Tour de Lab September 1st

Blumenauer shares his national bike priorities

Posted by on June 4th, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Blumenauer in Portland on May 11th.
(Photos © J. Maus)

A few weeks ago, in the Rose Room in Portland’s City Hall, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer hosted an invite-only, roundtable discussion about biking. Around the large conference table sat electeds (like Metro President David Bragdon) and representatives from a variety of local, regional, and statewide agencies, universities, non-profits, and businesses.

Besides hearing the latest bike news and ideas from the experts in his home district, Blumenauer’s main goal of the meeting was to share and hear feedback on three specific initiatives he’s working on.

The first is what Blumenauer calls a “visible achievement project.” This would be a high-visibility bike project that would be sort of a PR effort to get attention from Capitol Hill for bike infrastructure. The project Blumenauer seems to have settled on (I’ve also heard him mention it in speeches) is to put bike lanes on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.

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National Bike Summit Day 1

Riding down Pennsylvania Ave.

As most of you know, Pennsylvania Ave. isn’t just another street. It’s probably the most historic and important street in America; it’s home to the White House, numerous federal office buildings, and it leads directly into the U.S. Capitol building.

Currently, the street is a nine-lane thoroughfare where motorcades, tourist buses, taxis, and high-falutin’ lobbyist types in town cars reign supreme. In a country largely built around the automobile, it’s no surprise that our most famous street caters to it almost exclusively.

Putting bike lanes on such a hallowed and historic street would be highly symbolic — but it will be no small task. Before bike lanes can get put in, reps from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Architect of the Capitol, and the local department of transportation will have to sign off.

Blumenauer has already been meeting with stakeholders, but so far there’s no solid progress to report.

The next priority Blumenauer shared is his desire to set a national goal for biking. The idea here is to set a reachable target for advocates (both inside and outside of government) to shoot for in the re-write of the new transportation bill.

Can we (the entire country) double bike mode share? Should we set a national VMT reduction goal? Should we strive to double our national inventory of bikeway miles? (PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller’s idea was that each city tries to double the bike mode share they have now).

Blumenauer wants to set a specific goal that we can measure success (or failure) by, then promote the goal, capture America’s attention, and then build momentum toward achieving it.

The final national priority Blumenauer said he’s working on is to expand the Safe Routes to Schools program into high schools and the American workplace. Safe Routes was funded to the tune of over $600 million in the last transportation bill, but it is currently only focused on elementary schools. Blumenauer wants to expand the scope of the program into other areas.

The Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership is already backing a new bill that would triple funding for the program and take it into high schools.

Before the discussion ended, Blumenauer shared a few thoughts about the Obama administration. He said they have “a new vision” for transportation that includes looking at the “bigger picture stuff” like how infrastructure design impacts livability.

“I think there’s a growing interest,” Blumenauer said, “to practice the art of engineering, not just the science.”

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    Matthew June 4, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Sounds great, wish I had Blumenauer as my Rep!

    Just something I noticed, couldn’t one say that when one looks at engineering as an art, it becomes architecture, in this case, landscape architecture?

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    a.O June 4, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Fascinating stuff, Jonathan.

    I say we should NOT set a national VMT reduction goal, nor should we stop Congress’ dithering on regulating GHGs.

    We should keep our national response to global warming just like Oregon’s response: Symbolic and completely toothless. You know, call for a reduction in VMT while supporting a mega-highway.

    Instead, we should wait for the sea level to rise until Pennsylvania Ave is under water so that the current paradigm of ignoring environmental problems will be completely discredited and we can start this whole experiment over.

    You know, as opposed to the currently endless debate with the distinguished representatives from the Gas and Oil Party about whether this problem merits action.

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    wsbob June 4, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    “Can we (the entire country) double bike mode share? Should we set a national VMT reduction goal? Should we strive to double our national inventory of bikeway miles? (PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller’s idea was that each city tries to double the bike mode share they have now).”

    Those are good questions, good objectives. Improving and widening existing bike lanes where needed, particularly on central routes that provide connectivity would be good. Too often, existing bike lanes are minimal or insufficient, and don’t encourage people to ride.

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    pkoonce June 4, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    We are fortunate to have a leader as committed as Blumenauer is to cycling and the values of our community. Which reminds me that I need to go send in my political contribution.

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    Joe Rowe June 4, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    As Mr. Maus states in this article, Earl does a few good things and cares about the symbol of bikes on Penn Ave.

    I feel it is equally important to look at what Earl is avoiding in his duties. I care about human lives.

    – He’s not speaking out to stop the 12 lane CRC bridge and 12 lane freeway that will soon follow, at the cost of 4 Billion or more dollars, and countless traffic and pollution deaths.

    – He’s not going to say a word about single payer heath care, or details about how people’s heath will come before profit in the O heath plan.

    – He’s not saying a peep about Torture, or Guantanamo.

    – He’s not saying how his failure to impeach has meant we’re too bankrupt to fund most bike or transportation projects.

    I don’t want more of the same, thank u very much.

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    Vance Longwell June 5, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Or maybe it’s time to stop listening to motorists who ride bicycles part-time, as a fashion statement, about the future of cycling in America. Screw this place.

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    Paul Tay June 5, 2009 at 7:09 am

    Penn Ave. bike lanes would be the WORSE thing for our cause. Simply reserve it for non-motorized travel.

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    Mark Riskedahl June 5, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Energy Secretary Chu occasionally pulls into Dept. of Energy headquarters on his Colnago over his security detail’s objections:

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    Ted Buehler June 5, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Washington D.C. *should* be a very bicycleable city. It’s fairly flat, lots of people travel 1/2 – 2 miles for business errands during the day, lots of pepole live 2-5 miles from the CBD and gov’t centers.

    Washington has made good progress in the last few years. Bike lanes on Pennsylvania Ave would be a great step forward. The street has space for them, and without them the city isn’t going to take any great leaps forward for bikes.

    To achieve this effort will probably take a national campaign with bicyclists from around the country writing their elected officials. It can’t be done locally, as DC has no representation in the Senate and only one seat in the house.

    Great stuff, Blumenauer, keep it up!
    Ted Buehler

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    wsbob June 5, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Mark Riskedahl #8, that story about Chu is good. A picture would have been nice. Note that Chu’s in good enough shape to ride 45 miles. Tay, if Sotomyer does that, maybe she should wear lycra, “…judicial discretion…” be damned.

    Some people seem to think they should never pass up an opportunity to be mad at their elected reps, even when the reps are working to do something right.

    Though certainly not perfect, Blumenauer’s at least is trying to do something constructive for a nation highly dependent on oil resources, whose citizens often, due to the narrowly focused transportation infrastructure we spent the last century building, are obliged to rely on a personal motor vehicle to travel somewhere.

    Negotiating a nine lane road on a bike sounds like a formidable challenge. Is the traffic on Pennsy something that people on bikes could seriously manage even with bike lanes? There’s nothing worse than a showpiece that isn’t very functional.

    More politicians thinking and riding bikes, helping to expand and improve new and existing bike infrastructure is a welcome sign. Vance, you don’t need to worry…it’s unlikely the car is completely going away, nor will it be ignored as far as future spending on motor vehicle infrastructure is concerned.

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    Brad June 5, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Hey! Another government funded “symbol” of bikeyness. Let’s all get a collective chubby now.

    Earl – how about pouring those funds into your hometown of Portland? Isn’t that why we elected you to Congress? Want America to notice? How about a major city in the Northwest with a thriving economy, happy and fit citizens, with 20% mode share coming from bikes? That would show other municipalities what can be acheived.

    Bike lanes on Pensylvania Ave.? Nice for the tourists that want to stop every block to snap photos but horrible for the commuters that might actually use them.

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    Joe Rowe June 5, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Let there be no doubt: Earl, Bush and Wsbob all play the strawman debate game.

    Here’s the simple formula for the simple minded.

    a) Change “joe” or anyone into “some people”

    b) follow it up with an exaggeration of a valid argument of someone who has a different opinion.

    Earl’s rose room talk in PDX was about creating bike promotional projects, a National Bike plan, and more money for safe routes to schools.

    I’ll repeat my message so you don’t keep using “some people”. No matter what Earl’s 3 good little goals, it’s his lack of action that means we have very little funding to implement public projects.

    With so little funding all the good little projects must compete with each other, which means a women’s shelter and bike lanes are at odds with each other.

    It’s like a dad who buys a birthday cake, but due to his lack of locking up the house in a neighborhood filled with thieves, the kids must fight with each other each night so they don’t go hungry the other 364 days.

    Don’t look at the birthday cake a dad gives you, look at his lack of action on his key duties.

    Earl has never put “checks and balances” anywhere on his priority list. We’re bankrupt financially due to his inaction.

    ps: Earl and his staff know me. Most often I show up to events and say and do nothing. I feel those events are for people who’ve never seen Earl or for the public to listen. In this forum my words don’t hog air time or silence any opinion. I’m giving the bigger picture not found in most reporting. Can’t stand the truth, don’t read it.

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    Matt Picio June 5, 2009 at 11:53 am

    I agree with Joe Rowe (#5) that we should be letting Earl Blumenauer know that the 12-lane CRC is not desired, and that we want him to publicly oppose it, and we want him to support single-payer healthcare. These two issues have huge impacts on public health, and on cycling – there is no decent alternative for health coverage in the event of a cycling injury for those who have no car insurance.

    Paul Tay (#7) – Not going to happen, nor should it. As the symbolic and iconic route of Washington DC, Pennsylvania Ave should support ALL the travel modes, including cars. The main thing right now is accommodating the modes that are not being properly served.

    Ted Buehler (#9) – Have you been to D.C.? It’s not flat, except in the monument area and parts of NE. The rest of the District is full of rolling hills, especially around the embassies. If you don’t routinely ride over the western hills here, or to the tops of Tabor, Rocky Butte, and Mount Scott, then a ride through D.C. is possibly hillier than Portland, and in many cases the hills are steeper.

    For those who haven’t been to D.C., you should see it at least once – amazing city, many unique locations, and many things to laugh at if you don’t take things as seriously as D.C. does.

    Joe Rowe (#11) – Good point about funding, but frankly if it comes down to bike lanes vs. a women’s shelter, my vote is for the shelter.

    Of course, my vote is also to stop the policies that we’ve enacted which require us to spend so much on “defense”.

    Earl’s doing a great job on bikes, especially holding the weasels accountable. I really encourage him and his staff to continue their efforts, they are a huge value and inspiration to the community. OTOH, with regards to single-payer, Earl is silent, and with CRC, Earl *is* the weasel. I really hope that Earl starts taking a more active stance towards looking at what’s appropriate in terms of the CRC, or whether it’s needed at all.

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    wsbob June 5, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Joe, the main reason I used the phrase ‘some people’ instead of your name ‘Joe Rowe’ was to be civil and try avoid unnecessarily sending you off into a reactionary rage. Despite that, you still you went after the criticism like bees to honey.

    Sharing the truth when something about it is known, is helpful. Taking advantage of a report on someone’s…that would be Mr. Blumenauer, just so you with your complex, as opposed to simple mind will understand it’s not a strawman being talked about here,…efforts to do something positive, only to wax on about about everything he’s doing wrong to the complete exclusion of things he’s doing right doesn’t seem very positive or helpful.

    Another reason I substituted ‘some people’ instead of your name is that in comment #5; You opened the comment with: “As Mr. Maus states in this article, Earl does a few good things and cares about the symbol of bikes on Penn Ave.” But, that seems to have been so you could immediately launch into negative stuff that’s not related to what Blumenauer’s bike as transportation efforts.

    Picio, I agree with you here:

    “Joe Rowe (#11) – Good point about funding, but frankly if it comes down to bike lanes vs. a women’s shelter, my vote is for the shelter.” picio

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    Ted Buehler June 5, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    wsbob wrote
    >>Is the traffic on Pennsy something that people on bikes could seriously manage even with bike lanes? <<

    Yes. I rode it a couple days in March, it was manageable for me without bike lanes as a fairly confident cyclist. Traffic is fairly slow, not too dense. All the architecture is monumental, which may slow people down a bit.,-95.677068&sspn=46.005754,117.861328&ie=UTF8&ll=38.893254,-77.021906&spn=0.011106,0.028775&t=h&z=16&iwloc=A&layer=c&cbll=38.893201,-77.021732&panoid=XRK0AkGODrxmdf_9v2Kybg&cbp=12,109.68,,0,-4.66

    The big plus is that its a diagonal that connects lots of destinations. So with reasonable bike facilities, it would shorten the distance between many destinations.

    Ted Buehler

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    El Biciclero June 5, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    “Or maybe it’s time to stop listening to motorists who ride bicycles part-time, as a fashion statement, about the future of cycling in America.”

    But what if they are part-time vehicular cyclists?

    There are some of us who are admittedly “part-time” bicycle riders, but speaking for myself, I ride to work year-round, and to run errands when I have < 50 lbs of stuff to carry (and I can fit it in the crate on my rack), and I only drive occasionally. In fact, I would more classify myself as a “part-time driver”–should I go participate in motor vehicle policy discussions? Or would I not count there either? I would almost think that those who regularly both ride AND drive have a more complete perspective on what it is like to share the road.

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    Dave June 6, 2009 at 8:44 am

    I will applaud Earl and others when they grow the spinal column to ram a $1/gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax through Congress and past Barack Milquetoast’s veto. There’s no bigger pussy than a politician discussing energy and transportation.

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    peejay June 9, 2009 at 10:35 am


    Forget $1/gallon. It should be converted to tax/$, and then increased by 50%. I’d like to see an absolute gas tax of 25-40%. By indexing the tax per dollar spent, the government won’t get the extreme loss of revenue that happens every time a spike in prices generates a drop in consumption.

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