Jeff Merkley is Oregon’s bike champion in the Senate. He’s only been at the job for a few years, but from what I’ve heard, he’s poised to become one of the most powerful voices for bicycling on Capitol Hill.
Today, as part of the National Bike Summit’s lobbying day, a dozen bike advocates from Oregon paid him a visit. Sen. Merkley only had a few minutes to chat (he was due on the Senate floor to present a budget amendment); but our visit was a chance to put faces to names and to remind him that there are people back in Oregon who appreciate his support.
Back in November, Merkley offered up an amendment to the Senate transportation bill that would have dedicated 2% of surface transportation funding to bicycling and walking. Merkley apologized for not getting that amendment into the final bill; but he added that, “We’ve got to keep letting them know that bicycling is the most cost-effective thing for our transportation dollars.”
It was also great to hear that Merkley is thinking beyond legislation when it comes to helping biking in our state. After he had a meeting with representatives from Nike, Merkley asked us why Portland doesn’t host an Ironman Triathlon competition. Merkley also asked us if there was a rail-trail he could get out and ride on. Cycle Oregon director Jerry Norquist piped up and told him about the Salmonberry Trail, a new project his organization is working on that would connect the Tillamook State Forest with the coast.
“That’s great,” Merkley said about the trail, “If I can do something to draw attention to that, to make that happen, let me know.”
Before his staffers came and pulled him away, the executive director of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, Kenji Sugahara, told the Senator about how bike events across the state are stimulating the economy and creating jobs. After Sen. Merkley left, we continued a discussion with his transportation policy staffer Angela Crowley-Koch. Tom Archer, outgoing president of the Northwest Trail Alliance, shared how his organization has leveraged funds from the Recreation Trails Program to buy a new trail building machine. Michael O’Leary with Bike Walk Vote asked about the Senator’s stance on the Columbia River Crossing project (he
supports the project feels “something needs to be done,” and Crowley-Koch says he’s staying “on the sidelines” until a solid financing plan emerges).