Congressman Jim Oberstar, the Grand Man of bicycles in Washington, made his annual speech to a packed room of Bike Summit attendees at an early morning rally today.
Oberstar shared his perspective on the bicycle movement in America by saying,
“When we first got here, we could have met in a phone booth.”
Oberstar has fought bike battles in DC for over a decade and it’s hard to relate what his impassioned support has meant to the bicycle movement in this country.
“We’re going to convert America from the hydrocarbon economy to the carbohydrate economy.”
During his speech this morning he pointed out several key people in the audience that have helped him with those battles.
He pointed out Safe Routes to School lightning rod Deb Hubsmith (in photo below), who he credits with bringing that program to life in America. Hubsmith started the first of two Safe Routes pilot projects in Marin County and is now head of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
Oberstar then told the story of how he pushed Safe Routes through the system, and once it passed, his trepidation that the administration would appoint, “some troglodyte” to run it.
He was relieved when they picked Tim Arnade. Oberstar knew he was right for the job because, “he had cycling legs”.
He also credited Trek Bicycles President John Burke for stepping up to the plate, “when we were flat on our back in ’97.” Oberstar relayed a story of a meeting with Bikes Belong to discuss how to get $2 billion for bicycling in the transportation bill*:
“I wanted to expand the reach of bicycling and I needed bike advocates to pound the pavement. I asked what they were going to do…and there was silence. It was Burke who stepped up and said, ‘Can you imagine what the golf industry would do if they were in our position?!’…and then he pledged $100,000 to the effort right then and there.”
Oberstar said that was the day the bike community came of age in Washington DC.
Full of quips and candor, Oberstar continued with,
“What we’re trying to do is make bicycles a true mode of transportation…we’re going to convert America from the hydrocarbon economy to the carbohydrate economy.”
He also offered some perspective on how far bicycles have come in Washington,
“Back in ’91, and even in ’95, there were no federal guidelines on how to construct bike lanes.”
But even though we’ve come a long way, and even with Oberstar in our corner (“Bikes are not going away, not as long as I’m here!”), he implored us to “do our jobs, and remain vigilant.”
Inspiring words from a man who has laid the path we all ride on.
*UPDATE: I spoke about the origins of that story with League Director Andy Clarke. He thinks the meeting was at the 1997 Interbike Trade Show in Anaheim, California. At that time, the League was concerned about keeping some key bike programs in the transportation bill, so they came to the bike industry to ask for help. $385,000 was the exact amount Andy said they asked for. Burke pledged $100,00 only if the League could raise matching funds. They did…and they used the money to rally their members to help save those bike programs and Bikes Belong, industry advocacy, and eventually the National Bike Summit was born.