Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on March 12th, 2010 at 12:38 pm
The 26-person Oregon bike advocacy team stormed Capitol Hill on Thursday, armed with cycling stats, stories, and a strong sense of purpose. It was lobbying day at the National Bike Summit and Team Oregon joined 700 bike advocates from all over the country to flood the Senate and House office buildings to make every Congressional representative aware that the bike movement is a force to be reckoned with.
The day started off with an inspirational pep rally that featured Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar. Oberstar said this will be a “a critical year” and reminded advocates that big things are possible and that, “It happens one member [of Congress] at a time!”
relished the chance to meet his former
congressman, Jim Oberstar.
After the inspiring speech by Oberstar — who in many ways is the architect of the modern bike movement — the Oregon contingent made their way to a Congressional panel presentation.
with Zack Fields, a legislative aide that
works with Virginia congressman Gerald Connolly.
Organized by Scott Bricker and Earl Blumenauer’s legislative aide Tyler Frisbee, the purpose of the panel was for Congressional staffers to learn how Portland got on the road to being a world-class biking city. Panelists included PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller, Veronica Rinard from Travel Portland, Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves, Community Cycling Center executive director Alison Graves, and myself. Busy schedules on the Hill meant there wasn’t quite the turnout we’d hoped for, but the discussion was helpful nonetheless. Zack Fields, a legislative assistant for Virgina House Rep. Gerald Connolly, said the presentation by Roger Geller could help him inspire and motivate traffic engineers in Northern Virginia to be more bike-oriented.
After the presentation, the Oregon contingent split up into two teams and held a total of seven meetings with Oregon’s congressional representatives. The day started off with a bang when Senator Ron Wyden (D) spent over 20 minutes discussing bike legislation and other issues. Travel Oregon’s Scott West, a veteran of lobbying on Capitol Hill, said this amount of face-time with Sen. Wyden was unprecedented in his experience. West reported that Wyden spoke about the value of bicycle recreation and the economic impact of bicycle tourism. He also said he would take the Active Community Transportation and the Complete Streets acts into consideration.
Another highlight was a meeting with House Rep. David Wu (D) that took place on the steps of the Capitol. Wu was on his way to work on the health care bill, but stopped and talked at length with the group and seemed to enjoy the casual environment.
Rep. Greg Walden (R), Oregon’s only member of Congress not currently signed on in support of key bike legislation, wasn’t able to be at the meeting (he flew back to Oregon for Ben Westlund’s memorial service). Advocates instead had a discussion with his able assistant, Nathan Rae. Rae shared that he loves to ride and he listened and took notes about all the bills presented to him. Cycle Oregon manager Jerry Norquist led the meeting and was able to tell Rae that 2,000-plus Cycle Oregon participants will be rolling through Pendleton this fall. Pendleton is in Walden’s district and it’s home to the famous Pendleton Round-Up rodeo. Cycle Oregon has purchased 2,000 tickets to the rodeo’s 100th anniversary festivities this year.
The biggest advocacy breakthrough of the day came during a meeting with Senator Jeff Merkley (D). Merkley told the group he would introduce a companion bill to Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s Active Community Transportation Act and he also said he’d join the Congressional Bike Caucus (full story here).
After a fitting conclusion to the official National Bike Summit’s official agenda that included US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood jumping up on a table and shouting a thank-filled speech, the Oregon advocacy team hosted a dinner for Congressman Blumenauer.
The dinner, funded by Cycle Oregon, was held in a stately, private banquet room just steps from the Capitol. The night was an opportunity to thank Mr. Blumenauer for his hard work on behalf of bicycling. Prior to eating, we enjoyed a candid Q and A session where Blumenauer spoke candidly about the state of transportation politics (I took only a few notes out of respect the evening’s informal nature). He remarked at one point that the presence of bike advocates had lifted spirits on the Capitol. “You might not have signed everyone up,” he said, “But no one is negative about the bike issue.” He also offered some sage advice for advocates: “In Washington, you create your own reality.”
As conversation continued among attendees after dinner, Blumenauer walked around to each of us, wanting to hear our questions and taking time to offer answers. It was a very special evening, and it will stand in my mind as something of a coming-of-age moment for the bike movement in Oregon. Thanks in large part to the leadership of veteran advocates like Jerry Norquist and Jay Graves, we have assembled and trained-up an impressive standing army of advocates ready to make the Oregon bike dream into a reality.