Thursday, March 26, 2009

More or Less Live from the Bike Summit...

Greetings from a gray evening in downtown DC... This is the week that Gordon Fisher, Coreen Frasier, and I are representing BACA and the Arkansas Bicycle Club at the League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Summit. This is the third year that I've actually been a League member, and the first time that I've attended the Bike Summit. On the whole, BACA has been participating through the efforts of various members since 2004.

I had not originally intended to go to the Summit, but this year the League changed its process a little bit and sought out "State Coordinators" from each state to call and coordinate visits with each member of the state Congressional delegations. Someone reached out and grabbed me, and with a good bit of arm-twisting, I agreed to do it. The Coordinators were einvolved early on back in February, when the League used a consultant, Stephanie Vance (the "Advocacy Guru") to conduct two on-line training seminars for us. The first involved a detailed tutorial on how to get in touch with and make appointments with the various congressional offices, the second focused on what to do when we got there, and how to be an effective lobbyist (excuse me, ADVOCATE) for bicycling.

It started off as a hectic week. On Monday night, the North Little Rock City Council had its regular meeting at which it adopted the state's first Complete Streets resolution. (Passed unanimously, by the way, and now in full effect). That was on the tail end of the agenda, so it was pretty late when I got back out to Scott, only to rise with the rooster the next morning in order to make a 6:15 a.m. flight out to Washington DC, by way of St. Louis and Chicago. The connecting flight from Chicago was delayed for about an hour, which wiped out my attendance at the first agenda item, the League's tutorial for first-time advocates. Turns out this was pretty much the same deal Stephanie had given us late in February, so there wasn't much lost. I found the flophouse where Gordon and I would be staying in order to abide with BACA's budget, dropped off my suitcase, changed into a clean shirt, and headed out to go find the Reagan International Trade Center down on Pennsylvania Avenue. Right next door to the U.S. EPA, it turns out...

I signed in and picked up my paperwork, met a few friends (Anne Ellis and Barry Zalph from my LCI class in Louisville back in '07), then found Coreen and Gordon. The Summit kicked off at 6:00 p.m. with a very nice dinner, and our maxed table of folks from Arkansas, New England, and Colorado had some lively discussion. Also at our table was John Siemiatkoski, the League’s new Board member from New England, who shared an idea considered during the Board meeting earlier in the day… if the LAB has League Cycling Instructors, why can’t we enhance that program to also provide “bike-friendly Instructors” or “bike-friendly advisors” to assist communities in building programs, infrastructure, etc. in support of becoming bike-friendly communities?

The main program kicked off with a welcome by Andy Clarke, the League’s executive director, who in turn welcomed the Ambassador from Denmark, and then a demonstration of the role that cycling plays in Copenhagen, a city that's physically about the size of the Little Rock metropolitan area, has a population of a little over half a million, and where 36% of all trips are made by bicycle... Some 30,000 bikes daily hit the streets in the downtown area alone. 36% of people who enter Copenhagen daily for work or for school do so on a bicycle and among people who live in their city’s core, 55% bike to work. Another 35% take public transit, so cars are a minority there. Andreas Rohl, Copenhagen’s bike program manager, noted that when he took the, there was a tremendous amount of effort placed in managing cycling in the city. After he had been at work a couple of months, he began to wonder if there was a similar office in city government that dealt with automobiles the same way the city does with cyclists. (There wasn’t.)

Next up on the agenda was a welcoming talk from Congressman James Oberstar, (D, MN) who is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee that will be assembling the new highway funding bill this coming summer. Driving home several times that he’s the Chairman, he got a rousing bit of applause when he stated that it’s not a question of whether there will be bicycle funding in the new bill, only “how much.” Oberstar noted that “we have to make bicycling a node of transportation by law,” and noted a widely cited case in Illinois where a cyclist was killed in an accident caused by a defective road surface and state courts ruled that the roads weren’t designed or intended for cyclists, and his dependents then had no standing to sue for loss or damages caused by his death. Oberstar promised that the new transportation bill will clearly define bicycling as a mode of transportation; and cyclists as design users of the roads and streets. He then challenged us to “go out and make cycling so.”

The new administration sees cycling at the core of their concept of “livable communities.” Cyclists are people too, and they vote. Bike shops are small businesses, and support their communities in many facets.

The evening closed with a number of awards, from the national Safe Routes to School recognition, and five grants from the Bikes Belong Coalition to cities seeking to establish or upgrade their standing as Bike-Friendly Communities. These awards went to Denver, Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburg, and San Diego.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking, formerly known as the “Thunderhead Alliance,” announced their recent name change, as well as a round of grant opportunities for groups wishing to organize statewide bicycling or bike/ped coalitions. Deadline for application will be April 3, 2009.

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