Earl Blumenauer Kicks Off 2008 Bike Summit

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Congressman Blumenauer works the room

Streetsblog's Ben Fried files this report from Washington, DC. 

The National Bike Summit is in full swing today. There are more than 500 participants from 47 states on hand this year, organizers say, making this bike summit the biggest yet. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a bike commuter himself, kicked things off with a speech that placed bike advocacy within the context of the upcoming re-authorization of the federal transportation bill, and the coalition of transportation advocates he wants to see emerge to address the nation's infrastructure problems. Below are some notes from his talk, collected (loosely) in reporter's notebook format.

  • Begins by noting "a couple of years ago we were talking about $3 a gallon gas, now we're talking about $4."
  • Blumenauer thinks we need to have a new version of the question, "How many people are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bike at a health club?" We need to craft a similar question for national infrastructure and determine what bicycling can do to answer it, he says.
  • The United States is spending less than one percent of GDP on infrastructure, less than ever. China is investing eight percent a year.
  • Historical background: It wasn't always this way, he says. In 1808, Jefferson ordered his treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, to devise a plan to link together the continent, which led to the construction of the Erie Canal and the transcontinental railroad. In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt convened the nation's 46 governors to come up with an equivalent for the 20th century; this launched the national park system and set a course for the interstate highway system.
  • "Isn't it time for an infrastructure plan for this century?"
  • He pulled back the lens. An infrastructure plan is not just rediscovering the railroad network, he says, but also managing water, implementing broadband internet. How do bikes fit in to other infrastructure needs?
  • "We are dealing with all of this in a carbon constrained environment, and a water-stressed world. in 320 days the US will join the rest of the world in figuring out how to address carbon emissions and water scarcity. We have an opportunity to make cycling a part of this broader vision."
  • "Part of our challenge is to end discrimination against those who burn calories instead of fossil fuels. You're not getting your fair share in terms of mode split. We ought to be a little bit indignant. Why should we have the tax code discriminate against people who burn calories instead of fossil fuel? We give $200 to the person who drives to work... zippo for the person who bikes."
  • "I hope you will push back against those who would make this a partisan issue. I've worked very hard to be 'bikepartisan'... but I am absolutely appalled and you should be outraged that" some Republicans are trying to tar Democrats for supporting bikes.
  • He then quoted at length from Representative Patrick McHenry's mocking tirade against bicycling. "I could give you a [similar] quote from Boehner, from Blunt, from the rules committee... I hope that you stop the partisan abuse of your issue now, by going to the Republicans and asking what the hell is going on."
  • "You need to help these people. We have a 100 million bikes locked up in basements, and we need to get them used."

Blumenauer wrapped up with a pep talk for attendees making their case on Capitol Hill tomorrow:

"When you go to the Hill, tell them to stop the partisan nonsense. There are tens of millions of people who like to ride a bike, and there are tens of millions more who would, if the federal government would do its job."

"Cyclists are a critical part of this coalition that's going to address a country that's falling apart... [Cyclists should] be part of a forum on our infrastructure... will need to join with the transit people, the highway people, the Sierra Club, the truckers. You can make it a safe conversation for them, and in the next six months there are people who would like to work with you on that."

"Then maybe we can work to have a national conversation, let's say October 7th, to invite the presidential contenders to a debate to address infrastructure." In this conversation, cyclists will be an "indicator species" of how well the solution actually addresses the challenges of sustainability and building livable communities.

Photo: Ben Fried