With a Big Crowd and Bipartisan Support, Bike Summit Gets Rolling

The League of American Bicyclists welcomed a record crowd to the 2012 National Bike Summit this morning. Over 800 attendees filled the basement of the Grand Hyatt Metro Center in Washington to hear remarks from federal lawmakers and officials about the state of bike advocacy in America — so large a crowd that president Andy Clarke said that next year the LAB’s sights are set on the much larger Walter E. Washington Convention Center, just two blocks away.

Secretary LaHood and Rep. Blumenauer, prior to addressing the National Bike Summit. Photo: Ben Goldman

Clarke set the stage for the speakers by pointing out that on the cover of the House transportation bill — “If you can bring yourself to look at it,” he said — there are four photos of different transportation modes, and not a single human being in sight. The advocates in the audience, Clarke said, will be tasked with putting people back in the picture.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Oregon Democrat whose zeal for bicycles is perhaps matched only by his zeal for bow ties, was first to speak. “My goal in working with you, these last 12 years in particular, is to make cycling a political movement,” Blumenauer said to a loud round of applause.

Blumenauer was optimistic about the demise of the House bill, which would have returned national transportation policy to the mid-20th century. “The House bill wasn’t just attacking cycling, it was backed by arguably the most powerful person on Capitol Hill — the speaker. You were a part of a coalition that stopped it dead in its tracks,” he said.

Highlights from the other speakers’ remarks are after the jump.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who Blumenauer called “unequivocally the best transportation secretary we’ve ever had”:

  • LaHood continued to voice his desire for the House to take up the Senate bill. “It’s easy,” he said. “Take the Senate bill, put a House number on it, and pass it,” adding that the House could pass it before the end of the Bike Summit, if it wanted to.
  • He said that the advocates in attendance all come from communities where people with different viewpoints can sit down and hammer out agreements. Besides the many cases that can and should be made for cycling, said LaHood, “that’s what the House needs to learn from you.”
  • “Selfishly, we should want to [pass the Senate bill] for our friends and neighbors,” he said. “A transportation bill is a jobs bill.”

Rep. Tom Petri, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin and cosponsor of the amendment (defeated in committee) to restore bike-ped funding in the House:

  • “We all know our nation needs a first-rate infrastructure to support a first-rate economy,” Petri began, “So we need to invest in an adequate way, and we’re not.” America spends only 2 percent of GDP on infrastructure, he said, while many peer nations spend upwards of 5 percent.
  • The government has made a great effort to combat childhood obesity by doing things like tweaking school lunches, but Petri feels that Congress “should be advocating an active lifestyle. Getting up in the morning, hopping on a bike and riding to school, for example.”
  • “Despite what we might hope, the House will not be taking up the transpo bill until after the break,” Petri admitted. But he put a positive spin on the delay: “It gives us time to talk about the Enhancements program.”

Rep. Pete DeFazio, Blumenauer’s fellow Oregonian and a staunch defender of bike-ped projects in the House, explained that the prevailing support for “devolution” — the notion that the federal government does not have an interest in a national transportation system — doesn’t come from “this kind of Republican,” gesturing to LaHood and Petri. “They turn back the clock? We turn back the clock,” DeFazio said, stressing the need to re-educate Congress as though it were 1991, when the bike-ped political movement was just getting started.

At one point, Clarke noted that Blumenauer wore his bicycle pin on the left lapel, whereas LaHood wore his on the right. In the spirit of bipartisanship, Clarke offered to move his own to the center, directly over his tie.

Rep. Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland, told the story of how she came to consider herself a cyclist. She explained that it began by being first a student who needed a bike to get to school, then a working mother without a car who needed to get her child to daycare on the way to her job. Given her background coordinating advocacy days for nonprofits, she stressed that personal stories would help carry the message to members of Congress.

Finally, Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, explained the long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship between cyclists and national parks. “I cannot think of a time when I didn’t have a bicycle,” he said, and riding through the system he now runs has taught him that “we haven’t been all that bike-friendly in all our parks over the years.” But he was pleased to announce impending changes to rules on mountain bikes, as well as the placement of Capital Bikeshare stations on the National Mall in D.C.