This meeting was actually about more than just this new project.
It was hosted by the Brookings Institute and featured Bruce Katz. Katz recently wrote the interesting article, The Detroit Project: A Plan for Solving America’s Greatest Urban Disaster. In DC, Katz spoke of the major upcoming debate on transportation policy. He emphasized the critical importance of advocates continuing to push non-motorized transportation during this period of change.
The next presenter was David Bryne, the front man of the Talking Heads. While he’s been cycling around New York since the 80s, he’s more recently become a bicycle advocate. The League of American Bicyclists summarized Bryne’s presentation.
Byrne began with a photo of Columbia, Md. where his elderly parents now live and are stranded due to the autocentric design of the community. He then went on to highlight some of his favorite books including: Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and The Timeless Way of Building. He continued with a photo diary of memorable scenes – both good and bad – of public spaces from his travels around the world on his beloved folding bike.
Bryne’s book, Bicycle Diaries does briefly recount his ride in Detroit. In a recent National Geographic Adventure article, Bryne’s listed Detroit among his eight favorite biking cities in the “Great rides where you least expect it” category.
So when speaking with him in DC after the event, I invited him to return to Detroit and provided our Detroit Greenways Brochure to spark his interest. We’ll see.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer
Our premier bicycle advocate in Congress spoke next and started with his standard question: How many people are stuck in traffic right now on their way to ride a stationary bike in a health club?
Blumenauer gave a brief timeline on bicycle advocacy. What was once considered “desireable” have become “important” and is transitioning to “urgent” and “critical.”
In conjunction with that transition, introduced his Active Community legislation for the upcoming transportation bill. The original push from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was for an Active Transportation 2010 program where 40 U.S. cities received $50 million over 6 years to increase biking and walking. Detroit applied for this as did Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. However, according to the congressman, that program smelled too much like earmarks and didn’t make it in the transportation bill.
His new Active Communities legislation would be a competitive $5 to $15 million grant program with a focus on mode shift — getting more people walking and biking.
Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan
The NYC DOT Commissioner presented next primarily on the Cities for Cycling project, much of which we’ve already covered.
Some additional Cities for Cycling goals we forgot to mention the first time include
- Hosting workshops around the U.S. next year
- Making sure the next MUTCD is designed for 21st century cities and not just highways
- Streamline federal regulations for active transportation projects
- Double active transportation funding
Khan also said that building for bicycles is a matter of customer service and that bikes lanes are a transformative change for cities which benefits more than just cyclsits.
Questions and Answers
A little Q & A followed the three presentations. One person asked if there was still opposition to active transportation.
Blumenauer: Not much, but there are three factors.
- People are nervous about change
- The current political process is dysfunctional
- We need to unleash greater grassroots support for cycling. Cycling advocates are too quiet.
Khan: The fight is one parking space at a time. It’s difficult to reduce the traditional priority on cars and bring a greater balance to transportation.
A bicycle advocate added we’re not outside of the mainstream. We’re undoing mistakes and doing the sensible thing.
Katz: We need to provide the opposite of the Le Corbusier’s urban planning vision.
The question of whether or not cyclists should pay bicycle-specific user fees was raised. Blumenauer spoke about a possible Pittman-Robertson solution, before flipping it around. He said it could be argued that cyclists should be paid to ride. After all, bicycling is the single most cost effective means to free up road space.
Afterwards, we had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Khan on a number of topics, including automated bike rental systems. In her opinion, these systems will transform U.S. cities and get more people on bikes. While we’ve discussed this in Detroit, such a system really makes most sense if it were designed to complement the Woodward Light Rail plans.
Additional Event Coverage
From Bikes Belong:
“The launch of Cities for Cycling shows that big-city mayors and transportation leaders see bicycling as a cost-effective urban transportation solution,” said Tim Blumenthal, Bikes Belong Executive Director. “The group will quickly become a respected voice in the growing movement to make bicycling safer and more convenient coast to coast.”
Can you imagine several hundred of this capital city’s policy wonks turning out for a two-hour discussion of bicycling?
A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable.
But the new buzz about cycling is clearly a mark of the times. You can credit snarled traffic, ennui with driving, rising oil prices and/or concern about greenhouse gas emissions. Then there’s growing popular desire to revoke the monopoly control cars and trucks have on our streets and public spaces. There’s a clear tie to the Complete Streets movement, advancing the ideas of shared urban turf long espoused by such groups as Partners for Livable Communities and the Project for Public Spaces.
The scene’s also been set, though, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declaring “livable communities” a priority goal of his department. And – important to the policy making set – there’ll be opportunity to enrich the 2010 reauthorization of the federal transportation program with bike-friendly provisions.
The idea’s a sort of watershed – cyclists starting to qualify not just as recreation supplicants but serious players in America’s transportation decisions. It’s about time.