Saturday, March 12, 2011

National Bike Summit Day Two, Three, Four.

Sorry for the delay! It was a crazy few days, but now that I'm back in Georgia having enjoyed a calm train ride back to Atlanta and a 15 mile ride from Amtrak to Smyrna, I can update!

Day Two

The morning began with Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, introducing Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon (one of the most crucial proponents of bicycling in congress), who began his speech by having us recite a favorite mantra of his: "How many people are stuck in traffic, on their way to riding a stationery bike in a health club?", which brought much applause and laughter. He was very animated, as always, and emphasized that we need to be pushing the limit of what we can do to change the world, one bike at a time. We are a strange point; 2 different sides, both intelligent and sincere, arguing absolute opposite sides of the coin: Is it about too much, or too little regulation? He then told us that we need to help people connect to the facts that we have on the ground, including the economics, health figures, etc. As he put it, "we have a good message; people like it!" The issue is not about slashing spending or raising taxes, but about our ability to do things differently, an important fact considering the unsustainable path we are on. "We cannot spend billions of dollars to defend West Germany from the Soviet Union 20 years after both countries have ceased to exist!" Priceless! He then commended some significant successes, like the conversion of street parking to bike corrals, and the high return on modest investments. His final contribution was the suggestion that we should bring bikes to National Parks, as a bike share that would allow users to tour parks without cars.

In sum? We have a growing interest and usership; don't screw it up! All we want is engagement, parity, opportunity.

Next up was Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner of the NYC transportation department, who said that we cannot afford to wait for Washington; we have to appreciate the progress we've made. People have made these changes happen! She then made a huge announcement, introducing the NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) guidelines for bicycle-related roadway treatments, a uniform supplement to the MUTCD, which is often criticized for its lack of creative bicycle solutions. These NACTO guidelines are online and will be updated. She also shared that NYC has found that the addition of bike facilities improved safety not just for bicyclists and pedestrians, but even more for drivers! This is a huge sell, since drivers often feel that they are getting shafted by bicycle facilities built using government money.

Andy asked both Earl and Janette where they get their inspiration. Janette's answer was that she travels, and seeing how other cities have transformed themselves and how enjoyable it is to get around those cities has been a huge inspiration. She likes that in a global marketplace people can live anywhere, and that this forces cities to be competitive with each other; bicycling, and efficient transportation, are huge factors in this competition. Earl agreed.

Mike Van Abel, the executive Director of IMBA was next, introducing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. I was particularly a fan of his argument that "if we want to youth back to the land, back to the outdoors, give them a bike!"

Salazar's speech focused on the interaction between conservation and biking; not only for mountain biking in wilderness, but because of the connection between transit and environmental impact. He noted that recreation creates jobs, and makes us happy! In addition, we tend to focus on western wilderness, but its as much about urban wild spaces, parks, and rec areas. He is very excited about the Great Urban Parks idea, and wants to engage young people in conservation efforts.

(A later post will include info from the sessions I attended)

Day Three:

This was the big one; visiting the offices of Congress to lobby our Congressmen! I was present for the following:

-Rep. Gingrey (11th) This was a good one; we got a lot of feedback from his Chief of staff David Sours, who was receptive but clearly required some convincing. This meeting, like most of the others, was about economics. Arguments about building community, reducing VMT, being more environmentally friendly, are all difficult to make compelling for those not concerned by such conditions. However, in a time when good investments are hard to come by, the return on bike infrastructure is a crucial fact.

-Rep. Scott (13th) Scott did not ever return our contact attempts, so we had no meeting scheduled, and his staffers were occupied. So we dropped off the booklet with the economic info, and went on our way.

-Rep. Johnson (4th) Johnson, who represents Decatur and eastern Atlanta, was HUGELY supportive; his staffer was nothing but positive, and basically said that they were 100% on board, but that it really isn't something that they have much control over. This was also sadly common; people like the message, but its a hard time to condone spending. If the return is so high, why are we afraid to commit?

-Sen. Isakson: Isakson's Transporation rep is a cyclist, and she was super excited by the evidence we had. That said, she warned us that good supportive facts and enthusiasm still aren't always enough. Like I said, this was a common mood.

We ended that day with a reception in the Senate Dirksen building, with speeches by Earl Blumenauer, Tim Blumenthal of BikesBelong, and Andy Clarke. In the end, the message was positive: Despite the hurdles that remain, we did the best we could, and our efforts were appreciated by most. Pins were distributed with gusto, and most of Capitol Hill was sporting one (including all the other lobbying groups!). I met many interesting advocates from Alabama, Calfornia, Missouri, and staff from Complete Streets, America Bikes, LAB, etc. It was awesome! But best of all? Meeting Gary Fisher, and telling him about my first bike bought with my own money (a Joshua F4).

Day Four:

Congressional Bike ride in honor of Gabby Giffords! We took a roughly 10 mile tour of some of DC's finest bike infrastructure, including separated lanes, contraflow lanes, paved trails, colored lanes, and more! It was a wonderful time, and while I could describe it in more detail, instead I will encourage you all to visit it for yourself! Truly remarkable. Finally, I must include a shout out to the BikeStation at Union Station, for allowing me to lock up my bags there for free, despite not being a member! They are enthusiastic, friendly, and just all around awesome, like most of the other people I met in DC. One of the greatest cities I've even visited!

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