Earl Blumenauer Kicks Off 2008 Bike Summit

Congressman Blumenauer works the room

Streetsblog’s Ben Fried files this report from Washington, DC. 

The National Bike Summit is in full swing today. There are more than 500 participants from 47 states on hand this year, organizers say, making this bike summit the biggest yet. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a bike commuter himself, kicked things off with a speech that placed bike advocacy within the context of the upcoming re-authorization of the federal transportation bill, and the coalition of transportation advocates he wants to see emerge to address the nation’s infrastructure problems. Below are some notes from his talk, collected (loosely) in reporter’s notebook format.

  • Begins by noting "a couple of years ago we were talking about $3 a gallon gas, now we’re talking about $4."
  • Blumenauer thinks we need to have a new version of the question, "How many people are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bike at a health club?" We need to craft a similar question for national infrastructure and determine what bicycling can do to answer it, he says.
  • The United States is spending less than one percent of GDP on infrastructure, less than ever. China is investing eight percent a year.
  • Historical background: It wasn’t always this way, he says. In 1808, Jefferson ordered his treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, to devise a plan to link together the continent, which led to the construction of the Erie Canal and the transcontinental railroad. In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt convened the nation’s 46 governors to come up with an equivalent for the 20th century; this launched the national park system and set a course for the interstate highway system.
  • "Isn’t it time for an infrastructure plan for this century?"

  • He pulled back the lens. An infrastructure plan is not just rediscovering the railroad network, he says, but also managing water, implementing broadband internet. How do bikes fit in to other infrastructure needs?
  • "We are dealing with all of this in a carbon constrained environment, and a water-stressed world. in 320 days the US will join the rest of the world in figuring out how to address carbon emissions and water scarcity. We have an opportunity to make cycling a part of this broader vision."
  • "Part of our challenge is to end discrimination against those who burn calories instead of fossil fuels. You’re not getting your fair share in terms of mode split. We ought to be a little bit indignant. Why should we have the tax code discriminate against people who burn calories instead of fossil fuel? We give $200 to the person who drives to work… zippo for the person who bikes."
  • "I hope you will push back against those who would make this a partisan issue. I’ve worked very hard to be ‘bikepartisan’… but I am absolutely appalled and you should be outraged that" some Republicans are trying to tar Democrats for supporting bikes.
  • He then quoted at length from Representative Patrick McHenry’s mocking tirade against bicycling. "I could give you a [similar] quote from Boehner, from Blunt, from the
    rules committee… I hope that you stop the partisan abuse of your
    issue now, by going to the Republicans and asking what the hell is
    going on."
  • "You need to help these people. We have a 100 million bikes locked up in basements, and we need to get them used."

Blumenauer wrapped up with a pep talk for attendees making their case on Capitol Hill tomorrow:

"When you go to the Hill, tell them to stop the partisan nonsense. There are tens of millions of people who like to ride a bike, and there are tens of millions more who would, if the federal government would do its job."

"Cyclists are a critical part of this coalition that’s going to address a country that’s falling apart… [Cyclists should] be part of a forum on our infrastructure… will need to join with the transit people, the highway people, the Sierra Club, the truckers. You can make it a safe conversation for them, and in the next six months there are people who would like to work with you on that."

"Then maybe we can work to have a national conversation, let’s say October 7th, to invite the presidential contenders to a debate to address infrastructure." In this conversation, cyclists will be an "indicator species" of how well the solution actually addresses the challenges of sustainability and building livable communities.

Photo: Ben Fried

  • It is about time somebody starts talking about infrastructure issues.

  • Mark

    This national conversation needs to get started. But there is a danger that road pork will push everything else off the agenda. When the consequences of peak oil are clearer ($5 or $10 gas, suburbanites stranded in their pods) then it will be a real conversation about real alternatives.

  • Braddy

    It took the U.S. 50 years to reach our present state car-centered development. What worries me is that it might take another 50 to transition onto something better.

  • I recently saw an old dark movie from 1959 called “On the Beach” where Australia is isolated as a nuclear war engulfs the Northern Hemisphere. The first thing that they have to adjust to is no oil or gasoline. The cars sit on the side of the road lifeless as everyone who can is on a bike and there are a few slow streetcars in the background.

    In some ways, it would almost be better to have a major shock in oil supply to re-adjust everyone’s thinking about infrastructure. I work in the medical field so forgive my analogy, but it’s like the difference between being in a car crash and having Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease. In the car crash, there is a traumatic event which injures you for life – but in most cases, you adjust to that injury and learn ways of living life that makes you happy – some people even say that the injury helped them slow down and enjoy life and appreciate the little things. In progressive MS or Parkinson’s it is a slow decline over time and you never quite get to adjust to your current state because it pretty much always gets worse.

    If only we could admit that we need to make a change…

  • SandraOmyOconner

    I recently had dreams of all the bridges in Portland collapsing and Earl Bluemanuer who lost his license due to a DUII several years ago and cannot ever drive a car again was speechless. I guess he cant swim either.



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