WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called upon advocates and industry leaders to step up to the plate over the next two days and make a strong case for cycling and its role in building livable communities with bikeways, public transit and sidewalks.
“Work hard while you’re here. We need your help now more than ever before. There’s a new crowd in town with a different agenda, but the process is just starting,” LaHood said last night at a dinner reception that kicked off the 11th National Bike Summit.
LaHood, 65, shared his long family history in cycling, which began when he was a young boy riding his Schwinn bike—calling it “the best-looking bike in the neighborhood”—around Peoria, Illinois. He reassured attendees that he continues to be a “full partner” and that cyclists can also continue to count on President Obama’s support.
“Most of you worked hard to get him elected and the president’s budget for 2012 shows that livable communities really is his vision,” he said.
While LaHood acknowledged that the political climate has become less favorable following last fall’s mid-term elections, he pointed to cities like New York and the District of Columbia, which have forged ahead with miles upon miles of new bike lanes and infrastructure projects thanks to local leaders like Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, and former District Department of Transportation director Gabe Klein.
Still, Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, which puts on the annual event, pointed out that there are more than 100 new members of congress and a fresh slate of key committee members. And as congress debates the future of transportation policies against a backdrop of deficits and budget cuts, funding sources for Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails Programs are at risk.
“The key message this year is don’t cut this stuff—it matters to us and to the community,” Clarke said. “Dealers, suppliers in the industry, start talking. Advocates, I want you to not talk. When we go to these meetings we need the industry’s voice and that of local businesses that are earning cash, employing people and paying taxes to be at the fore.”
Clarke emphasized that the message delegates take to the Hill must revolve around the economic and business impact of federal spending on bike projects. While cycling’s positive effects on climate change and obesity have been talking points in the past, they should take the backseat this time around, he said.
Close to 800 advocates, industry executives and retailers are taking part in the summit, which moved to the Grand Hyatt Washington. After being held for years at the Ronald Reagan Building, the event finally outgrew that venue.
Speakers include staunch cycling advocate Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), NYDOT’s Sadik-Khan, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and Robin Schepper, executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.