation funding allocated for these modes, and a transportation system in need of significant reform and re-allocation of investments, our cycling advocates from across the country have put all hands on deck to influence a 21st century funding model at this historical juncture. The good news, is that the stars are aligned at the federal level, with cycling-friendly people in positions of influence. And, history has demonstrated that the impact our peleton of 600 cyclists from 47 states has on our day of congressional visits, is noticed, and "heard!"
The Summit started on Tuesday, March 10 with Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the congressmen whose Safe Routes To Schools program has earned him accolades from the people-powered advocacy movement. Oberstar is the chairman of the House's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where the aforementioned Transportation Funding process is created. We are blessed with Chairman Oberstar's leadership in this critical Committee. He understands our needs, because he is an avid recreational cyclist! We stopped by his office on lobby day, and noticed several pictures of Rep. Oberstar on one of his Trek bicycles, in addition to memorabilia from Lance Armstrong and other famous racers. Cool!
We also heard from the Bike program manager of Copenhagen, Denmark that first evening. The numbers and visuals are staggering. Cycling is just an everyday way of life as 36% of all trips are made by bike. But, what struck me, is that the cycling mode was "only" 10% just 20 years ago. So, the utopian image we have of many European cities such as Copenhagen, have not been "the way it's always been." Twenty years of investment in infrastructure and accommodations, have created the visuals we associate as cycling utopia. I walked away from that presentation with renewed hope that we could see significant change in our cycling environment and behavior in my lifetime. We've got to convince the establishment that re-allocating investments and reforming transportation systems will reap significant rewards.
The second day of the Summit began with a speech from President Obama's Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. Secretary LaHood started his speech by ensuring us, "that we have a full partner in the US DOT in working toward livable communities." He promised that he and Obama, "will work toward an America where bikes are recognized to coexist with other modes and to safely share our roads and bridges." Wow....pinch me! Check out his blog for more hope. Here's the video of the speech.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) always makes frequent appearances throughout the Summit. Blumenauer, the cycling Congressman who rides to work every day, has made a name for himself as Capitol Hill's most active and passionate cycling ally. He is from Portland, after all. Blumenauer was the one behind last year's Bicycle Commuter Act, a benefits package that allows a $20 per month rebate to commuters that primarily ride to work. Here's his keynote speech. Later in the Summit, Blumenauer spoke of a budget meeting he had with President Obama, where the President said, "You mean there's not enough money for bikes?" Blumenauer paused and assured us that, "The big guy's on message." Big cheers!
And the stream of elected officials continued. We also heard from Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) who was rightfully proud of her district which includes Davis and Sacramento, two of the friendliest communities in the country for bicycles. Her speech is here. We also heard from Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) who proudly pulled his LAB membership card from his pocket to the cheers of all attendees. His speech is here. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), a co-sponsor of CLEAN-TEA Act, the new transportation enhancement funding mechanism, made an appearance at a Bikes Belong reception. This level of appearances by our elected officials, demonstrates that cyclists aren't a fringe element, rather a significant constituency with valuable input into the enhancement of our communities.
The most significant day of the Summit is Thursday, the lobby day, where we visit our elected officials, or their staff, and provide information, education, and make specific asks. During the Wednesday evening rally of the entire 600 Summit attendees, the moderator said he was tired of hearing the successes of states like California, Colorado and Wisconsin. He indicated that Thursday's lobby day was much like a battle, and we had a few weak spots in our lines, that needed to "be held" until reinforcements could arrive. He said the most significant battle line was...you guessed it...Ohio!
We assume many that are reading this, saw Rep. Boehner's (R-OH) comments on "Meet the Press" last month indicating that constructing bike facilities were a waste of money. So, unfortunately, he's received a great deal of response from cycling advocates across the country. Ouch! For what it's worth, instead of piling on, Consider Biking helped the national bicycle advocacy organization, Bikes Belong, gather some realistic information and support from Ohio contractors to help educate Rep. Boehner that building bicycle accommodations IS a valuable job and economic development investment.
But, back to the Summit. Our Ohio delegation, was specifically called out to "hold the line." And, were' proud to say we did just that! Our meeting with Rep. Boehner's staff was respectful, and we were informed that he had heard an "amazing amount of feedback" from the cycling constituency in the past two months since his ill-advised statement to the national press. It was quite fun to walk the halls of Congress the rest of the day and high-five the other summit participants, and tell them, "We're holding the line in Ohio!"
Our Ohio delegation of six cyclists, had 13 scheduled meetings with Ohio Congress people, and did 8 more "drop-bys" visits to supply materials for the offices which couldn't schedule us in advance. As always, the face to face meetings with the actual elected official are always exciting. We met Senator Sherrod Brown and thanked him for his commitment to sustainable and green efforts, and suggested that he might be a co-sponsor for the reformed transportation funding bill. We met Rep. Steve LaTourette from northeast Ohio who is a huge proponent of passenger rail and transit. Our jaws dropped in amazement when he suggested that "there needs to be a totally separate pot of money to invest in rail, transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure." We jokingly said, "Uhhh, that's on page #1 of our playbook." Surprises can be good.
And, lastly, we enjoyed great meetings with staff from the Central Ohio representatives, Tiberi, Kilroy and Austria. We touted the exciting cycling developments in Columbus and the Central Ohio region, and reinforced that our local leaders are keen to invest in cycling infrastructure if the federal transportation funding process provides support. It was also wonderful to share the developments that Consider Biking has made with the largest corporations in Central Ohio via our Corporate Caucus, and to indicate that we're working hard to enhance the public/private partnerships which will increase cycling accommodations, and improve the quality of life for our workers.
Wow, what a week in Washington D.C.! While there's much to do at the local and state level, this annual trip to Washington, is critical in our mission to promote bicycling in Central Ohio. Obviously, we need the support of the federal transportation funding to enhance our local needs. And, as we've seen in places like Portland, Chicago, and yes, Copenhagen, Denmark, if we advocate for the investments in cycling enhancements, we WILL see significant changes to our environment in our lifetime!
We hope you'll join us in Washington D.C. in March 2010!
Our Web Presence - What else are we working on?
Thank you for your patience during our organization's brief absence from the web. We are busy developing a resource intensive and engaging site to meet the needs of all cyclists in Central Ohio. Please stay tuned in the upcoming week as we launch Bike Month content. Our web site.
In the meantime, you might consider joining our Facebook Group or follow us on Twittter, for more frequent updates.
Other significant inititives we've been working on include:
working with Columbus to unveil a "Share the Road" campaign on High Street (May 11),
working with Leadership Columbus to develop "toolkits" to introduce to workplaces to encourage cycling to work,
planning our Bike to Work Week Celebration event (May 11),
planning BikeColumbus Tour with Mayor Coleman on May 30th,
planning the 6th annual Ride of Silence for May 20th,
extending our reach and influence to surrounding communities like Hilliard, Delaware, and Lancaster,
If you love bicycling, and would like to help, please contact us! Otherwise...stay tuned!
Be Counted - Join Today!
Consider Biking is a member-supported organization. We can only accomplish our goals through the support of our cycling constituents. There are over 130 peer organizations across the country, demonstrating a need for cycling advocacy groups. Many of these organizations have THOUSANDS of members, and benefit by the financial support, and the "body of cyclists" that stand behind them when they advocate for enhancements to cycling accommodation.
We'd like to ask you to join Consider Biking. We need your support to represent our common interests in Central Ohio.
You benefit by knowing we'll have the resources to fight for our needs. You'll benefit by knowing that we're working hard so you can "just ride." You'll benefit by knowing we partner with strong coalitions to advance the healthy movement of people, not just cars. You'll benefit by knowing we coordinate unique events that serve some of the dynamic segments of our cycling audience. And, you'll benefit by helping us become the primary information resource for bicyclists in Central Ohio.
Your membership donation to Consider Biking is tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. We thank you for your support.