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Blumenauer urges advocates to use cycling as tool to save America

Posted by on March 7th, 2017 at 6:50 am

Congressman Earl Blumenauer at the Summit this morning.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

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.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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32 Comments
  • gerald schuldt March 7, 2017 at 7:05 am

    From bicycle advocacy to the Affordable Health Care, there’s a reason to call or e-mail your congressional representative every day & keep the pressure on.

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    • Chris I March 7, 2017 at 7:47 am

      Given that Blumenauer is the representative for most of the people here, I don’t see how that is going to help. He’s already on board.

      Recommended Thumb up 9

      • John Lascurettes March 7, 2017 at 5:43 pm

        Give him an “attaboy” then. Encourage him to keep on keeping on.

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  • rick March 7, 2017 at 9:15 am

    I’ve had a job in AmeriCorps and I’ve seen the shocking amount of government waste. I’d like to see a national 55 mph speed limit again on interstates.

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    • dwk March 7, 2017 at 9:22 am

      why?

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty March 7, 2017 at 10:25 am

        Saves fuel and increases safety.

        Recommended Thumb up 4

        • dwk March 7, 2017 at 11:16 am

          Just trying to understand what Americorp or 55 mph on freeways has anything to do with the article above?

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 7, 2017 at 11:58 am

            Or, for that matter, what those things have to do with each other…

            Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Adam H.
    Adam H. March 7, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Blumenauer expressed frustration about the lack of progress on transportation infrastructure from the T***p administration so far. “We still haven’t made progress on what the $1 trillion [what T***p 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.

    Earl is a great guy but he’s fooling himself if he thinks there was ever a plan to improve our infrastructure. It should come as no surprise to anyone that 45 lied about his plan – any implementation is likely to be simply a cash handout to his oil company cronies or as a “reward” for municipalities for loyalty.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Joe March 7, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    one less car

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • 9watts March 7, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      fewer?

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      • pdxhobbitmom March 17, 2017 at 9:46 am

        Someone was asking the other day about how people experience the commenting at BikePortland. Well, this is an example of a problem that I’ve noticed. I feel like if I ever make a comment I have to be ready for people to jump on me for the slightest (and talk about slight in this case) reason. It’s like a contest to prove who’s the smartest rather than a conversation about things that we all care about.

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        • 9watts March 17, 2017 at 9:52 am

          Point taken, and thank you for registering this. I was (also) the one asking the question about how people experience the comments here.

          I will also say that although you are correct that the less/fewer matter is/may seem slight indeed, the fact that the phrase in question: One Less Car is plastered on T-shirts, posters, the internet, etc., (and is grammatically incorrect) does grate on some of us. I happen to think that quality in communication is important, and that we can all learn/improve.
          I certainly hope I can improve, and appreciate your constructive criticism on this issue.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 17, 2017 at 10:50 am

            One less grammatical error!

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            • 9watts March 17, 2017 at 10:55 am

              or not 😉

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        • 9watts March 17, 2017 at 10:16 am

          “It’s like a contest to prove who’s the smartest rather than a conversation about things that we all care about.”

          I guess I see this a bit differently. Addressing comments here more broadly, I do at times disagree vehemently with folks who post here, enjoy it even, not because I’m competing for smart guy award, but because those of us arguing I think at the end of the day learn/discover/interrogate ideas/arguments/points of view we didn’t know we would; it is the process of hashing out, of articulating the minutiae of our disagreements that can—if things go well—lead to new insights. At least this is how I experience it, and since it is hard to argue with oneself, I’m going to venture that the other frequent posters get something out of it too.

          If that at times turns off (some of) those not involved in the conversation I apologize for my role in that. I had assumed that there was some perceived collective benefit.

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  • bikeninja March 7, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Only Bicycling will save the world!

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • 9watts March 7, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    “‘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. ”

    Not sure if this is hyperbole or nonsense or both. Blumenauer of all representatives surely knows that only about half of transportation costs are paid for out of these funds, and that if there is in fact a decline in driving looming,* the costs to prop up that system will also decline. Here as so often we should be using good data, and start with a clear-headed understanding of the basics.

    * I think there is one but not because of autonomous vehicles but climate change.

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    • paikiala March 7, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      GM just exited Europe to concentrate on selling crossovers and SUVs in the US. An oil glut is predicted over the next 4 years, something that will reduce price per gallon at the pump and increase driving. Environmental protections, like CAFE, are expected to be relaxed, despite weather predictions actually coming true.
      The oil reserves would have to dry up rather quickly for car use to significantly slow in the near term (10-20 years).

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      • 9watts March 7, 2017 at 2:03 pm

        there are always opportunists, especially in capitalist systems, who do not give a fig for what is prudent or necessary much less wise. But none of that changes the underlying calculus which is that we are looking at negative 5 or 25 years for the automobile, not another 20-50 as wsbob suggested. If instead we blow right past this, pretend it all doesn’t concern us (and I agree this is a real possibility given the nincompoops in charge) we’ll soon enough rue the day.

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      • wsbob March 7, 2017 at 9:03 pm

        “…The oil reserves would have to dry up rather quickly for car use to significantly slow in the near term (10-20 years).” paikiala

        Other sources of energy will be developed to extend motor vehicle use beyond oil supply availability. They already are being developed. Motor vehicle use may change, in fact likely will, adapt to whatever energy supply is available.

        Drastic reductions in energy availability might become the major force in community design, having it become more compact and requiring less daily miles traveled to get around. Biking could become a much more practical and enjoyable way to get around than it is today, but only if community design to support that mode of travel, exists.

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        • 9watts March 13, 2017 at 3:26 pm

          “Other sources of energy will be developed to extend motor vehicle use beyond oil supply availability. They already are being developed. ”

          Really?
          Do tell. I’m not aware of any other sources of energy that we can put in the tank of a car. Electricity is not a fuel, and neither is hydrogen. They are just reformulated natural gas (typically). Biodiesel came pretty close but we’ve realized that at the scale of both the fleet and current VMT, as well as the fuel inefficiency of our fleet there’s just no way to scale that up.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 13, 2017 at 3:29 pm

            Hydrogen absolutely is a fuel (as is natural gas). But that’s somewhat beside the point since we will have to stop using oil long before it becomes scarce if we don’t want to cook ourselves.

            I think everyone realizes that the future of autos is electric.

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            • 9watts March 13, 2017 at 3:41 pm

              “Currently, steam reforming, or combining high-temperature steam with natural gas to extract hydrogen, accounts for the majority of the hydrogen produced in the United States. Hydrogen can also be produced from water through electrolysis, but this method is much more energy intensive.”
              http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/hydrogen_basics.html

              “Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, a seemingly perfect, endless supply of energy. But hydrogen itself does not produce energy; it is a carrier, and stores energy like a battery. Pure hydrogen is not found in nature, so energy has to be used to separate hydrogen from the other substances it is stored in… Currently 95% of hydrogen is produced from natural gas, a fossil fuel. The fact that hydrogen is largely made from dirty energy is also unlikely to change in the near future: the National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap, drafted by the Bush administration and the energy industry, states that 90% of hydrogen will be made using coal, oil and natural gas, and the remaining 10% from nuclear.
              http://www.energyjustice.net/hydrogen

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            • El Biciclero March 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

              The older I get, the more the future of bikes looks to be electric as well…

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    • dwk March 7, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      I have no idea why you would think that…. There may be a cultural shift among young people away from driving in the US, but worldwide enthusiasm will remain unchecked and oil will be cheap for several years.
      The cycling world should concentrate on making cycling better. In the current climate especially there is no political will for climate change legislation in this country, in fact there is the opposite.
      It may be completely discouraging but reality is reality.
      As cyclists, we just have to try to make the local world as friendly as possible.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • 9watts March 7, 2017 at 3:22 pm

        I am not clear with whom you are agreeing (Blumenauer?) and disagreeing (me?).

        Political will is one thing. But meteorology and physics will always trump that. We can only hide from these realities so long.

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      • Pete March 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm

        Even factoring out oil, electric car enthusiasm continues to increase, at the expense of a driver that could be a cyclist. Not that I’m eschewing electric cars, but news of the impending demise of the American automobile (in any form) is likely exaggerated.

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    • paikiala March 7, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Safety, public health, VZ, might be a bigger force for change to get behind.

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  • Smokey Bear March 9, 2017 at 1:20 am

    There is no way to know what the price of oil will do. A blow up in the middle east could cause 4 or 5 dollar gasoline in the blink of an eye. But for now, some might welcome some warming:

    https://www.wunderground.com/q/zmw:00000.1.89606

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  • Todd Boulanger March 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Earl is sporting a nice tie: looks like a US currency bill. (Jonathan what was it?)

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