Cyclists Gathered at Bike Summit Are Told Not to “Wait for Washington”

“How many people are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bike in a health club?”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer tells Bike Summit attendees to change the world "one bike at a time." Photo by Tanya Snyder.

If you’ve never heard this line before, you’ve never been in a room with Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

It’s the Oregon Democrat’s signature line. He opened his speech at the National Bike Summit by inviting participants to say it with him. They all know it by heart.

Blumenauer encouraged them to “change the world, one bike at a time.” He said that it’s important that bike activists come to Washington to talk to members of Congress, but the Capitol Hill debates on taxing and spending are “beside the point.” It’s about on-street bike parking in Portland and bike share in D.C. “It’s about our ability to do things differently,” he said.

He acknowledged that “this is the first year we’re here without uber-cyclist Jim Oberstar,” the former chair of the House Transportation Committee, ousted in the last election. Oberstar is still a patron saint of the Bike Summit.

NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan came to the Bike Summit from a more volatile place than Blumenauer’s hometown of Portland. New York has become a battleground over bike lanes, and she acknowledged in her remarks to the summit that it’s been hard and painstaking work. “I have a little bit of the feeling of what that pain is all about,” she said. “And there are setbacks and there are disappointments and there are unexpected events. But that’s to be expected when you’re in the business of change.”

NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan tells attendees not to wait for Washington. Photo by Tanya Snyder.

She joked about the “controversial” things that the Prospect Park West bike lane has done – “like dramatically reduced speeding and dangerous cycling, no cycling on the sidewalk, and huge increases in cycling as a big, important part of the network.”

“We can’t wait for Washington,” she said. She listed off famous streets around the country where localities have taken safety and complete streets into their own hands: Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C., Broadway in New York, Market Street in San Francisco, Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.

Part of “not waiting for Washington” is encouraging more cities and municipalities to make these changes. As the president of NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, Sadik-Khan formally introduced NACTO’s brand new Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Many NACTO members “found existing design manuals inadequate for their efforts to promote bicycle transportation,” according to the organization, so they decided to write their own guide, which they hope will be adopted by the FHWA and AASHTO, the primary entities that set the standards for road design and signaling. But even if they don’t take these new guidelines to heart, Sadik-Khan encouraged Summit participants to get them adopted in their own states and communities. Again: “don’t wait for Washington.”