A lot happened last week. A lot of inspirational things happened last week. First off was the fundraiser for Bikes Belong as part of Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington that I was suppose to take part in. Thanks to many different donors, people who recognize the value in supporting bicycle advocacy for whatever the reason, I raised just under $1500 for a cause that is important to thousands of Americans. (As a quick side note, that fundraiser is still happening until the end of the month.) Unfortunately due to sickness I had to pull the pin on the ride, but from all accounts it was a spectacular and momentous ride from Boston to D.C. Ride or not, being able to raise money for an organization like Bikes Belong means a lot to me and what it can do for cycling in America.
The reason behind wanting to ride my bike with the RoW crew into D.C. was to attend the 11th Annual National Bike Summit, presented by the League of American Bicyclists and sponsored by Bikes Belong. Thanks to Richard Fries for his invitation to the RoW, my curiosity about bicycle advocacy was piqued and my feeling of responsibility as a long-time cyclist raised. Just over a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about the Summit, besides it was where “big things” happened for bicycle advocacy. With the support of Light & Motion, who are serious advocates for women’s cycling and bicycle safety, and Specialized Bicycle Components, who sponsor my teams for both road and ‘cross, I was able to make the Summit a reality. Armed with a basic knowledge of what to expect, I landed in D.C. on Tuesday morning, just in time to welcome the RoW crew as they ended their cycling adventure at the Urban Press Camp, a 3-day bike show for commuters, at the beautiful House of Sweden.
Later that evening the Summit kicked off at the Grand Hyatt with the following message from Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists – “In these economic times, we can only afford to invest in solutions that solve multiple problems. Bicycling and walking programs do that and they are essential to our communities. When every tax dollar has to do the most good, it’s the right time to invest in bicycling. That’s the message at the 2011 National Bike Summit. We are asking Congress to support continued dedicated funding for vital bicycling and walking programs such as Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and the Recreational Trails Program.” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reiterated that message during his keynote speech to an energized crowd ready to fight for bicycle rights and safety during its charge on Capital Hill.
Wednesday morning started off with a bang as Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) gave his welcoming speech before the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan and the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar continued to invigorate us with their inspiring words. What these people have done for bike advocacy in cities like Portland, OR and New York City is extremely remarkable. They’ve set a high standard for the rest of the nation to follow.
During the breakout sessions I chose to attend a talk on engaging youth in cycling because I feel that that we need to begin stamping an impression on kids the importance of physical activity to living a long, healthy life. It is imperative that as a nation we begin to reverse the trend of childhood obesity. But it’s also about putting legislation into place that will create and provide safe places for the kids to engage in cycling, whether it’s programs like Safe Routes to Schools or building more mountain bike parks. Much of the session was geared towards the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) which hit close to home because of the high school mountain bike league that has gotten underway in the area surrounding my home town of Fort Collins. I was amazed at what this group has already done for American youth and was further impressed with what this group has planned for the future. Other countries are starting to take notice at what this group has accomplished, and have even gone as far as asking for direction at getting similar leagues started in their part of the world.
In the next session I learned about the “Summit Ask” – the message that we would take with us to Capital Hill the next day. Just as the Summit message stated on the opening night, the “Summit Ask” was more about asking for current funding to be maintained rather than increased. Because of the economic turmoil that has hit the U.S. we can’t expect the “new” Congress to expand the current levels of funding, but we can ask that the existing cycling and walking programs remain intact because they are fundamental to decreasing traffic congestion, decreasing consumption of fossil fuels, decreasing childhood obesity and improving quality of life, all of which will have positive impacts on the economy. To the attendees at the Summit and to many other advocates around the country, this message makes sense, it seems so easy, but for many of the people on Capital Hill it would still be a big “ask”.
During the keynote lunch that afternoon we heard from I.M.B.A.’s Jenn Dice and Robin Schepper, ED, First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign. Andy Clarke also announced the first-ever recipients of the Bicycle Friendly University designation and 55 new Bicycle Friendly Businesses. Fort Collins was front and center as both Colorado State University and New Belgium Brewery were among the universities and businesses to receive these awards. Fort Collins itself is a silver level Bicycle Friendly Community so it’s no wonder that our university and businesses have also brought bicycle advocacy to the forefront. It was also my pleasure to represent CSU on stage when all of the award winning universities gathered for a photo.
That evening Bikes Belong and BikesPAC hosted a reception and fundraiser for several members of the U.S. House and Senate for their support of bicycling at the historic Monocle Restaurant on Capital Hill. That particular event was eye-opening to say the least. Throughout the evening Tim Blumenthal of Bikes Belong and peopleforbikes.org introduced several influential legislators such as Congressman John Mica (R-FL) – Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Steven LaTourette (R-OH), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). In about 5 minutes, each Congressman informally addressed the crowd to tell his own story about why he supports cycling, and most of them recounted funny stories about their own cycling experiences. For them to feel our energy (they felt it and they said so) and for us to hear about their support for bikes was huge. There was wholehearted enthusiasm floating around the room that night as everyone mingled and chatted about this and that. I was excited to be part of such a spirited group of people who all shared the same agenda – to make bikes part of mainstream America for all the ways they can help shape the health and economy of and for its people.
Thursday morning was The big day on Capital Hill. It was time for us to shine, to use all the information that we had obtained over the last couple of days to convince our respective Representatives and Senators that they need to help us maintain current funding for bicycling and walking in our great state. For many Colorado delegates, talking to members of Congress was old hat since it was their umpteenth visit to Capital Hill. Bicycle Colorado is one of the leaders in bicycle advocacy in the U.S. and groups like Bikes Belong and I.M.B.A. call Colorado home which gives the state a huge advantage by having such heavy hitters in its back pocket. It also helps when you have an employee from New Belgium Brewery start off the meeting – “did you hear that Fat Tire is going to be rolling out in D.C. in a couple of months?” It was inspiring to me as we sat in a legislator’s office or stood in the hall to hear the people from my state talk about the how’s and why’s bicycling is important to Colorado and what Congress can do to help maintain Colorado as a bicycle friendly state.
On the schedule were meetings with Representatives Tipton, Gardner, Perlmutter, DeGette, Coffman and Polis. My first meeting of the day began with Gardner, the Representative from my district. Like most meetings, we didn’t meet with the legislator but rather his/her legislative assistant or “staffer”. However, it’s often the case that a good meeting with a staffer can be just as or even more influential than meeting with the Rep. because often the staffers play an invaluable role in shaping a legislator’s agenda and position on issues. Each of our meetings seemed to flow smoothly with support coming from each of the different districts. Perlmutter was the one Rep. that met us face to face and he did so in a corridor in the great depths of the Longworth Building. (Or was it in Cannon? It was hard to keep track of where we were after the staffer took us down these stairs, up those escalators and through this and that corridor.) Like each legislator that we met with, he reiterated to us to keep up our hard work, that we were on the right track, and to continue giving him the information he needs to support our cause. Then he wrapped up the meeting by asking his staffer to take a picture of him and our group to post on Twitter. Cool.
To wrap up the Summit, we all reconvened that evening for a Congressional Reception on the Hill. This was our opportunity to rehash the events of the last couple of days, particularly our day on Capital Hill, with old friends and many more new ones (at least in my case). Exhaustion was starting to set in, people’s feet hurt and there were many tired eyes, but the energy that started the Summit was still reverberating around the room as we all said our good-byes and gave our best wishes.
I met many fantastic people during the Summit, more than I’ll be able to remember, and I hope to meet these people again in some capacity as I wander down the road trying to find my place in bicycle advocacy.