Addressing a packed house in Washington last night, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, posed a Zen-like ‘universalist cyclist question’.
"How many people, right now," he asked, "are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bike in a health club?"
The quip got a big laugh. But at yesterday’s launch of Cities for Cycling, a new project spearheaded by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), Blumenauer urged fellow cyclists to consider their cause "serious business."
The mission of C4C, as outlined by New York City Transportation Commissioner and NACTO President Janette Sadik-Khan, is to collect and share best practices for the introduction of local bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure — the type of strategies that have succeeded in cities but not yet been added to the Federal Highway Administration’s traffic control manual, also known as the MUTCD.
"Some of the most celebrated and popular [bike] improvements are not even in the national guidelines," Sadik-Khan explained, adding that C4C ultimately aims to help develop "a new MUTCD, designed for cities, not highways."
The C4C kickoff, held in the shadow of the Capitol and sponsored by the Brookings Institution, was imbued with a sense of hope for future federal and local policies to encourage bicycling expansion. The Obama administration had a strong presence in the room, including Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, befitting its public push for more sustainable community development.
Still, Blumenauer and Sadik-Khan emphasized that bolstering the uneven federal commitment to bicycling, and its urban benefits in particular, would require hard work and political organizing on the part of bike advocates.
The congressman vowed to push for a "quantum increase" in bike investments as part of the next six-year federal transportation bill (which remains stalled on the Hill) and touted his proposal to add high schools to the U.S. DOT’s Safe Routes to School program.
The transport commissioner, meanwhile, focused her attention on a topic that may sound familiar to Streetsblog Capitol Hill readers: Washington’s molasses-slow acknowledgment of the infrastructure challenges that cities face.
"We’ve become a metro-focused country, and that trend will only continue," Sadik-Khan said. "It’s great news, but … we’re still working with federal policies that date back to the 1950s."
Transportation reformers’ strongest federal strategy, she joked, is the indefatigable Blumenauer himself.
How, then, can cyclists bring the Portland Democrat’s 534 congressional colleagues on board for an evolution in federal bike policy? Most of the audience’s questions focused on local access issues — including a plea for Brookings to back up its sponsorship of the event with better bike parking of its own — but one attendee asked Blumenauer about the cultural clash between drivers and cyclists over payment of gas taxes to maintain roads.
Blumenauer began by noting that while conservatives like to decry bike spending as wasteful, "there are more requests for those evil earmarks for bike-ped facilities than anything else" in transport legislation.
But he added that "investments from the bicycling community" to help pay for better road quality and more bike infrastructure might be a smart move. "In fairness," Blumenauer said, "we’d be better off if we had a tiny fee" on some cycling equipment, such as a bike tire tax.
A serious suggestion for the "serious business" of strengthening bike policy — but the C4C launch wasn’t all politics. Talking Heads frontman David Byrne began the evening with a quirky slideshow of cities he has biked in recent years, touching on some of the themes of his new book Bicycle Diaries.