National Bike Summit: Reflections from Washington, DC

While this was my seventh consecutive National Bike Summit, it was my first as part of the Oregon delegation. This year’s summit was the largest ever, and it injected energy into advocates’ blood as we hit the “hill” asking to protect bicycling funding in the current battle for resources.

As Congressman Earl Blumenauer stated clearly at the Oregon delegation dinner hosted by Cycle Oregon, “Bicycling was one of the only programs that was not targeted for cutting by the new House leadership.”

Earl Blumenauer speaks at the congressional reception for the Oregon delegation to wrap up the 2011 National Bike Summit. Video by Ted Sweeney.

Read the full recap below.

Day 1: Kickoff

The summit began on Tuesday evening with an energizing speech by US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Secretary LaHood talked about the importance that bicycling has played in his own life, how he bought bikes for his grandchildren. He rides regularly on trails during weekend rides with his wife to Bethesda.

LaHood also called out the courage shown by NYDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn and Washington DC DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein in building out the bicycle network in their cities. “It takes extraordinary leadership to make communities livable,” said LaHood.  Secretary LaHood also made it clear that the President shares his “transportation vision, a big bold vision that is about the next generation.”

Tuesday evening, the Alliance for Biking and Walking hosted its annual awards reception. I had the great fortune of accepting an award on behalf of Steph Routh, executive director of the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition. Steph was awarded the Susie Stephens Joyful Enthusiasm award, given to an individual who best represents the hard working Susie Stephens. Susie was a bicyclist, an environmentalist, an activist, and a world traveler. She was dedicated to educating others about bicyclist and pedestrian safety, and she was killed in 2002 after being struck by a bus while legally walking across the street in St. Louis.

Day 2: Workshop

The morning of Day 2 of the Summit featured a pep talk by Oregon’s own Earl Blumenauer and an encouraging reflection and challenge by Janette Sadik-Kahn.  Ms. Sadik-Kahn shared some pictures of New York City’s accomplishments. These weren’t just pictures of pretty bike lanes, but stories of how crash rates were plummeting along with average speeds on New York’s streets. New York has lain down 250 miles of bike lanes since 2006 using new, innovative treatments. Sadik-Kahn’s message was clear to the advocates in the room:  “Stand strong. This is painstaking work.  But it is expected when you are in the business of change.”

During a workshop entitled Towards Zero Deaths, an expert panel shared strategies to reduce fatalities on the roadway. The concept is modeled after Vision Zero from Sweden. Sweden’s Parliament passed a law in 1997 that by 2020 no one would be killed by traffic in the nation.  This goal is a moral imperative; it is essentially unarguable and the only way to reach that goal is make sure that everyone has a role to play in achieving vision zero.

In the United States, death by motor vehicle is the 8th leading cause of death, just below heart disease. From 2002 to 2006, there were 218,168 unintentional motor vehicle deaths. To put that in context, there were 89, 424 homicides during the same time. If you look at injury related deaths only, traffic is number one cause of death in the country.

Joe Toole, from the Federal Highway Administration is leading the US Department of Transportation’s charge. While the United States has seen a 30% drop in fatalities cumulative over the past three years, it is no cause for celebration. As he shared, “Only 30,000 deaths is not celebratory. One hundred deaths a day is unconscionable, one death is tragic.”

US DOT is developing a “roadway safety plan” that follows from Toward Zero Deaths; ten states have begun adopting the philosophy and over 20 national groups are participating. The BTA is building a coalition that will share this vision and encourage the state of Oregon and local municipalities to adopt a Vision Zero policy as well.

Mr. Toole recognized that road design is an essential part of solving the problems, but also shared that we need a significant societal change in how we approach driving and safety.  Mr. Toole envisions a campaign similar to antismoking campaigns that state very clearly “your driving is affecting my health.”

I am encouraged that the FHWA is approaching this problem in this way. Together we can help address the fact that more than 1,300,000 people die on roadways worldwide each year.

Day 3: Hitting Capitol Hill

On the third day we dressed in our finest and headed to Capitol Hill. We met with Senators and Representatives to share our stories, thank the congressmen for their past support and to request continued support of our efforts. BTA’s Director of Advocacy, Gerik Kransky, did a great job getting everyone into a select group of meetings and reaching actual congressmen. Of the seven in our delegation, we met with each office and five of seven congressmen themselves. As I met with our peers that evening at the reception, we were so fortunate to get direct meetings. Most of the other states’ delegations met with young legislative aides. We had great meetings with Senator Widen and Representatives DeFazio.

Our main ask this year was to encourage our congressmen to preserve existing funding levels for programs that fund bicycling. In a year where every federal expenditure is under attack, we’ll do well by preserving what we have.

After our day on the hill was over, we said our thanks and goodbyes to our new friends from other cities and states. We headed over to our own special reception co-hosted by Rep. Blumenauer and DeFazio, sponsored by Cycle Oregon, where we had a chance to say thanks to all the members of our entourage and share our stories of the day. We returned to Oregon energized and ready to fight for more local funding, to enact good policies that will lead to healthier roads, and to keep ahead of New York City.

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