People who voted for Donald Trump in America’s rust belt (and other places) need to hear more about the role bicycles and cycling can play in the future of our country. And people who didn’t vote for Trump should see bike advocacy as a place to put their newfound energy for activism.
Those are two takeaways from a speech by Congressman Earl Blumenauer this morning at the 17th annual National Bike Summit this morning.
Blumenauer spoke about the “unprecedented levels of activism” seen in cities across America in January in response to Trump’s inauguration.
“Cycling,” he said, “Can be part of that menu where we try and give people something they can sink their teeth into. Something they can wrap their arms around that will make a difference in their community and will help shape and inform federal policy.”
How does Blumenauer explain the loss suffered by the Democrats in November?
“It’s ironic that something as simple as the bicycle is going to have an important role to play in the future.”
— Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Congressman
“Part of what happened,” he opined, “Was a result of understandable economic angst on the part of too many people in too many communities that felt they had been left behind. That they haven’t seen the economic resurgence.” Then he appealed to the advocates in the crowd and said, “Part of what you can offer up in terms of that economic vision is really the role and contribution that cycling makes.” He then explained how the bike economy has impacted Portland with over 220 bike business, over 2,300 employees and “about one-third of a billion dollars” in economic activity. “That’s real money,” he said.”
Blumenauer expressed frustration about the lack of progress on transportation infrastructure from the Trump administration so far. “We still haven’t made progress on what the $1 trillion [what Trump says he wants to spend] means, how it’s going to be funded and what it’s going to be for.” Whatever the package includes, Blumenauer said “Vision Zero ought to be the cornerstone.” He also hinted that the popular TIGER grant program — which he referred to as “the most effective and popular infrastructure program in the history of the federal government” — is under threat from a Republican-controlled Congress.
“Some of my colleagues are trying to jettison it,” he said, “That’s a big mistake.”
When it comes to tax reform (something that must happen before the Trump administration tackles a transportation bill), Blumenauer hinted he will fight to “revisit” the bicycle commuter benefit program to “modernize and update it”.
On the question about how we’ll pay for infrastructure, Blumenauer said he wants to increase and index the gas tax and then relace it. He prefers a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee coupled with a traffic pricing policy.
Transportation is undergoing radical changes in technology, and Blumenauer said bike advocates need to be ready for new realities. Autonomous and “intelligent” vehicles, “Are going to change the landscape literally and figuratively,” he warned. “It’s going to blow a hole in transportation funding models” which are based on gas purchases, parking fines, vehicle license fees, and so on.
“And it’s ironic,” he continued, “that something as simple as the bicycle is going to have an important role to play in the future.”
To make sure bicycles aren’t left behind, Blumenauer said it’s up to advocates to “magnify our influence”. And in today’s toxic political environment, cycling can be salve. “It’s an activity that brings people together,” Blumenauer reminded us, “Rather than divides them.”
In a country that he said is currently involved in “a daily, national civics lesson,” Blumenauer hinted that it might be time to “reform and rebuilt the constituency”.
And, looking out a room with only about 150 people — a marked decrease from past years — he said, “Bike-partisanship is now more important than ever.”