Who am I?
My name is Jessica Thompson, and I’m a Project Planner for the League of Illinois Bicyclists (LIB). (Shameless plug–click here to become a member!) Thanks to our generous Executive Director Ed Barsotti, I am have been in DC since yesterday, learning about bicycle-related policy. Tomorrow I will ask for it (5+ times!) on Capitol Hill as part of the 9th annual National Bike Summit, a lobbying event put on by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB).
I am sitting in Hotel Harrington right now. I feel tired, but also satisfied knowing that the tiredness is for a good cause. The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind. I will try and share the highlights from the viewpoint of an advocate. (For IL-specific info, check my blog.)
Bike Summit Day #1
Yesterday I walked into the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center around 3:30 PM to register. I ran into a bicycle advocate and Master’s student from Anchorage, Alaska. Excitement was in the air! Suddenly more and more advocates poured in, like ants, and the frenzy began! We all got swag bags and dug through them, happy about our plastic bike pins, water bottles, and Cateye bike lights.
My first event was a 1-hour seminar aimed at people who have never been to the Bike Summit before. Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates (a funny lady!) spoke the majority of the time. She forbade anyone from wearing neon yellow bike gear, or bringing helmets into these professional meetings. (Apparently that’s been an issue in the past.)
Next up was the amazing Keynote Dinner. Andy Clarke of LAB opened (another very funny person). Ambassador Friis Arne Peterson and Andrea Rohl, both of Denmark, spoke about bicycle planning in Copenhagen. Their powerpoint showed photos of beautiful ladies riding cargo bicycles (filled with beautiful children, or dogs, or groceries) while in high heels, and we learned that 36% of all trips to work and school are taken by bike in Copenhagen, while only 33% are by car! I believe the goal of this presentation was to make us Americans insanely jealous to the point where we were willing to fight tooth and nail to have what they have. (It worked.)
Minnesota’s Congressman James Oberstar followed the Copenhagen presentation and fired everyone up. He said that the US will be comparable to Denmark bike-wise in 6 years! After driving home the point that he is the Chair of the Transportation Committee, everyone started to believe it. There was a whole lot of clapping after he said it isn’t a question of if bicycle funding is in the next transportation bill, it’s a question of how much.
The happening after-party was held at Elephant & Castle and thrown by the Alliance for Biking and Walking (former Thunderhead Alliance). I’d estimate 100 people showed up. They gave out many awards, including one to Chicago’s own Randy Neufeld. Rob Sadwosky of Active Trans presented the lifetime achievement award, and officially announced that Randy will move on from the organization come June. Randy proceeded to lead everyone in song. I only remember part of the chorus, which went something like, “Much smarter, much cleaner, much better than cars…” Pretty wild to look around and see colleagues from across the country spontaneously singing in a crowded bar.
Bike Summit Day #2
This morning started off with a slew of politicians pumping us up. First up was Illinois’ own Ray LaHood. Hearing the federal Secretary of Transportation tell a room of 550 bicyclists that we have a partner in the Department of Transportation was pretty amazing. He also said he plans on working from “best practices” in Europe, which is fantastic (and almost unreal) to hear. Maybe Copenhagen can become a reality here?
Next, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer took the mic. He challenged Washington DC to put bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue before next year’s Summit, said that “cycling is part of America’s Economic Recovery,” and pointed out that there is a bike mechanic in Congress now–Peter DeFazio (also from Oregon).
Dan Lipinski (Illinois) took the stage next, and pulled out his LAB member card to show that he is literally a card-carrying member. He pointed out that although 13% of motor-related fatalities are bicyclists and pedestrians, less than 1% of all Highway Safety dollars go to bicycle and pedestrian programming. More advice on what we should ask for–a fair share of safety dollars.
Congresswoman Doris Matsui from California finished out the opening session by talking about the Complete Streets legislation she will be proposing later this week. Co-sponsoring that bill is another “ask” we can bring up to Representatives tomorrow.
The three break-out sessions I attended today were titled The America Bikes Agenda for Transportation Policy: Changing Outcomes, Getting Our Fair and Equitable Share in the New Transportation Bill, and Bicycle Friendly America: Smart Investments in Businesses, Communities, and States. If anyone has specific questions, I will answer them, but I don’t want this post to get too long with all of the gritty details.
Tomorrow is the big day–the moment we’re all here for. I’ve committed to attending five sessions with Congress staffers. There are 18 meetings scheduled for Illinois alone. My role will be to briefly explain Transportation Authorization funding and ask for support in all meetings. (“Newbies” usually only discuss one topic over and over, to keep it simple.) Wish me luck!