As I write this, hundreds of bike advocates and industry bigwigs from across the country are making their way to Washington D.C. to attend the 11th annual National Bike Summit. They’ll hear inspiring speeches from national transportation figures and elected officials, they’ll learn best practices from colleagues in other cities, and they’ll participate directly in our democracy by sitting down with elected representatives to explain to them why bicycling is so imperative to America’s future.
And this year, there’s more urgency than ever.
Capitol Hill is strongly divided and a new crop of Republicans are settling into their positions after the elections last November transformed the leadership in the House of Representatives. We also have a major battle taking place over budget priorities while Obama and Republican party leaders look toward a presidential election in 2012.
Summit attendees have a crucial role to play on the Summit’s lobbying day. They must introduce bicycling and its many benefits to new members of Congress, some of whom are likely considering axing bike-specific programs from the budget. It won’t be easy, but there’s no shortage of ammunition for the discussion.
Politics aside, the idea of using a bicycle as a way to move around cities is more relevant than ever. Headlines are full of fears about rising gas prices (remember what happened last time they went up?) and a growing number of cities — most recently Los Angeles with the passage of an ambitious bike plan — have matured in their position on the bike-friendly spectrum.
It seems like, finally, the Bike Summit has managed to transcend its image as a place just for wonks and activists. The bike industry — historically more excited about products than policy — figured out how to meld the two by holding a special media event prior to the Summit that put city bikes center stage.
Another sign of the Summit’s strength is the Tim Johnson-led “Ride on Washington”. Johnson, a pro cyclocross racer, joined a group of riders on supported ride from Boston to D.C. in a bid to raise awareness of bike funding.
The Summit agenda is one of the most impressive I’ve seen in the five years I’ve attended. Keynote speakers include New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.
Sadik-Khan, whose rockstar status was cemented by a feature story in Esquire magazine last year, has many stories to tell. She has overseen a dramatic transformation toward a more human-centric city, and has also come under heavy fire by critics.
LaHood will have to do something extra-special to top his rousing speech at last year’s Summit. LaHood has earned adoration from bike advocates for his inspiring speeches and high-profile praise of bicycling; but as we all know, actual change in the status quo isn’t easy. Hopefully, LaHood will have more than soaring rhetoric to share with advocates tonight.
On his blog last week, LaHood hinted that he might have something special up his sleeve. Given that he’s been stumping for President Obama’s budget and the fact that the President is riding some good poll numbers of late, I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama makes an appearance at this year’s Summit.
I’ll try to bring you as much coverage of the speeches and all the other action as possible; but I’ll be doing it from Portland. For the first time in five straight years, I won’t be there in person (I’ve decided to stay home as my family and I await the arrival of a new baby!).
Good luck to all the attendees and stay tuned for more Bike Summit coverage. You can relive some of the excitement from last year’s event in the slideshow below…