Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Washington DC

Electeds, DC Advocates Ride Together For Policy Change

Photo: George Jordan

A recent ride through the nation’s capital brought advocates and politicos together to experience life behind a set of handlebars — and rally support for new policies that could make that experience less deadly.

Last week, Congressional Bike Caucus Earl Blumenauer co-chair (D-Ore.) and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association hosted a bike tour through the streets of Washington, D.C., giving advocates and their representatives a unique opportunity to pedal together while pushing for legislation that makes our roads safer.

Dan Langenkamp (left) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (right). Photo: George Jordan

Though it was a bright and gorgeous day for a bike ride, dark concerns about traffic violence permeated the dialogue between the legislators and their constituents. In 2021 alone, more than 42,000 people were killed on US roadways, according to the data from the Department of Transportation, the highest number recorded since 2007; of those killed, 13 percent or more than 7,600 were pedestrians. The number of bicycle-related deaths have also increased a dramatic 44 percent over the last decade, according to data from the National Safety Council.

Jessica Hart, representing Families for Safe Streets, opened the tour with a speech about the stark realities of the country's failures to protect its most vulnerable citizens on the road — including her five year-old daughter Allison Hart, who was killed by a driver in September 2021, three year-old Lily Shambrook, who was killed by a driver in June of 2022, and Matthew Kenan, 42, who was killed by a driver in September 2021.

“Thousands of people are dying violent, traumatic, preventable deaths on American streets every year,” Hart said. “Allie, Lily and Matt all paid the price of a society that refuses to build the infrastructure that can protect our most vulnerable road users. Paint is not protection.”

Caron Whitaker (League of American Bicyclists, grey, left), Lilian van Ek of the Netherlands embassy (black, center), and Bob Margevicius of Specialized (blue and white, right). Photo: George Jordan

To highlight what a better path forward might look like for American communities, the tour route followed a series of protected bike lanes along Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street before stopping at the National Mall. Beneath the shadow of the Washington monument, WABA highlighted DC’s partnership with the National Park Service to implement these protected lanes, as well as several ongoing projects like the East Coast Greenway, the great American Rail Trail, the September 11th Memorial trail, and more.

Rep. Blumenauer said it was past time to allocate more resources to provide these safe cycling experiences for people across the country, but he emphasized that many U.S. communities have already made considerable progress considering how little they’ve been given.

“We've seen cities around the country that are moving forward,” Blumenauer said during the event. “I obviously agree that there's more that needs to be done. But compared to where we were 25 years ago, it's remarkable.”

Bluemenanuer applauded the billions the federal government is adding to support Vision Zero initiatives across the country as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as the local can-do spirit that helped push for legislation to build bike lane projects like Pennsylvania Avenue. He also stressed that bicycles are key to reducing fossil fuels, improving health outcomes, and even reducing housing costs.

“We have billions of dollars right here in the metropolitan areas, housing cars. And it takes up valuable land to be used for housing opportunities, and redirecting resources,” the representative said.

WABA's Jeremiah Lowry (left) and councilmember Charles Allen (center). Photo: George Jordan
WABA's Jeremiah Lowry (left) and DC Council Member Charles Allen (center). Photo: George Jordan

To help direct more resources towards active travel, Blumenauer recently introduced the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act, which would open up millions in Highway Safety Improvement Program funds that connect two or more pieces of bicycling infrastructure by waiving the 10 percent local match typically required on bicycle and pedestrian projects. The act was named for a celebrated U.S. diplomat who was killed by a truck driver in August of 2022; her husband, Dan Langenkamp, attended the ride to rally support for the bill.

Langenkamp also urged leaders and the public to push the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to rapidly implement new rules requiring automakers to install side underride guards and automatic emergency braking systems on large trucks.

“Sarah's bill [and] the automatic emergency braking could save a lot of lives,” Langenkamp said.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) also spoke about the pivotal role roads play in improving road safety.

“I know that safer roads are key to addressing this crisis,” Holmes Norton said. “The bipartisan infrastructure law provides the largest long-term investment in national infrastructure in nearly a century and it will help us build safer, cleaner and more equitable transportation systems.”

Ward 6 Council Member Charles Allen, who also heads the Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, also spoke of the positive trickle-down effect of safer infrastructure.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (left). Photo: George Jordan
Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton. Photo: George Jordan

“We know that when we build places that are safe and comfortable for people to walk and bike, that they choose to,” Allen said, adding that half of the trips Americans take everyday are less than three miles. “The biggest difference is choosing to [build safe places].”

Before the group set off to finish their ride, Hart urged policymakers and advocates alike to take what they’d heard that day to heart.

“Think about seeing your child, your partner, parent or friend or colleague or neighbor dying in the street. Would you do everything in your power to stop that? I would,” she said. “Allie, Milli, Matt, and every other victim of traffic violence deserved to live. The very least we can do is give them a legacy that leaves behind safe streets for all users.”

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Wednesday’s Headlines Are in a Good Place

How should we react to public indifference about the danger cars pose to society? Perhaps a sitcom has something to teach us.

July 24, 2024

Opinion: Is Kamala Harris ‘The Climate President We’ve Been Waiting For’?

Kamala Harris fought hard for a better transportation plan in the San Diego region despite big political risks. If elected president, will she do the same for the country?

July 24, 2024

America is Setting Micromobility Records — But That Boom Could Go Bust Without Public Funding

Shared bike and scooter trips soared 20 percent in a single year. So why are so many U.S. systems shutting down — and what will it take to keep the revolution rolling?

July 24, 2024

Get on the bus! Advocates Urge Mayor Johnson to Save Chicago Greyhound Terminal

According to the letter, rehabbing the station would cost less that $40M, a small fraction of the price tag of many other local transportation projects.

July 23, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines Are Running Hard

More political news: Today's top stories delve into Kamala Harris' record on climate change and Republicans' plans for the Trump administration if he returns to power.

July 23, 2024
See all posts