Going for Green
Almost 600 bike advocates from 47 states converged in Washington DC for the 9th annual National Bike Summit. The Summit, hosted by the League of American Bicyclists, is a chance for advocates to don bright colored bike buttons and enter the halls of the Capitol and speak to our elected officials about issues and bills that support the interests of cyclists and pedestrians. In the process, we make connections and build relationships with our members of Congress to continue the dialogue from home.
The Summit started on Tuesday, March 10 where Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the congressman whose Safe Routes to Schools program has earned him accolades from the self propelled advocacy movement. The capacity crowd marked the largest Bike Summit to date. Oberstar, the chairman of the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, ensured that bike and pedestrian projects will be included in the upcoming transportation bill, due to be developed and passed this year.
Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood (right), addressed the National Bike Summit on Wednesday morning
The following day began with an early morning speech from President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. Secretary LaHood, wearing a bike button, started his speech by ensuring us that we “have a full partner at the US DOT in working toward livable communities.” He promised that he and Obama, “will work toward an America where bikes are recognized to coexist with other modes and to safely share our roads and bridges.”
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) makes frequent appearances throughout the Summit. Blumenauer, the cycling Congressman who rides to work, has made a name for himself as Capitol Hill’s most active and passionate cycling ally. Blumenauer was the one behind last year’s the Bicycle Commuter Act, a benefits package that allows a $20 per month rebate to commuters that primarily ride to work. He is currently working to expand and update the benefits by introducing a resolution (H.R. 863) called the Multimodal Commuter Credit to reflect how many cyclists also use public transit on a daily basis. Blumenauer, addressed us on Thursday morning and prepped us for our day on the Hill. He spoke of a budget meeting that he had with President Obama the previous evening. As they talked about transportation, Obama, according to Blumenauer, asked “You mean, there’s not enough money for bikes?” Blumenauer paused and assured us that “The big guy’s on message.”
Wednesday continued with workshops and trainings on how to prepare and talk to our Representatives and their staff. Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced an important bill to coincide with the National Bike Summit, The Complete Streets Act of 2009. Using a “fix it first” principle, complete streets are designed to be safe and accessible for everyone that needs to use them, including cars, cyclists, buses, pedestrians, wheelchair users, etc. The bill would make sure that state DOT’s adopt a complete streets policy, or risk losing some Federal Highway Funds.
Another bill that was recently introduced is The Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act or CLEAN-TEA. Sens. Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Steven La Tourette (R-OH), Melissa Bean (D-IL), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced the bills (S.575 and HR 1329 respectively) to address how climate change is affected by our transportation choices , as well as raise some revenue for the Federal coffers through cap and trade funds. Under CLEAN-TEA, ten percent of the revenue would be used to create a more efficient transportation system and to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The funding would go toward “new or expanded transit or passenger rail; supporting development around transit stops; and making neighborhoods safer for bikes and pedestrians.” We were fortunate enough to run into Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), a co-sponsor of the bill, at a Bikes Belong reception. Specter recalled how, as a young man in Kansas, he worked as a bike messenger and would earn 10 cents for every delivery.
Senator Arlen Specter and Tim Blumenthal of Bikes Belong share a laugh at a Wednesday evening reception
Our day on Capitol Hill we were able to arrange meetings with the offices of five members of the House and Senate. We met with the offices of Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) as well as Western Pennsylvania House Members Jason Altmire, Mike Doyle, and Kathy Dahlkemper. In addition to talking about the previously mentioned bills, one of the goals of the day was to ask our Representatives to join the Congressional Bike Caucus, an initiative organized by Blumenauer. The three Western Pennsylvania members of the House Mike Doyle (D-PA), Jason Altmire (D-PA), and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) are all proud members of the caucus. During last year’s election cycle, Congresswoman Dahlkemper gained some national support from the bike community. 14-year Republican incumbent Phil English crafted an attack ad in which he criticized her “wacky solution” to conserve energy by encouraging Americans to walk and bike more. He lost. She rode her bike to the acceptance speech.
The Complete Streets Act is part of what’s called the America Bikes Agenda. In addition to this bill, the agenda calls for “Active Transportation Networks” that create seamless on-street bicycling and walking routes that connect communities to homes and schools, employment centers and recreational areas. It also calls for “Fair share for Safety,” an idea that addresses the funding disparity in that bicyclists and pedestrians account for “13 percent of fatalities, but less than one percent of federal funding is spent to make roads safer for them.” The evening ended with a reception that announced the developments of the day, as well as a chance to listen to speeches from Congressional allies.
The Pittsburgh Delegation at the National Bike Summit. From left to right, Eric “Erok” Boerer (BikePGH), Jessie Buckner (BikePGH), Scott Bricker (BikePGH) and Maurice Tierney (Dirt Rag/Bicycle Times)
For the most comprehensive coverage of the National Bike Summit, check out the Bike Portland website.
Contact your elected officials about these issues. We may not have the lobbying dollars, but we do have the power of the grassroots!!