At Oregon Bike Summit, a view of the national landscape

Posted by on June 4th, 2010 at 10:34 am

Tim Blumenthal addresses the crowd
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.”

National Bike Summit - Day two-5

The bike movement’s new hero
(according to Blumenthal).

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

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Marcus Griffith
Marcus Griffith

“Blumenthal chided the crowd for not doing a good enough job of welcoming new riders into the fold.”

Leah Jackson of Bike Me! Vancouver and Bike Love art show has for years advocated that cyclists need to do more in encouraging new riders and helping people transition to bike transportation.

If bicycles are going to ever become the primary mode of transportation, out reach and recruitment efforts need to increase.


Excellent work by all!


Sounds fun!


IMO, ‘welcoming more riders into the fold’ requires a deemphasis on the ‘sport’ aspect of cycling and a reemphasis on the ‘utility’ aspect of cycling.


whereas blumenthal and bikes belong is all about the “recreational” aspect


How you make bicyling bipartisan is beyond me, when one party tries to polarize every issue at hand to gain the support of that large group of the population whose vague sense of dissatisfaction with their lives needs new targets all the time. Bicycling is such a great target for that dissatisfaction, and it doesn’t matter whether the arguments are true. It’s the same process they used by which health care reform became “Obamacare.” good luck reaching out to a party that has left logic behind in an effort to stay relevant. And good luck keeping the other party from pandering to the scare tactics in an effort to hold power. The only thing that’s bipartisan these days isn’t cycling; it’s cynicism.


motorists should all be paying the full price for the gulf oil cleanup at the pump, that might change their perspective on things.