Tuesday, March 8, 2011

National Bike Summit Day One (Or, Ray of the Dragon)

(The title is a reference to "Way of the Dragon")

As a side note: Yesterday I rode the metro, bus, my bike, Amtrak, and then late at night, when stuck using a car to visit an old friend, got a flat tire. I consider this a sign from the universe.

This afternoon marked the beginning of the National Bike Summit 2011; They had bike racks set up outside, and it was an easy walk from the Metro Center station, both of which were clearly appreciated by attendees. As a first year attendee, I opted to join in the first-timer's session. The first speaker was James Moore, representing the bicycle dealers' association. He made a strong case for the 'relevancy' of the bicycle to economics, showcasing how the construction of a rails-to-trails project in his town more than doubled his business, allowing him to hire 2 full time employees and a staff of part-timers. Since rails-to-trails relied in large part on Transportation Enhancements (TE) funding, he was adamant that our ask (in lobbying congress on Thursday) should be to thank them for TE, and to encourage them to renew it. As he put it, "If you're interested in seeing people pull themselves up by the bootstraps, make it possible for them to do so without buying a car". He shared a number of amazing stories of people who can't afford cars, and thus rely on bicycles, and how providing good bikes and safe facilities to them was critical for them to be able to commute to work, and have jobs at all.

Second speaker was Mike Vanable, the IMBA executive director. He began his speech by stating that "about 5 years ago, we realized the mountain bike was a bicycle". This got many laughs, but is an important point; IMBA joining forces with LAB and other groups was a huge turning point. He emphasized that the solidarity of recreational and commuter cyclists is huge, and that economic arguments will be more important than ever this year (I'm pretty sure everyone said this).

Next was Stephanie Vance, the so-called "Advocacy Guru". She got into advocacy because "my parents were like 'hey! you should get a job!". Love the sense of humor that cyclists have! She got her speech started by reminding the audience that its not always about the message, but about the followup (also she gave out free stuff, which people love).

Her first questions for prizes? how many bills are introduced in a 2 year congressional session? (10,000). How many pass? (4%) How many of those are about renaming post offices and federal buildings? (35%). She then transitioned into telling us what is important in dealing with members of Congress and their staff. First off, our asks are focused on thank yous, and asking for continued support for TE, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails Programs. Then asking them to join the Bike Caucus, and encouraging them to do district visits with bike groups. She finished by noting that of all things, persistence is key. Also, hugely valuable fact that was reiterated later? If undecided, the most most important variable in a legislators' decision regarding a bill is the opinion voiced by his constituents via letters and email.

After this, we all migrated to the ballroom where I joined Brent Buice (director of Georgia Bikes) and other members of the Georgia bicycling community (shout out to Bike Roswell!). Andy Clarke got things started, noting with a somber though positive tone that this year is a tougher, and more critical year than the past two. He reminded the crowd that Oberstar and many other supporters are gone, and that those who replaced them may be decidedly less enthusiastic. Despite this, the momentum is still there, as evidenced by the storm of applause as he introduced Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who was awarded the Oberstar Award (League of American Bicyclists' highest award) for his massive commitment to livable and sustainable communities projects. LaHood spoke about his love for bicycling, and how important politicians are for getting projects going. He noted that without advocates and engaged constituents, nothing will get done. His speech received two standing ovations, and I'll admit, I've never before been so proud of a Secretary of Transportation before. Bikes Belong had a presentation following this, on their peopleforbikes petition project, which I encourage you all to visit and sign, at peopleforbikes.org

It was a big night, and I am amped for tomorrow! (Janette Sadik-Khan is speaking!) That said, it's time to log off. Tune in for tweets at BikeGaTech or blog updates tomorrow evening!

1 comment:

  1. I find it ironic that you are now the bike man, when you grew up as a car man.