[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.
Bike Summit coverage sponsored by Planet Bike. More stories on our special coverage page.
How do I get one of those shirts? 😉
wow, the Google bike mapper worked pretty well for the Portland route i requested – the travel time estimate was quite good, too, & the links to Streetview are a nice addition. Good stuff.
The bike mapper is a good first step, but it has some serious issues. A route planned from downtown to up to NoPo in the area of denver/lombard routes you onto Lombard from Interstate over to Denver — a suicide route. From NoPo downtown, it reasonably routes you down Denver to Rosa Parks then over to Interstate — why it doesn’t do that on the way back up is a mystery to me.
In either direction, it really should route you to Willamette then over to Denver all the way up (or down).
It is beta, but routing bikes onto Lombard is a HUGE mistake. Beware people.
The problem with Blumenauer’s exhortation is that, unfortunately, it is partisan and ideological, however much he or anyone else might like it not to be.
more bikes on Lombard would be a good thing, every street is a bike route
Blumenauer may have seemed tired because he had just been campaigning to get the OEA endorsement (no contest really, since repubs don’t even try these days) and his daughter just got back form the Peace Corps this weekend. Just sayin’
#4: clean air and healthy bodies are for everyone! 🙂 We on the left don’t plan to hog them from those on the right. They can breath and exercise with us! yay.
Hi to all the Oregon (and Washington) Bike Summiteers…
…hey remember to visit the smashing new Bikestation for a tour…its on the left side of the Union Station…it is also a good place to rent a basic bike from the Bike and Roll folks.
And talk to Andrea White (CEO Bikestation) about our new low cost and shovel ready ‘modular bikestation’.
Can I get a “Yes We Can!” 🙂 Just reading this makes me feel like I am at a campaign rally. Sé que sí se puede!
Right, so a quick look at what it recommends for my commute adds a mile to take the hapless victim right down Main Street, Bicycle Hell before turning onto a more reasonable route. Like all betas, this is going to need a little love.
There is what should be and what is reasonable. I like being right about things, probably as you do — it is right that there _should_ be more bikes on Lombard.
But being literally dead right is not something I am interested in. I live 1 block from Lombard. There are no bike lanes. Traffic there is always heavy and fast. It is not a safe place to put bike traffic, especially beginners who may be looking to the new Google functionality to get them safe routes.
Should each person use common sense? Yes, absolutely, and common sense would clearly dictate that riding a bike on Lombard betwixt Interstate and Denver is placing your life in serious danger.
But I’d like to see Google’s algorithm be a little more careful about routing people onto streets that have no bike lanes and fast traffic, especially when there is a much better road with bike lanes upon which the final destination nearly coincides.
My 2 cents.
and the moral is?
1. clearly both the google feature – and our streetscape – need some improvements.
2. don’t believe everything you read on the internet.