Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on March 10th, 2010 at 5:12 am
[The big Google bike directions announcement also happened at this Opening Plenary, but I’ve decided to separate that out into a different post and combine it with a short interview I did with the product manager.]
I’ve got a front row seat at the big Opening Plenary session at the National Bike Summit. There’s even more excitement than usual because there are a few guys standing around with blue Google t-shirts. In addition to a big announcement from Google about their new bike directions feature, there is an excellent panel of speakers on tap.
The opening session is billed, “The Next Decade” and Congressman Earl Blumenauer is first to speak.
He’s going over the goals from last year. One of them was to fill every seat in this ampitheater. Done (there are a few empty, but there are also lots of people standing in back). One of the other goals was to get a bikeway on Pennsylvania Avenue. Blumenauer has been working on that for years, and he announced this morning that by Bike to Work Day in DC (early May) this year, there will be green painted bikeways on Pennsylvania Avenue.
About the impending bike lane project, Blumenauer likened them to one of America’s most historic and iconic streets, “An exciting symbol of cycling haven risen in our nation’s capitol.”
Blumenauer had a lot of gratitude for advocates. “Persistence pays… and I’m in a culture that reveres seniority. But we need new blood, people that are fired up… they are the hallmark of this effort.” Blumenauer asked the crowd how many were first-timers at the Summit and hundreds of hands went up.
“We need you know more than ever!”
Blumenauer also spoke about gridlock — not on streets, but on Capitol Hill. “We’re here to show people in the Capitol how to break that gridlock.” Trying to raise spirits a day before the troops head up to the Hill for meetings with members of Congress, Blumenauer said, “We need you know more than ever!”
Blumenauer outline several of his bike-related legislative efforts including, his Active Communities for Transportation bill (a.k.a. “the ACT act”), a Safe Routes for High Schools bill, and a bill he calls “Green Routes to Work” that would give all modes equal commuting reimbursements from employers.
“This is a blueprint for how we’re going to end socialism for the car.”
— Earl Blumenauer
On Safe Routes to High Schools: “We know childhood obesity strikes between 12 and 19… We shouldn’t abandon high schools… We want to make sure there’s a bike culture to complete with car culture.”
On Green Routes to Work: “This is a blueprint for how we’re going to end socialism for the car… We’re not anit-car but we want to stop titling the playing field dramatically in favor of them.”
Of all the years I’ve heard Blumenauer speak at this Opening Plenary, this year he seemed weary and less inspirational than in the past. During the Bush years, his anger stirred up great emotion in the crowd. Then, at the dawn of the Obama era, he was imbued with a hope that things would finally start going his way in terms of biking. This year, I think the pall of partisanship hanging over D.C. is impacting a lot of Democrats. Blumenauer pleaded with advocates as sort of a Great Last Hope to help this town see some light. Here are a few of his remarks on this topic:
“I wasn’t joking before when I talked about gridlock. I’ve been here all my life and have never seen anything like we’ve had over the course of the last year… We need your energy, your vision, your blueprint for how to make things better… They [his colleagues] need to hear the message that this is not partisan or idealogical… a message that you can deliver…”
It was as if he’s tried everything, and that now it’s up to the power of people to make it happen. He went on,
“… Help them understand you are just the tip of the iceberg in every community. Help them understand you don’t want explanations why this place doesn’t work… You want them to work with you to help make it work… Our mission has become more important, it’s become grander in scope even as it’s become more urgent…”
Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (one of the main sponsors of the even by the way) also addressed the crowd. He had high praise for Blumenauer, saying, “I may live on the other side of the country, but as a cyclist myself, he is my congressman too.”
“Our mission is the same as your mission,” said Rogoff, “We are trying to get our policies and our programs to recognize the new reality.” According to Rogoff, a new reality exists because people are “cramming for choices” in how they move around and “We need to upgrade our policies and programs to reflect it.”
Rogoff said the sour economy has many Americans looking to “jettison” their cars. “These families are discovering that transit works for them and that bikes work for them, and — what’s critically important — is that many of them are discovering that cycling and transit works for them.”
Rogoff also pointed out that the Obama Administration has boosted transit spending by 84% in just one year. Of the 51 projects selected for stimulus funding through the TIGER program, he said 24 of them included some type of bike improvement. “I think we’re beginning to put our money where our mouth is on these issues.”
He also acknowledged that there is “pushback on this agenda.” Then, echoing Blumenauer’s sentiment, he said, “That’s why it’s all the more important you’re here.”
As what may be the last line of defense to push transportation politics toward a new status quo, the 700 assembled advocates here at the Summit have a lot of expectations on their shoulders heading into the big day on Capitol Hill tomorrow.