Earlier this month, 580 enthusiastic cyclists plus manufacturers, municipal officials and lawmakers convened in Washington DC to promote our favorite sport and mode of transportation. The event was co-sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). Most attendees were from the United States, but Canada and two European countries were represented. Arizona was represented by Kathy Mills of the Coalition, Kristy Felts Moore of ABC, Lee Blackwell of Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists, Esther Corbett of Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Larry Robinson of GABA-Tucson, and myself (the only repeat). We did not meet Esther as her employment precluded any lobbying. Lee missed his first flight, but we gave him enough alternatives that he made it there. Larry was registered, but his name did not appear on the roster that was distributed to me as the Arizona Contact person. We met him at the AZ caucus Wednesday afternoon.
A summary of the event is at LAB’s website and includes links to more detailed information. Also, there are videos of the main speakers mentioned on LAB’s home webpage. I will outline our participation.
On Tuesday afternoon there was a “First Timers Orientation” that was well attended. That was followed by the “Opening Keynote Dinner”. The featured speakers were the Ambassador from Denmark, Copenhagen’s Bicycle Program Director Congressman Oberstar. We got a detailed look at how Copenhagen integrates cycling into their transportation systems.
Wednesday started a general session titled “New Congress, New Administration, New Transportation Bill”. Opening remarks were by none other than Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. It quickly became clear just how much more important and accepted our sport and form of transportation had become since January. Three Members of Congress and one Senator discussed Complete Streets, Energy and the Economy and how we can benefit.
Five breakout sessions began after the opening, and we disbursed to cover as much of the information as possible. I attended the session on the Economic Stimulus Package while others of our team attended others. Then, after a break, five more breakout sessions began. I attended the session on the new Transportation Bill. More on that later. We all attended the Keynote Luncheon with a talk by Larry Seltzer, President and DEO of The Conservation Fund, a nation-wide organization protecting America’s land and water legacy. Another 5-way breakout session occurred ater lunch. I attended “Becoming Best Friends with Transit” (you could have guessed that, right?). I contributed my mantra about the mutual benefit to cyclists and users of transit, then pitched how important our involvement is in all stages of a transit system. I cited a “disaster” with which I am familiar.
The afternoon concluded with two sessions, one called “Delivering Our Message”. It was demonstration of how to and how not to present ideas and requests to lawmakers and/or their staffs. The session was actually a parity of “American Idol” and was quite entertaining as well as informative. The final session was a split by state. This is when we met Larry for the first time. We coordinated the meetings I had scheduled with staff people in the offices of our Senators and Representatives for Arizona. Of course, a little adjustment occurred on Thursday as emails continued to arrive on my MDA (hand-help phone/computer). Esther was not there, but the rest of us were captured by a couple digital cameras.
Then it was off to a group dinner. My wife Carol was able to join us after a bus tour of Mt. Vernon!
Thursday morning we met in a conference room in the Rayburn House Office Building. Except for one attendee that didn’t get the memo, this was suits and ties for men and business dress for women. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) gave us a pep talk and we were off to the offices of our Senators and Representatives. LAB had prepared four issues to promote, namely Complete Streets Act of 2009, the Transportation Bill (CLEAN-TEA), “Support America Bikes Agenda” and joining the Congressional Bike Caucus. We had some time to huddle and review our presentations.
The first meeting was with George Fleeson, the Transportation staff person for Sen. Jon Kyl. George specifically remembered me from last year (for which I gave my appreciation). Although we wound up meeting at a table in the building coffee shop, he was glad to talk to us and listened to each issue. He did point out that Sen Kyl, being Minority Whip, generally does not co-sponsor bills. He considers it a gimmick. I need to follow up with George on how much the “Cap and Trade” portion of CLEAN-TEA is an issue for Sen Kyl. A rousing start for the five of us.
Next was a meeting with Morgan MacDonald, the Transportation staffer for Sen. McCain. Morgan was very courteous and took detailed notes of our presentations. My impression is that our actual effectiveness was small.
Suddenly it was lunch time. I had been tipped that the lunchroom in the basement of the Longworth House Office Building was a good place to go. Apparently a lot of people had the same idea. We lost track of each other for a while, but there was a silver lining. Lee and Larry had petitions to deliver to Representative Grijalva’s office, so they made a quick trip there. They had a session with Rep. Grijalva directly!
We regrouped to meet with staffers on the house side. Meanwhile an email came to me asking to reschedule a meeting to a time when we already had a meeting. Oh, the wonders of Twitter.
Our first afternoon meeting was with Shurid Sen, the Transportation staffer for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for District AZ-8. Larry lives in her district and was our lead this time. Rep. Giffords is already a member of the Bike Caucus and is supportive of nearly everything environmental. Shurid took good notes of our issues and I left believing we had made a difference. Had the next day’s Bike Ride thru Washington DC not been on a work day, I’m sure he would have participated.
Next we met with Eve Young, the staff person for Rep. Ed Pastor. I live in this district (AZ-4). Space for office meetings is a rarity as we had a rousing discussion in the hallway just outside their office. I believe we made a connection with Eve and we can continue to promote cycling issues. Rep. Pastor is a ling-time member of the bike Caucus, but doesn’t bike himself. I have met him a few times locally at events in the Valley.
Matt Weisman was the next staff person we met with. He is in Rep. Mitchell’s office and Kathy lives in his district (AZ-5). I believe Matt too would have joined us the next day, had it been a Saturday. He was engaged in the issues we presented.
By this time, we were actually a few minutes ahead of schedule, and we just about made the (earlier) requested time to meet Sara Decker, the Transportation staff person for Rep. Shadegg. Kristi is a resident of this district (AZ-3). We were a tiny bit rushed, yet Sara showed understanding of our requests.
Finally, five very tired “lobbyists” and Carol rendezvoused in the Russell Senate Office Building for a reception and pats on the back. That room was also used for the Infamous Un-American Activities Committee meetings of the 1950’s and the Watergate investigation meetings of the 1970’s. Kinda awesome.
The capping event of the Summit was a 3-hour ride around Washington DC. We had rented a tandem so Carol got to experience peddling in snow flurries (actually a minuscule effect). Ah, the history of it all! This was a much better behaved group than I remember from last year (maybe not a fair comparison since that time, I kept running into one bad rider over and over again, and a small number of us got separated from the main group).
After the farewells, it was on to being tourists for Carol and I. That afternoon we got to the Zoo. Subsequent days, we visited the Archives; Congress; FDR, Viet Nam, Jefferson , WW-II, Iwo-Jima, Korean War & Lincoln Memorials; Arlington Cemetery; the hotel that has the lobby that coined the word “lobbyist”; the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum (including the “Wright Bicycle Co.” display, since it had to be cycling engineers that invented another “energy-challenged device” like an airplane). We saw a lot more from a tour bus, then took some good pix of the outside of the White House. One day we went to Baltimore to eat Crab Cakes and see the B&O Railroad Museum (birthplace of commercial steam rail for N. America). On the way to the airport we saw NASA Goddard visitor center, and the National Cryptography Museum at NSA headquarters in Langley. All of the touring was on our nickel. We do thank the Coalition for picking up my Summit registration fee.
The work continues. Thank yous were sent to the staffers we met, and issues will be discussed. Soon, it will be time for Bike Summit 2010! By then some of the stick-in-the-muds will realize what the voters said last November.