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Change the focus, tell a story, take a seat: 3 takeaways from the Summit

Change the focus, tell a story, take a seat: 3 takeaways from the Summit

National Bike Summit

The League set up a photo booth
in the lobby of this year’s Summit.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

Each year as I fly home from the National Bike Summit I think back to what trends and topics left the biggest impression. There are so many threads weaving through the bike movement right now that it’s hard to pick out just a few. That being said, below are my key takeaways from this year’s Summit…

Time to change the bike-centric lens


People who love bicycles — especially those who advocate on their behalf for a living — tend to be a passionate lot. Because of that, every problem is approached with bicycling as the default cure. Bikes are such a potent force that surely, once everyone avails themselves to their power, they’ll adore them just as much as we do.

Unfortunately, that approach often backfires.

“If you want more women to bike, don’t put bikes at the center of your analysis; put women at the center of your analysis.”
— Terry O’Neill, National Organization for Women

As bicycling has begun to move beyond the usual suspects in America, advocacy groups and project planners are finding out — sometimes the hard way — that not everyone sees bicycling as the cure-all. This isn’t to say that the case for bicycling isn’t strong. It’s a wonder-drug if there ever was one. But there’s seems to be a growing awareness that cycling might make more gains if the argument was “re-centered.” Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women had one of the most repeated quotes of the summit when she said (and I paraphrase), “If you want more women to bike, don’t put bikes at the center of your analysis; put women at the center of your analysis.”

O’Neill is talking about a subtle, yet important shift in perspective. Here’s what I think she means:

It’s the difference between a bike company offering a line of “women’s bikes” that are just pink and small versions of the men’s bikes, versus actually asking women what they want. Or, it might be the difference between entering a neighborhood with a “bike project” to cure street ailments, versus starting an honest conversation about how the street is used, what its users think needs fixing, and what tools should be used to do the work.

Put another way, instead of seeing a problem — like an unsafe road (where a new bikeway might help) or a social/community issue (like a lack of bicycling in hard-to-reach communities) — and instantly putting forward biking as the savior; go into the process with biking in your back pocket. Then, listen to the perspectives and issues of other people around the table and ask them if they think bicycling could be part of the solution. If they do, you’ll have arrived at that destination in a much more collaborative way and the next steps will be much more fruitful. If they don’t, then you can learn their concerns and hopefully work through them together. Either outcome will lead to more productive and peaceful results.

Statistics are out, stories are in

“If you have to explain something, you’ve already lost.” I don’t recall who said that at the Summit, but they were talking about the limitations of statistics in making the case for cycling. Instead, storytelling is often more effective. From videos to photos to hashtags spread across many different mediums, advocates are realizing that stories can have more impact than statistics. The Summit agenda reflected the rise in storytelling with sessions titled, “The Power of Storytelling,” “Streetfilms U,” and “Video Advocacy.”

(Photo by Dmitry Gudkov taken from slide
presentation by Aaron Naparstek)

And we learned about many real-life examples..

When advocates in New York City were faced with the most powerful bikelash in American history (a congressman and a network news anchor teamed up to fight a bikeway in Prospect Park), they fought back. Their main weapon didn’t include an angry defense of cycling or stats and studies proving the merits of the bikeway. Instead, the turned to photographs. They enlisted a photographer (in this case Dmitry Gudkov) who published a series of portraits of normal, everyday people using the bikeway. While the opposition tried to paint users of the bikeway as eccentric hippies, and even terrorists (seriously), these images proved otherwise.

Another example came from the Boston Cyclists Union. They were very concerned that bikeways weren’t being prioritized following a snowstorm. The response from MassDOT was that no one bikes in winter anyways, so why plow them? To prove them wrong, advocates simply started posting photos to social media along with the hashtag #winterbike. The campaign worked.

The rise of storytelling is likely linked to the growing power of social media where it’s much easier to get something visual to go viral. It might also be due to the maturation of advocates who are starting to see the limits of statistical brow-beating. And ask yourself what stoked your first love of cycling — I bet it had nothing to do with numbers or charts.

At the table, not on the menu*

For the last few years, the League has assured Summit attendees that the bike movement was a force to be reckoned with. But given the bruises to biking in the last transportation bill and the lack of any major policy victories, those assurances seem more like empty pep rally cheers rather than a reflection of reality. Now, as Congress works on the next transportation bill, it finally feels like bicycling is going to get its seat at the grown-ups’ table.

I could be wrong on this, but my hunch is based on several things…

Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-12

Rep. Greg Walden shakes hands with Cycle Oregon
Executive Director, and consummate advocacy
professional, Alison Graves.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Advocates have, frankly, gotten their shit together. Karen Brooks, the former editor of Bicycle Times Magazine, told me she remembers being at past Summits where advocates had to be reminded several times to dress nicely on the Lobby Day. “No spandex!” someone from the League would implore. Today, there’s no spandex to be seen anywhere. America’s bike advocates are looking sharp and they’re ready for business. The League deserves all the credit for this. In hosting the Summit for so many years, they’ve created an army of well-dressed, well-prepared, and well-spoken lobbyists who are slowly but surely making an impression on Congress.

When I asked League President Andy Clarke what stood out to him after yesterday’s lobbying efforts, he said more members of Congress than usual wanted to be present in the meetings. With dozens of lobbying meetings every week, lobby groups usually meet with a legislative aide, not the actual member. If these busy and powerful electeds are starting to deem bike groups worthy of face-time, that’s a very positive sign.

Another example came from opinion researcher Douglas Meyers. He conducted dozens of confidential interviews with mayors to find out what they really think of bicycling in cities. “The extent of acceptance of this concept really bowled us over,” Meyer reported. What’s behind this embrace of cycling? A lot of factors; but economic development and cities trying to attract millennials has a lot to do with it. The widespread adoption of bike share systems in many major cities — and the rise in trips and biking awareness that always follows — could be another factor.

*Taken from quote by Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
___

These are just a few of my takeaways from the Summit. There are definitely others that deserve to be mentioned (I’ll share more about the burgeoning equity movement in a separate post); but I’ll leave it at that for now. Were you at the Summit? What major themes stood out for you?

— Hope you’ve enjoyed coverage from D.C. You can browse the rest of it here.

Official sponsor of our 2014 National Bike Summit coverage.

Oregon advocates find warm reception on Capitol Hill

Oregon advocates find warm reception on Capitol Hill

Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-11

Oregon bike advocates in the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Greg Walden (R-2nd). Left to right: Blane Meier, owner of First City Cycles in Oregon City; Harry Daalgard, Travel Oregon; Brian Potwin, Commute Options, Bend; Rep. Walden; Alison Graves, executive director of Cycle Oregon (seated); Brian Jorgensen, student at Lees-McCrae College; Dr. A.J. Zelada, advocate and former member of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee; Mike Cosgrove, gravel road riding evangelist from John Day.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

Oregon advocates might have the easiest job of any of the state delegations here at the National Bike Summit. No matter which of the seven offices they entered during the annual bike lobby day on Capitol Hill, they were greeted with smiles and support.

Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-17

The Oregon delegation wore a modified, Cycle Oregon
inspired version of the ubiquitous bike pin.

But even so, that doesn’t mean that the 20 or so advocates took it easy or let their guard down. On the contrary, they lobbied like true pros. In fact, one main reason Oregon’s congressional representatives are so friendly to cycling is because of the quality of our advocates. This was on display from the first meeting to the last.

The Oregon advocacy team was well-prepared and delivered a persuasive barrage of statistics, poignant personal stories, and examples of successes earned and challenges that remain. Economic development was a big theme; but beyond impressive dollar figures, stories were shared about how bicycling is vital to combating Oregon’s childhood obesity crisis and about the importance of signature projects like the Salmonberry Corridor and the completion of the Historic Columbia River Highway.

To illustrate the importance of projects like the Salmonberry, advocate Stephanie Routh told House Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-1st) how her grandfather’s Tillamook County timber business was decimated years ago and how a new trail could help revitalize forest towns (a topic she shared more about with us back in December).

The big surprise of the day came during a meeting with Greg Walden, the sole Republican in Oregon’s Congressional delegation. Before anyone could even sit down in his office, he asked eagerly, “What’s the route for Cycle Oregon this year?” Turns out he and his wife did a bike-and-barge trip on e-bikes along the coastline of Croatia this past year. Rep. Walden loved it and couldn’t stop singing the praises of bike touring and e-bikes the entire meeting.

Check out more photos below from Oregon’s bike lobbying day on Capitol Hill:

Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-1

Randy Miller (left) and Rob Sadowsky strolling the halls of the Cannon House Office Building.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-2

Rapha Communications Director Chris Distefano wanted to tell Rep. Bonamici about how his company has brought jobs to her district.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-4

Miller and Sadowsky in the meeting Rep. Bonamici.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-3

Jeanette Kloos and Steph Routh.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-6

Rep. Bonamici shaking hands with Portland resident (and BikePortland Podcast producer) Lilian Karabaic.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-7

Around the table in Rep. Walden’s office.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-9

Rep. Walden looking over materials about cycling in Oregon.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-13

Alison Graves (Cycle Oregon), Mychal Tetteh (Community Cycling Center) and Christopher Delaney (Humans on Bikes) discussing strategy outside Sen. Merkley’s office.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-14

Pre-meeting hall traffic outside Sen. Merkley’s office.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-15

Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten shared stories about impending development at Intel and Nike and how company leaders want more employees to commute by bike.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-16

Brian Potwin and Christopher Delaney. It was Delaney’s first-ever time on the Hill. “I love it!” he told me, “This [advocate for something he loves] is what I want to do with my life!”
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-18

Community Cycling Center CEO Mychal Tetteh did a stellar job leading the Merkley meeting.
Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-19

Sen. Merkley has that powerful combination of genuine warmth and sharp intelligence.

— Hope you are enjoying my coverage from D.C. See the rest of it here.

One big way ‘Women Bike’ is changing the face of advocacy

One big way ‘Women Bike’ is changing the face of advocacy

Suepinda Keith, bike advocate.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

There’s been a lot of talk in the hallways here at the National Bike Summit about the Women’s Cycling Forum. Started just two years ago as a single panel discussion before the Summit, it has turned into a full-day of programming with well over 400 attendees. The sessions were packed, the energy was high, and its success has led to interesting conversations about how it compares with the Summit, it’s larger and more established sibling.

To be clear, the Women’s Cycling Forum is a product of the League’s Women Bike program, an event to make the summit, and bike advocacy in general, more welcoming to women. It was launched in response to a growing awareness that American women don’t ride bikes nearly as much as their male counterparts.

When the National Bike Summit opened Monday night (just minutes after the Women’s Forum concluded), there was a palpable change. The faces in the crowd became less diverse, a bit older in age, and much more male-dominated. And the speakers at the big dinner and evening plenary were all men. Then the next morning at the Opening Plenary the speakers were also all men. This didn’t go unnoticed by many attendees.

After all the enthusiasm for Women Bike and growing awareness about the importance of including women’s voices on the national advocacy stage, how could the League not include women in the two opening plenaries? If the League really embraced the spirit of Women Bike, why not integrate women leaders, speakers, and activists more fully into the Summit, instead of having a separate Women’s Forum?

Some might see the lack of women at the Summit plenaries as a glaring blind spot and proof that the League has a lot of work to do. Others say the League did have a lot of women leaders at the Summit, they just scheduled all of them for the Women’s Forum. Suffice it to say, this is an ongoing discussion among advocates and among the League itself.

This issue also came up during a recording of the Talking Headways podcast. Joining me on the show were host Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog USA, activist Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke, and bike tour leader Suepinda Keith of Triangle Bikeworks in North Carolina.

“I’m the only person of color in my state delegation. I need to be in those [congressional] offices to speak up for low-income communities and people of color to make sure those voices are heard.”
— Suepinda Keith

It was Suepinda’s second time at the Women’s Forum. She shared during the show, and during a conversation with me afterwards, that, as a woman of color, she felt very comfortable and empowered at the Women’s Forum. Then, as the Summit started and she settled into the opening plenary, she felt much differently. “It felt yucky” were her exact words on the podcast.

“Inclusion was front and center at the Women’s Forum,” she shared, “I saw a lot more diversity and a feeling that ‘we’re in this together.’ As a woman, coming into the Summit [plenary], I was scanning the room for people of color. They need to be here. And if they aren’t, what are we doing to address that?”

But despite those initial feelings, Suepinda found her place at the larger Summit event. She attended every session she could that dealt with equity and women’s issues (she’s especially inspired by what activists are doing in Los Angeles). I could tell that Suepinda enjoyed her time at the Summit and she seemed invigorated by the new people she’d met and the information she could take home.

And today, Suepinda is joining the her fellow North Carolina advocates on Capitol Hill to lobby their members of Congress. She’s a bit nervous about it and she’s never done anything like this before. And, she said, “I’m the only person of color in my state delegation. I need to be in those [congressional] offices to speak up for low-income communities and people of color to make sure those voices are heard.”

And here’s why all this matters: Suepinda would not be lobbying on Capitol Hill today if it weren’t for the Women’s Forum event. It opened doors for her and gave her the building blocks to move past her usually shy and introverted personality (by her own admission) and become a strong voice for bicycling. She has some great stories to tell and I think they’ll resonate loudly on Capitol Hill.

Suepinda’s story is a great sign for the League. While they can continue to tweak how best to make the Summit more reflective of the inclusive and welcoming spirit of the Women’s Forum, they’ve clearly made important strides in the right direction.

USDOT Sec. Foxx focuses on safety, politics and economics at Summit speech

USDOT Sec. Foxx focuses on safety, politics and economics at Summit speech

USDOT Sec Foxx at Bike Summit-2

US DOT Sec. Anthony Foxx at the
National Bike Summit.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made his National Bike Summit debut today. The man that used to hold his job, Ray LaHood, was a crowd favorite for many years and had endeared himself with advocates for his pro-bike proclamations (sometimes delivered via tabletop).

Sec. Foxx was well aware of LaHood’s legacy and began his speech today by saying, “I have big shoes to fill.” Looking to bolster his cycling cred, Foxx showed a photo of himself riding one of Charlotte, North Carolina’s bikeshare bikes. Foxx oversaw the launch of bike share during his time as mayor of Charlotte.

After joking that the photo was of him competing in a stage of the Tour de France, Foxx said: “The truth is, I’m a huge fan of biking and my family is as well.”

Foxx’s speech focused on three core themes: the need for safety in the transportation system, the politics of passing a transportation bill, and — which is probably the most well-received portion of the speech — the idea that cycling’s inherent affordability offers even more benefits for low-income families.

When it comes to safety, Foxx has first-hand experience about how dangerous many roads are. He shared a story about being hit while walking crossing a street during his morning run. “I had the right of way, and a car came into the intersection and bumped me on the knee. So I’ve been a victim of what I’m talking about.”

Foxx said he’s aware that collisions involving walkers and bikers are going up around the country. He referred to it as a “crisis” and said he didn’t tolerate it as mayor. “And as U.S. Secretary of Transportation, we certainly won’t stand still and allow this crisis to slowly build up over time. Our roads should be safe and they should be easy places to travel no matter how we’re traveling on them.”

To make roads easier and safer to travel on, Foxx needs money. He touted the FHWA’s TIGER program, now in its sixth year, which he said has funded $150 million in “projects that have helped improve bike networks across America.”

“This isn’t just about recreation, this is about equality and creating opportunities to expand the middle class and help those folks trying to get into the middle class.”

Foxx spent a good portion of his speech touting he and President Obama’s newly released, $302 billion transportation plan (which is already coming under fire from Republicans). The details of that plan are expected to be released today, but he told the 700-plus bike advocates in the crowd that “We’ve made sure this plan includes the resources to step up bicycle and pedestrian programs.”

“I’ve made investing in bicycle and pedestrian improvements a priority,” the secretary added, “And so does the President’s plan.” If the plan passes, and he said that’s “a big if,” it will come with funding to continue and expand the federal government’s support for bicycling and walking investments.

As those funding opportunities come up, Foxx will remember an experience he had with a road diet project during his tenure in North Carolina.
A proposal to put a street on a “road diet” and add bike lanes caused a community uproar. “It was a really difficult time,” he recalled. But, as is usually the case, once the design was implemented, it was a big success. “We are actually seeing more traffic through that system now [with the reduced number of standard vehicle lanes] than before.”

The point he was trying to make is that we should focus on existing streets instead of adding capacity or building new ones. “Using the ones we have,” Foxx said, “it’ll be safer and more efficient.”

For Foxx, biking is about more than transportation. He sees it as a prime example of what President Obama has called “ladders of opportunity.” Foxx cited a League of American Bicyclists report that found one-third of bike trips are made by people who make less than $30,000 per year.

“This isn’t just about recreation,” he said, “this is about equality and creating opportunities to expand the middle class and help those folks trying to get into the middle class.” To increase access to bicycling, Foxx said that it’s just a matter of making it an option and providing basic infrastructure. “That bike path can be the ladder to school or a new job.”

Foxx expanded on this topic in the Q & A session:

“Next to housing, the single greatest investment most families are making is transportation. So, if we create multiple ways for families to reduce transportation expenses, we’re helping them build capacity to invest in other necessities… For instance, if a low-income family can make more use of a bicycle to get to and from places, that’s not only good for the environment, not only good for mobility writ large for everybody — it’s also good on their pocketbooks.”

Blumenauer uses Summit keynote to rally troops around gas tax increase

Blumenauer uses Summit keynote to rally troops around gas tax increase

Blumenauer at the Summit-2

Time is right for a gas tax increase,
says Rep. Blumenauer.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

Amid the backdrop of renewed optimism that a new transportation bill is coming sooner than later, Congressman Earl Blumenauer headlined the opening plenary at the first full day of the National Bike Summit. Blumenauer used the occasion to urge the 700-plus advocates to help him push a gas tax increase as a way to steer the federal government away from the impending cliff transportation funding is heading off.

It’s the first time in 21 years, Blumenauer said, that he’s stumping around the country for a gas tax increase. Why? Because the doomsday scenario of the Highway Trust Fund drying up are becoming very real, very fast.

“The Highway Trust Fund is going broke faster than we thought.”
— Andy Clarke, League of American Bicyclists

In his introduction of Rep. Blumenauer, League President Andy Clarke said, “The Highway Trust Fund is going broke faster than we thought.” And Blumenauer backed up that insight with his take on the current reality: “We’ve run the Trust Fund down to zero this year, and unless something is done, by October 1st, there will be no resources.” Blumenauer said state DOTs will start pulling back funding before October. “You’ll start seeing it this summer, states will start holding back contracts.”

Because of this impending financial emergency, Blumenauer said “Something [with a new transportation bill] is very likely to happen.” Clarke agreed, saying that even though advocates have heard countless times in the past that a major transportation bill is imminent, “This times it’s different. Staff are writing bills, committees are meeting.”

This outlook is in stark contrast to Blumenauer’s tone at previous Summit, when partisan gridlock was at all-time highs. Today, he said, “There are some little tiny glimmers of hope.”

“I know some of you might be nervous bringing up such a controversial topic. But you just lost dedicated funding [in the last transportation bill], so what are you afraid is going to happen to you?”
— Rep. Blumenauer

With transportation proposals from President Obama and a Senate Ways and Means committee “DOA,” Blumenauer thinks the time is right to start start pushing for a gas tax increase. He recently shared his ideas on the subject at a Harvard Business School luncheon that featured Fortune 200 CEOs, the presidents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO, engineers, construction trade reps, and others. “Everyone was there supporting a gas tax increase.” It was a broad and powerful coalition that Blumenauer said was notably absent from the proposals announced by Obama and the Ways and Means Committee.

It was the first time in 21 years that Blumenauer presented a gas tax increase proposal.

So, Blumenauer asked the crowd, “Why is it that people are reluctant to talk about a gas tax increase?”

Blumenauer then urged the advocates to carry his message back to their communities and up to Capitol Hill during tomorrow’s Lobby Day. “I know some of you might be nervous bringing up such a controversial topic,” he added, “But you just lost dedicated funding [in the last transportation bill], so what are you afraid is going to happen to you?”

With a big coalition forming to influence the next transportation bill, Blumenauer said now is the time to start making allies. “If this is a food fight,” he warned, “Some of those coalition members are going to toss you under the bike. But if our agenda is working with them to achieve their ends, I think there’s an opportunity to get new allies.”

If bike advocates don’t act fast, Blumenauer said they risk becoming a “budget balancer”. “It’s said that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. It’s critical for you to be part of this conversation.”

As usual, Blumenauer’s speech infused the room with a sense of purpose and inspiration for that lies ahead. “America needs you to be successful. You have too much invested not to be part of that big picture. The message that you’ve been bringing to Capitol Hill year after year after year has lost none of its resonance. And indeed, is needed more now than ever.”

— See all our 2014 Bike Summit coverage here.

Oregon advocacy team sets strategy for Capitol Hill lobby day

Oregon advocacy team sets strategy for Capitol Hill lobby day

National Bike Summit -15

Oregon residents at the National Bike Summit listen to state delegation leader Rob Sadowsky (upper left) discuss the lobbying day strategy.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

The stage has been set for Wednesday’s lobbying day on Capitol Hill. Each year on the second full day of the National Bike Summit, advocates from each state join together, march up to the Senate and House office buildings to talk bikes with their elected representatives. It’s the heart of the Summit and one of the most important things that happens here.

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Gooooo Oregon!

While Oregon’s advocacy all-star team is missing a few key members due to the snowstorm, there are still around 20 people that will lobby on our state’s behalf. On Wednesday, they’ll put on their best outfits and attend meetings at all seven of Oregon’s elected representatives including the offices of: Rep. Kurt Schrader, Rep. Greg Walden, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Sen. Jeff Merkley, Rep. Peter DeFazio, and Sen. Ron Wyden.

At the state delegation meeting this evening, Caron Whitaker, the League’s VP of Government Relations, reviewed the three big national “asks” that advocates will be making on the Hill. There are three bills on the official ask this year. They include: House Resolution (HR) 3494/Senate Bill (S) 1708, The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act; HR 2468/S 2004- The Safe Streets Act; HR 3978- The New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act (a.k.a. New Opportunities).

The New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act would set aside $11 million (out of the FHWA’s $1 billion TIFIA loan program) for communities to build projects that will increase bicycling and walking access. The bill would trigger long-term, low-interest loans with 25% of the funds to be spent in low-income communities.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act is a bill that would mandate states to set traffic safety performance measures specifically for non-motorized road users. States already have to set these goals, but the federal safety program only takes motor vehicle collisions into account. The bill is needed because while motor vehicle fatalities are trending down, fatal collisions involving people on bikes and on foot are on the rise.

The Safe Streets Act is a “complete streets” bill. It would set guidelines for the design of road projects so that all users would be ensured safe access.

In addition to these asks, Oregon advocates will also bring their own, local projects and priorities into the conversation. A team leader has been chosen to lead each of the seven meetings. The leader will help focus the discussion and make sure the messages get across.

Stay tuned for reports from the Hill. To learn more about the official 2014 asks, see BikeLeague.org.

Costumes not commutes, and other tips to cultivate the ‘all powerful bike lobby’

Costumes not commutes, and other tips to cultivate the ‘all powerful bike lobby’

2014 National Bike Summit-11

“You don’t create more riders with
suits and ties and spandex,” reads a slide
from Lily Karabaic’s presentation.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

The National Women’s Cycling Forum is like a day-long master class in how to infect women and communities with the bicycling bug. For the hundreds of professional advocates and rising-star activists in attendance, there is a ton of great advice and inspiration being offered up. In one session this morning, Cultivating the All Powerful Bike Lobby, we were introduced to several women on the front lines of community-based bike advocacy.

The session was moderated by Leah Shahum, the 13 year veteran leader of the 12,000 member San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. She knows a lot about the bike lobby and the power that can come with putting it to use. Early in her career, Leah shared, she was “nervous” about the idea of power. It seemed like some sinister force and the idea of using it to her advantage was “difficult to grasp.” But years into her advocacy career, she’s figured it out. “I realized in the end that power is all about people… It’s about people’s stories and connecting people who make decisions with people in communities who have a different kind of power.”

But how can advocates for bicycling make that connection stronger?

2014 National Bike Summit-10

Nona Varnado, NYC fashion designer-turned bike activist now based in Los Angeles.

Nona Varnado faced that challenge head on when she launched a bike fashion line in 2008. “I realized the market didn’t exist yet,” she told the crowd, “so I had to develop the market myself.” So Varnado went to work. She started The Ladies Program, a series of events “for people who don’t identify as bicyclsits” during bike month in New York City. By creating alliances and focusing on collaboration — not competition — with other groups, Varnado found her niche. She has since move to Los Angeles where she opened a storefront that serves as a community meeting space, gallery, and product pop-up shop. Now Varnado leads a new non-profit dubbed The Bicycle Culture Institute (FB) and she works with L.A. Bike Trains.

Along the way, Varnado learned a lot and had several several tips to share. Here are a few I wrote down:

  • Even if three people show up to your event, photograph the hell about if it.
  • Adopt a philosophy of abundance — give your time and experience to others who are passionate about the same topics.
  • Reject the idea that there’s only enough money, jobs, audience to go around. (This is the biggest problem advocates have.) A rising tide and a unified community floats all boats and grows beyond any niche.
  • Importance of participation. Unless people show up it doesn’t count. And the best way to get folks to show up is to show up to other people’s events. Support efforts beyond your circle and contribute to them financially.

Varnado is right. Getting people to show up to events is the building block of a healthy bike culture. And the best way to get people out into the streets — so says Portlander Lilian Karabaic — is to “put the fun before the wonk.”

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Karabaic’s irreverent and punchy presentation was a huge hit.

Karabaic (who also happens to be the producer of the BikePortland Podcast) wasted no time in getting the crowd’s attention. “We’re doing things wrong,” she said at the outset of her presentation, “If we were doing things right we wouldn’t have a women’s bicycling forum, we would have a National Bike Summit with equal representation of women and men.” Karabaic earned a hearty applause for that line, and it was the first of many during her very well-received talk.

Advocates spend too much time talking about wonky topics like infrastructure details and they spend too much time “guilt-shaming” people by touting bicycling’s many (and quite mundane) benefits. And Karabaic’s pet peeve is how much of the advocacy discussion revolves around commute trips (trips to work). Instead, she urged, advocates should spend more time on “bike fun.” “We should be talking about costumes not concrete,” she said. (It’s worth mentioning that Karabaic’s past jobs include organizing the World Naked Bike Ride and leading the Bowie vs. Prince ride during Pedalpalooza).

“Kids ride because it’s fun. In my case I rode to hang out with the cool kids… But how do we keep them riding? We won’t keep them riding bike talking about concrete and curb-cuts,” Karabaic said, “What keeps them riding is fun.” All the talk from the “helmet mirrors and padded buts crowd,” about gear, helmets, lane positioning, tire width and hand signals, she added, is doing nothing to get more people on bikes.

And Karabaic raised an important point about the focus on commute trips. Not only is commuting to work inherently not a fun activity for most people, but, Karabaic said, “It’s based on a privileged perspective.” “It’s a luxury that you live close enough to bike to work.”

Why is all this important to the work of getting more women on bikes? Because women are more likely to be interested in social activities and they tend to take on more childcare responsibilities in the home. “If we focus on the journey to work we’ll never have an equal number of women riding bikes as men.”

The ideas shared by Karabaic, Varnado and all the other thought-provoking women here at the Forum have forced attendees to think. Similar to last year, the ideas and energy at this event have a newness and urgency that the more formal National Bike Summit seems to be lacking these days. To the League’s credit, the Women’s Forum is capturing a movement that is growing right before our eyes. And the women involved in it are giving other advocates a lot of ideas to steal and take back to their respective communities.

Major snowstorm impacts Oregon advocacy at National Bike Summit

Major snowstorm impacts Oregon advocacy at National Bike Summit

2014 National Bike Summit-9

The scene outside the Renaissance Hotel where the Women’s Cycling Forum and National Bike Summit are being held.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)
—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike. —

Today is the main travel day for advocates from across the country to arrive in Washington D.C. for the National Bike Summit. Unfortunately, the city has been hammered by a snowstorm that has shut down buses, Capitol Hill offices, and generally made travel difficult. The storm has also cancelled Summit plans for many would-be attendees and its impacts will be felt through the next three days of the event.

At least three Oregon-based advocates (so far) have had to cancel their trips including: Hillary Benjamin, Head of North America Sales and Marketing for Portland-based apparel company Rapha; Randy Miller, the vice-president of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and Board Member of the Oregon/Idaho Chapter of AAA; and Gerik Kransky, the BTA’s Director of Advocacy.

Both Benjamin and Kransky are on the agenda as speakers, and Kransky is the lead organizer of the entire Oregon delegation (which usually numbers about 20 total representatives). Another Rapha employee, Chris Distefano, filled in for Benjamin on a break-out session panel this morning and BTA Executive Directory Rob Sadowsky will take Kransky’s place at a Pecha Kucha session tomorrow. “Luckily, I know the material, and it’s only six minutes,” Sadowsky said with a smile this morning.

League President Andy Clarke said about two-thirds of the 709 people signed up for the Summit have already arrived. As for the others? “It’s a crapshoot,” he said. Clarke hopes most of the keynote speakers, including the Mayor of Pittsburgh and Members of Congress, will still be able to make it. Wednesday’s lobby day on Capitol Hill shouldn’t be impacted too much; but for state delegations thinned out by missing members, Clarke said the League will provide staff to bulk up their lobby team.

Despite the weather outside, the energy inside is as high as ever.

Women’s Bicycling Forum kicks off with inspiring speakers

Women’s Bicycling Forum kicks off with inspiring speakers

2014 National Bike Summit-2

450 people have signed up for this year’s Women’s Forum,
twice as many the first year in 2012.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

BikePortland coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

The Opening Plenary of the third annual National Women’s Bicycling Forum opened today with a series of TED-style presentations from an impressive line-up of female leaders.

About 450 people have signed up for the Women’s Forum this year, that’s over twice as many that attended the first edition in 2012. They’re hear to learn and be inspired by a full day of speakers, networking, and break-out sessions.

Before the opening plenary got started this morning, League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke said that their Women Bike program is “transforming the League and transforming our movement.” For the League, Women Bike has become a key pillar of their larger equity initiative which includes efforts to broaden the bicycling and advocacy tent to welcome women, communities of color, and kids.

2014 National Bike Summit-1

Carolyn Szczepanski of the League.

Carolyn Szczepanski, the League’s Communications Director and founder of the Women’s Forum, charted the growth of the event since 2012. That first year had 200 participants, there were 350 the next year, and this year there are over 450 people signed up.

Those who made it here to D.C. through a major snow storm were treated to inspiring stories from six female speakers — from a former Olympic cyclist to a National Geographic Explorer.

Dorothy Nichols, the National Sales Manager for Shebeest and creator of the NORBA National mountain bike series told the crowd to not take things so seriously. “Get out and have fun and enjoy the moment,” she said. Nichols also shared her favorite quote (by Eleanor Roosevelt): “Do something everyday that scares you.”

2014 National Bike Summit-4

Afghan Women’s Cycling Team on a training ride.
(Slide from Kristin Gavin’s presentation.)

Another speaker, Kristin Gavin, started an organization called Gearing Up that brings bicycling to women in prison and transitional homes and who have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. In 2009 she knew biking could make an impact on these women, but she wasn’t sure where to start: “Have you ever been in a situation where you recognize biking can make an impact in people’s lives but didn’t know where to begin?” That was where Gavin was in 2009. She started with five bikes in a women’s home in Philadelphia and the program was a big hit. The bicycle has special appeal to incarcerated women because, Gavin said, “It makes them feel normal.” Beyond that, bicycles given women a way to become healthy, connect with their community, and create relationships.

Today, Gavin works with 200 women per year and in 2011 she established an indoor cycling program inside a women’s prison. And it all started, Gavin said, “Because I had a passion for biking and an intuition.”

If you think women in prison face barriers to bicycling, another speaker, Beth Gordon, spoke about her experience in making the running industry more welcoming to women. She told the story of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run a marathon in 1967. Gordon relayed the cultural taboos and challenges that surrounded Switzer’s historic effort. “It was 1967!” Gordon said sarcastically, “You couldn’t run, your uterus would fall out!”

If you think being in prison or being the first woman to run a marathon was a challenge; there can’t be any more daunting place in the world for women to pedal a bicycle than Afghanistan. In fact, it’s been ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman. That’s why the last speaker of the morning, Shannon Galpin, started her work there. Galping runs an organization called Mountain 2 Mountain that brings the revolutionary power of cycling to women in conflict regions.

Galpin spoke about the “power of the bike, beyond sport” and shared that her experiences show that bicycling can be a very powerful tool for social change. While many of us see Afghanistan as a war-torn country dominated by the harsh religious laws of the Taliban, Galpin said slowly but surely, bicycling is doing the same thing for women in that country as it did for them in American 100 years ago. When women first took to cycling here in the U.S., they were called immoral and promiscuous. Despite even harsher consequences in Afghanistan, Galpin told stories about the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team who are training for the Olympics on remote highways — with male family members and the men’s cycling team riding behind them as a buffer zone.

The focus of the Women’s forum is to inspire women advocates to share cycling with women in their communities. After hearing this morning’s stories, they probably can’t wait to get home and get started.

— Follow the Women’s Forum via the #womenbike hashtag on Twitter. And you can follow all the Bike Summit tweets via #NBS14.

Women’s Bicycling Forum kicks off with inspiring speakers

Women’s Bicycling Forum kicks off with inspiring speakers

2014 National Bike Summit-2

450 people have signed up for this year’s Women’s Forum,
twice as many the first year in 2012.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

BikePortland coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.

The Opening Plenary of the third annual National Women’s Bicycling Forum opened today with a series of TED-style presentations from an impressive line-up of female leaders.

About 450 people have signed up for the Women’s Forum this year, that’s over twice as many that attended the first edition in 2012. They’re hear to learn and be inspired by a full day of speakers, networking, and break-out sessions.

Before the opening plenary got started this morning, League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke said that their Women Bike program is “transforming the League and transforming our movement.” For the League, Women Bike has become a key pillar of their larger equity initiative which includes efforts to broaden the bicycling and advocacy tent to welcome women, communities of color, and kids.

2014 National Bike Summit-1

Carolyn Szczepanski of the League.

Carolyn Szczepanski, the League’s Communications Director and founder of the Women’s Forum, charted the growth of the event since 2012. That first year had 200 participants, there were 350 the next year, and this year there are over 450 people signed up.

Those who made it here to D.C. through a major snow storm were treated to inspiring stories from six female speakers — from a former Olympic cyclist to a National Geographic Explorer.

Dorothy Nichols, the National Sales Manager for Shebeest and creator of the NORBA National mountain bike series told the crowd to not take things so seriously. “Get out and have fun and enjoy the moment,” she said. Nichols also shared her favorite quote (by Eleanor Roosevelt): “Do something everyday that scares you.”

2014 National Bike Summit-4

Afghan Women’s Cycling Team on a training ride.
(Slide from Kristin Gavin’s presentation.)

Another speaker, Kristin Gavin, started an organization called Gearing Up that brings bicycling to women in prison and transitional homes and who have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. In 2009 she knew biking could make an impact on these women, but she wasn’t sure where to start: “Have you ever been in a situation where you recognize biking can make an impact in people’s lives but didn’t know where to begin?” That was where Gavin was in 2009. She started with five bikes in a women’s home in Philadelphia and the program was a big hit. The bicycle has special appeal to incarcerated women because, Gavin said, “It makes them feel normal.” Beyond that, bicycles given women a way to become healthy, connect with their community, and create relationships.

Today, Gavin works with 200 women per year and in 2011 she established an indoor cycling program inside a women’s prison. And it all started, Gavin said, “Because I had a passion for biking and an intuition.”

If you think women in prison face barriers to bicycling, another speaker, Beth Gordon, spoke about her experience in making the running industry more welcoming to women. She told the story of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run a marathon in 1967. Gordon relayed the cultural taboos and challenges that surrounded Switzer’s historic effort. “It was 1967!” Gordon said sarcastically, “You couldn’t run, your uterus would fall out!”

If you think being in prison or being the first woman to run a marathon was a challenge; there can’t be any more daunting place in the world for women to pedal a bicycle than Afghanistan. In fact, it’s been ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman. That’s why the last speaker of the morning, Shannon Galpin, started her work there. Galpin runs an organization called Mountain 2 Mountain that brings the revolutionary power of cycling to women in conflict regions.

Galpin spoke about the “power of the bike, beyond sport” and shared that her experiences show that bicycling can be a very powerful tool for social change. While many of us see Afghanistan as a war-torn country dominated by the harsh religious laws of the Taliban, Galpin said slowly but surely, bicycling is doing the same thing for women in that country as it did for them in American 100 years ago. When women first took to cycling here in the U.S., they were called immoral and promiscuous. Despite even harsher consequences in Afghanistan, Galpin told stories about the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team who are training for the Olympics on remote highways — with male family members and the men’s cycling team riding behind them as a buffer zone.

The focus of the Women’s forum is to inspire women advocates to share cycling with women in their communities. After hearing this morning’s stories, they probably can’t wait to get home and get started.

— Follow the Women’s Forum via the #womenbike hashtag on Twitter. And you can follow all the Bike Summit tweets via #NBS14.