The Oregonian picked up on a national AP article yesterday about the growing influence of bicycling in Congress, and how that’s resulted in an increase in federal funds that can be spent on improving bicycling and walking conditions. The Oregonian article notes that President Bush switched to mountain biking from running a few years back because of knee pain, and his personal interest in cycling may well have contributed to the success of bicycling in SAFETEA-LU (the federal transportation reauthorization act that passed earlier this year).
The article notes that bicycle organizations began formal federal lobbying just three years ago, as the umbrella organization America Bikes brought bicycle industry representatives and grassroots biking groups to the same table for the first time to talk about shared goals. In coordination with the national bicycling advocacy group League of American Bicyclists, America Bikes began an annual conference called the National Bike Summit for groups and individuals interested in bicycling to come together, strategize, share information, and, most importantly, spend a day on Capitol Hill visiting Congressional delegates with a coordinated message: we need more funding for programs that increase bicycling safety and facilities.
Unlike many groups, which have full-time lobbyists visiting delegates every week, these ‘lobbyists’ are small fry: bike shop owners from every state, grassroots activists, parents who want their children to be able to bike and walk to school, and ordinary folks who love to ride a bike. The success of such a small and unprofessional group is, I believe, related to the relevance of bicycling and walking in the face of rising childhood obesity and diabetes, rising transportation costs and shrinking transportation budgets that don’t allow for the kind of road expansion projects which used to be the status quo, the conviction that most traffic crashes are preventable, and a renewed concern about fuel costs, air quality, and community livability. In this climate, bicycling is a solution that looks more and more attractive.
Last year’s Oregon delegation to the Bike Summit (pictured above with Congressman DeFazio) included representatives from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Cycle Oregon, and locally-owned bike businesses Team Estrogen and the Bike Gallery. We visited every Oregon delegate, and I’m proud to say that they not only gave us their time and attention, but also that every one of them is a member of the National Bike Caucus. The resulting Federal Highway Act, though several years overdue, has now been passed. Titled SAFETEA-LU, it includes $1 million annually for Safe Routes to School programs, $5 million dedicated to six Portland Metro-Area regional trails, as well as designated money for a recreation bikeway in the Columbia River Gorge, Sellwood Bridge improvements, and other trails throughout the state (here is a complete list of the Oregon bicycling projects included in the bill).
Ordinary Oregonians who want to ride a bike for transportation, fun, or exercise will all benefit from these community projects, and we’ll be seeing the effects of this new legislation for years to come.