Biking Means Business - The Impact of the National Bike Summit
Insight for New Orleans from the National Bike Summit, by Janneke van der Molen
Washington, D.C. was different than I remembered it from 19 years ago, but that’s probably because it’s had an amazing face lift on the streets with bike lanes now on Pennsylvania Ave going straight to Capitol Hill (now infamous as the red carpet for Obama’s Inauguration) and all these green lanes for bicycles and Capital Bikeshare kiosks with red bikes buzzing around town. It was refreshing to see this bicycle infrastructure in use, running smoothly and getting people where they needed to go, that I bet initially must have raised a lot of eyebrows.
I wasn’t just in D.C. to check out the new bike lanes though, as a Bike Easy Board Member I attended the 2013 National Bike Summit and Women’s Bike Summit in early March. The theme of the Summit this year was *“Bicycling Means Business” *and we focused on the economic impact of cycling from a local level to how we spend on biking and walking infrastructure at the national level as well. There were several sessions to attend and opportunities to meet many other bicycle advocates, we even saw the League of American Bicyclists showcase their new branding which harkens back to it’s initial formation in the mid-1800s. But, the conversations were very progressive and inspiring, including talks by Rep. Tammy Duckworth disabled Iraq War Veteran who has personally used biking as form of empowerment), NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik (infamous for installing the first protected bike lanes on Manhattan streets in 2007), plus the US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood – who really rallied the whole National Bike Summit advocates in attendance to keep moving forward after his term expires in the next few weeks.
Between all of us representing Bike Easy (5 total of us this year, but hopefully more will come with us next year!!), we covered most of the seminars. We also had successful meetings with with staff members from Representatives Scalise, Richmond, and Senator Vitter’s offices and we invited them all to attend Bike Easy events in the coming months. We also asked for support of Sally Newel for Secretary of the Interior, to co-sign a dear colleague letter from Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon to establish national performance measures for pedestrian and bicycle safety, and to join the Bike Caucus as a form of public support towards biking and livability issues at the national level.
I left with a definite “aha” moment – as it all really does makes so much sense (and cents!). Instead of building more highways for more cars, we can use fewer materials to repaint and update the road infrastructure for more people who bike and walk, leaving us with more money to pay workers to do so, saving our cities and towns on millions if not billions of infrastructure costs – and actually make our cities healthier for everyone. Cities that allow for multi-modal transit options attract professionals and tourists. Having bike lanes on your street increases the value of your house, increases business at stores because walkers and bikers shop more often since we carry less, and get us out on the streets to where we need & want to go easier and more safely – so we are prone to be repeat customers and consumers on these routes.
And, yes, more lanes leads to more bikers, and we all know not everyone is following the rules. There is a cultural diversity of why people ride with different perspectives. The poor, environmentalists, culture driven, cost driven, etc. How do we integrate and accommodate all these different groups? It’s a tough challenge, but I want to do it all. The amount of community-based bicycle advocacy I saw at the Summit amazed me, with so many good ideas out there, like the initiatives such as Red, Bike and Green and Black Women Bike DC, from which I hope to see chapters in New Orleans get kickstarted, we are making an effort because we care, and we are making headway, one grass root organization after another, one neighbor with each other. We are in the middle of making change, and we will continue to grow.