at the Oregon Bike Summit.
(Photos © J. Maus)
Nearly 200 bike advocates filed into the World Trade Center in downtown Portland this morning for the kickoff of the fifth annual Oregon Bike Summit. Held each year since 2006, the purpose is to knit together all the advocates, politicians, insiders, and citizen activists working on biking issues, programs and projects throughout the state.
The opening keynote this year was given by Tim Blumenthal, executive director of national non-profit, Bikes Belong. Blumenthal is the most prominent and active figure for bicycling in America. In his speech, he recapped the National Bike Summit and gave attendees a view of the national political landscape for biking.
“This is a time when money is pretty tight in Washington. We have had unfortunate timing on the [transportation] bill. When it came up is when things started going badly.”
— Tim Blumenthal, Bikes Belong
Not unexpectedly, Blumenthal sang the praises of US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. “He’s our new hero… He’s been off the charts with his steadfast commitment to bicycling.” In Blumenthal’s mind, the federal investment in bicycling is increasing and is set to surge even more. Much of his reason for optimism has to do with support from the Obama Administration. “Clearly in this administration, in the DOT, somewhat in congress, among the mayors of nearly every big city in America, there’s a new recognition of the multiple benefits of investing in bicycling and walking.”
But, despite that support and the surging bike movement in general, Blumenthal acknowledged that the picture in D.C. isn’t all rosy. With a federal deficit of $1.84 trillion (which loomed on a screen behind him as he spoke), Blumenthal said, “This is a time when money is pretty tight in Washington.” Not only is money tight, but Blumenthal pointed out that the federal transportation bill (which expired last year) came up for renewal at a very bad time. “We have had unfortunate timing on the [transportation] bill. When it came up is when things started going badly.”
Not only has the national economic news been bleak, thus making the politics of pumping a lot of money into transportation a lower priority, but Blumenthal characterized politics on the Hill as “really interesting” right now. The “interesting” political climate, the federal deficit, and other major issues (oil spill and health care to name a few) all contribute to a stagnation in the national conversation around a new transportation bill.
When that conversation does happen, all signs point to a dramatic upswing in the amount of money available for non-motorized transportation. To make sure it goes that way, Blumenthal offered some advice for bike advocates. In order to succeed, he said, we need to do four things:
- We need to be concise (know our message and key arguments and deliver them in sound bites).
- We need proof — not just passion (emphasizing the need for data and statistics to back up claims).
- We need to be bipartisan (“This is a tough one because a lot of the most vehement push back we get in Congress and on the national level comes from one side of the aisle, but we’re absolutely committed to being bipartisan and I think that’s going to be extra important in the next couple years.”)
- We need to engage more individuals who enjoy bike riding.
On that last point, Blumenthal gave us an update on the People for Bikes campaign. Since it launched back in March, 30,000 people have put their name on the list. Blumenthal hopes to have 100,000 by the end of summer and his ultimate goal is one million people to take the pledge of support for bicycling.
Blumenthal left Summit attendees with a challenge; to be more welcoming. Saying that “for a lot of us that get into this, it becomes a badge of honor,” Blumenthal chided the crowd for not doing a good enough job of welcoming new riders into the fold.
The Summit continues throughout the day with speakers and breakout sessions on a number of issues. Come on down to the World Trade Center in downtown Portland to join us. More info at OregonBikeSummit.com.