Off with the spandex and on with the suits
Every March in Washington, D.C., hundreds of bicycle advocates and industry leaders convene for the National Bike Summit. It’s a chance to share lessons and best practices in advocating for bicycling, but, more importantly, to make bicycling better through the only way possible: asking.
Bicycling in America has its issues, and we’ve learned that if we want to make it easier and safer to ride a bike, then we have to have a seat at the table in Washington. You don’t think of bicyclists as being politically savvy suit types—in March, many of us would rather be in a pair of baggies, sipping a beer and eating a fish taco after a luscious singletrack descent in coastal California—but when it’s go time at the National Bike Summit, the nation’s advocates are there.
We spandex warriors are out of our element for sure. But that doesn’t stop us from bucking up, preparing our talking points and pressing our suits, and marching into the offices of our representatives. The wonderful thing about it all is that we have an easy ask. Bicycling is clean, good, and fun. Its wide range of benefits, from climate change to job creation, means it appeals to both bleeding liberals and fiscal conservatives. It’s easy to talk about. What American doesn’t have a fond childhood memory involving a bike? All the senators and representatives we meet sure seem to have their own nostalgic tales of bicycle joy. Democrats and republicans alike have gushed excitedly to us about paper routes, cruiser rides, and their own children and grandchildren taking up bicycling.
While it’s hard for us to remain objective, every year the coverage of the National Bike Summit seems to multiply. You can read articles about this year’s summit in the Washington Post, the New York Times, ESPN, and the Wall Street Journal. Big names spoke to us from their posts as the Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of the Interior, and Commissioner of New York City’s Director of Transportation. And thanks to social media, you can read play-by-play announcements of our meetings on Capitol Hill.
Even if you aren’t a politically-minded person, it’s hard not to be inspired by seeing the democratic process in action. Talking to senators and their staffs face-to-face about bicycling is absolutely necessary to creating a better future for biking in this country. The more that we can expand their understanding of bicycling—that in addition to a nostalgic leisure time activity, it’s also a cost-effective, sensible form of transportation—the more allies we’ll have in creating a bike-friendly America.
However, the communication we have during the Summit is meaningless if it is bookended by silence. The message we got from lawmakers was loud and clear: in order to protect and promote bicycling, they need to hear from their constituents. “The single most effective lobbyists I come across are people from my own state,” Senator Tom Carper from Delaware told us on Wednesday. That’s why we created Peopleforbikes.org. It is a year-round bike summit, where, on any given day, the people of America can tell policy makers about the importance of bicycling to them. If we suffer through suits in March, will you promise to email your representatives from the comfort of home? You can even do it while in spandex—they won’t know.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, President of the League of American Bicyclists Andy Clarke and President of Bikes Belong and Director of the Peopleforbikes.org movement Tim Blumenthal at the National Bike Summit (photo by Chris Elchler/League of American Bicyclists).