Update 5, Thursday and wrap-up:
This week was an incredible learning experience and opportunity to connect with other people from across the country working to make bicycling better, in their communities and states and across the country. If I had to pick one over-arching theme, I'd say it's the art of persuasion. Over and over, we heard speakers talking about using compelling narratives to support an argument; offering solutions rather than accusations; finding common ground and mutual benefits; understanding what a listener (policy maker, elected official, funding source, or general public) needs or wants from us, or could be persuaded to want. I've also learned about a number of exciting programs and initiatives that we could use as examples or starting points, build on, or adopt wholesale. I'm pretty tired, but I'm also fired up and excited to report back and get working!
Update 4, Wednesday:
The Massachusetts delegation were all assigned to visit a few Representatives' offices apiece, and we all visited both Senators' offices. The League provided folders for each office including polling data and economic statistics to support the cause of bicycling and walking, and had specific requests to make of our elected officials - protecting transportation funding for biking and walking projects, supporting the Vision Zero bill currently making its way through the House, and joining the Bike Caucus. In each office we discussed these issues with staff members, and particularly tried to emphasize bicycling as a method of building bridges with colleagues from across the aisle.
After all the meetings were over, we had a reception in the Hart Senate Office Building, with a wonderful sunset view. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon's 3rd district (includes Portland) and Senator Cardin from Maryland both spoke to the group. They're both working hard to support alternative transportation in general and bicycling in particular.
I was pretty tired by the time I left, but since it was actually not all that late I decided to ride by my high school and check out a few other things on the way back to my mom's house. Only at a bike summit would the whole conference be abuzz about a bike lane, but all week I'd been hearing about this new two-way protected cycletrack in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, so I had to check it out. It's really pretty well thought out; it provides for turns, it connects well when Pennsylvania Ave. makes a weird jog at 15th street by the White House and the cycle track ends. It even has turning lanes at the approach to intersections!
The section of Pennsylvania Ave right in front of the White House has been closed to cars for many years, but you can still bike and walk across it. However, once the traffic resumes on the other side, the cycletrack is gone. From there I hopped a couple of blocks over to G street, to ride by my high school. When I went there, only a small handful of kids rode bikes to school, and we locked our bikes to a railing out back. But the school has since been renovated with a new wing added; and it has bike racks all around the front! I'm curious how full they are during the school day!
Update 3, Tuesday:
Over lunch, we heard more about other programs the Bike League runs to help make biking better for everyone: Bicycle Friendly Communities, businesses, and universities. These progams work both as incentives to improve conditions for cycling, whether it's infrastructure or bike racks or workstands and repair facilities; and also as ways for the League to see what strategies are being used in different places to help develop best practice recommendations.
After lunch I attended a session given by Jamie Gaskill-Fox about a program she developed in Fort Collins, CO to educate motorists about safely sharing the roads with cyclists, called "Bicycle Friendly Driver". I have to say that this session might just be the single most valuable thing I have attended this week. The program is centered around a 90-minute class to teach motorists about how to handle encounters with bicyclists on the road, and how to best use the road infrastructure as it currently exists (rather than just wishing for more bike lanes in the future). The class concludes with a test, and participants who pass receive stickers and certificates. Not only did Jamie tell us all about how she made this program successful in Fort Collins, she has also made it freely available online, complete with a detailed curriculum and step-by-step instructions on how to implement this program, customize the examples and situations and data for our own communities, get started teaching the classm and market it to businesses, schools, and other groups. This is something we could run with in Medford with the resources that we currently have, to reach people we aren't reaching now and make the roads safer and more comfortable for everyone.
Lastly for today, everyone got back together to plan for tomorrow when we meet with the Senators and Representatives (and/or their staff) from our states. Caron Whitaker and Ken McLeod went over the materials the League has provided including information about the Vision Zero Act (H.R. 1266); data about the job creation case for funding the construction of bicycle facilities; and polling data about public support for biking and walking projects. Then we got together with the rest of the attendees from our states to discuss the logistics of meeting with our elected representatives tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the day!
Update 2, Monday:
This morning started the day by re-living a bit of high school! Since I'm staying at my mom's house and the Summit venue is not too far from where I went to school, I'm riding in on a lot of the same route. But it's been awhile; DC had no bike lanes back then at all, and lots of things have really changed here. But other things really haven't; in high school, I rode a lot of this route on the sidewalk believe it or not, which I *never* do in Medford. But in DC it's legal in many places, and the roads I'm taking have some parts where traffic comes to a standstill and other parts where it goes by fast with no room for safe passing. So I found myself going on and off the sidewalk at various points, which was what I saw all the other cyclists doing too. So I guess some things haven't changed after all!
The first session I attended today was for first-time Bike Summit attendees. It was a good chance to get oriented, figure out how things work, and connect with other first timers. I'm finding that attendees come from all different corners of the advocacy world - some work in public health, some are involved in planning, some are involved in outreach. They all seem to really share a commitment to making cycling safe and practical (and fun!!) for everyone in their communities, not just the people who consider themselves "Serious Cyclists". The afternoon started out with a session focused on the power of storytelling to change hearts and minds. A common thread to many of the stories we heard was people who started cycling as adults after thinking for years that they couldn't do it, and finding that it transformed their lives to the point where they became passionate and committed advocates for the cause.
Also here for the Summit are a number of vendors and sponsors, with a variety of products and projects to exhibit. My friend and studio-mate Bekka is here with her "Bikeyface" comic books. There's AnneeLondon, a startup working on a collapsible bike helmet, that meets all the same safety standards as the familiar styrene foam ones but folds up into a small, convenient package. There are a couple of bike rack manufacturers. There's LoveToRide, which runs bike challenges and marketing campaigns to help businesses and communities worldwide encourage more new riders. There's Elly Blue, whose book "Bikenomics" makes the economic case for biking. There are a couple of small cycling clothing companies. Neat stuff!
In the afternoon, I attended a session given by Caron Whitaker about lobbying Congress, which we'll all be doing on Wednesday. We learned a lot about how Congressional and Senate offices work and the importance of the various staff that help the legislators evaluate policy and write bills. But lots of what she had to say was actually really useful for trying to persuade anyone to support bicycling and walking causes. She discussed finding out what motivates members, bringing in specific success stories from the member's constituency, and discussing how bicycling fits in with a community's other priorities (such as business development).
The last event today was the awards dinner, where the League honored some amazing people with incredible stories who have made exceptional contributions. It was really inspiring to hear about all the things these people have done to help the cycling community, both locally and nationally. I sat at a table full of other folks from our figurative back yard - Mattapan, Dorchester, Roslindale, as well as some MassBike folks. I hope we can coordinate with some of these folks in the future too!
I flew into National Airport with a folding bike, which made it really easy to just hop on and ride over to the venue from the airport. The Mount Vernon Trail is a nice paved multi-use path that conveniently connects National Airport with the downtown area of DC. Although I grew up here, things have really changed a lot! There are lots of bike lanes, some protected lanes/cycle tracks, and lots of sharrows. And there are lots of really neat bicycle-oriented wayfinding signs with distances and directions to points of interest.
The first event was a little mini-tour of the area immediately around the summit venue, plus Capitol Hill. Some riders had brought their own bikes, some rented bikes, and some used the Capitol BikeShare bikes (like Hubway in Boston). After that was the LAB's annual meeting and reception. The annual meeting had a long Q&A session where we got to hear more about the League's activities and programs. I met a couple of other attendees from Kansas who work in public health, who told me about some of the various groups they've involved in their outreach efforts, a guy from the DC area involved in the same kinds of long distance events that I help organize in New England, and other activists from all over the country. Tomorrow will be a full day!