National Bike Summit: a Detroit perspective

The 10th National Bike Summit in Washington DC was last week. This three day event was a great opportunity to learn the latest on bike advocacy issues, lobby Congress, and network with peers.

I was attending this wearing a two main MTGA hats: Detroit Greenways Coordinator and Michigan Airline Trail Ambassador.

My highlight was Thursday morning. We had a group breakfast for last minute legislative updates and some cheerleading prior to our Congressional office visits. I was waiting behind this older gentleman for coffee. Being a bit impatient, I asked if I could cut in front. He poured my coffee and I said “Thanks”. It was then that I realized Congressman James Oberstar — one of the key bike supporters in DC and chair of the House Transportation committee — had just poured my coffee.

It was going to be a great day!

Overall I visited nine Congressional offices and met with the lead transportation legislative staffers. We also met with Congressman Gary Peters and Congresswoman Candice Miller. And, we were even invited to ride a century with Senator Carl Levin’s chief of staff who will be celebrating his recovery from a knee replacement.

The Detroit bicycling message — Complete Streets, Active Transportation grants, Urban Parks funding — was very well received.

We brought Ginny Sullivan from Adventure Cycling to our meeting with Senator Levin’s staff to discuss the U.S. Bicycle Route System and Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. She really drove home the message that we have a major blockage: getting bicyclists across the Detroit River. We noted that it was probably easier for freedom seekers escaping slavery to get across the river than it is for bicyclists today. We brought this issue up with staff from Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congresswoman Kilpatrick too. But perhaps the biggest connection on this issue was with Congressman John Conyers staff given Conyer’s long, storied history in the civil rights movement.

We did discuss the Michigan Airline Trail with the Michigan Senators, as well as Peters and Miller. Congresswoman Miller has played a key role in finding funding for the Macomb Orchard Trail. We are hoping she has equal enthusiasm for continuing that trail east through St. Clair County as part of the Michigan Airline Trail.

I did pull on my volunteer hat to discuss the potential rail with trail project in Royal Oak with Congressman Peter.

The North Country Trail was brought up and it was a shame there was no one from the Michigan Mountain Biking Association to talk about it. I was able to discuss the IMBA talking points I’d written for last year’s Summit with some legislative staffers.

Also, I snuck in a brief conversation with Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. He never ceases to impress me. I mentioned I was from Detroit and he immediately brings up the recent M1 Rail TIGER grant.

Another very, very impressive bicycle support is the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. He gave a rousing end-of-summit speech and once again told us we have a partner in him and the U.S. DOT. I did get the chance to thank him directly for the M1 Rail TIGER grant that Detroit recently received and how we will make sure works multi-modally with bicyclists and pedestrians. The Secretary has posted his National Bike Summit perspective as well, including this:

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the?end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Go beyond minimum design standards.
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

Now, this is a start, but it’s an important start. These initial steps forward will help us move forward even further.

The networking opportunities here were significant. I spent some time speaking with a software engineer that developed the Google’s bike routing. There are a number of issues that I don’t believe they have considered that I will be following up on. I also said that since the Google Trike is coming to the Detroit Zoo, it might as well create Streetview images for the Dequindre Cut and RiverWalk. That might be possible. We’ll see.

I went to dinner with Kelli Kavanaugh (Wheelhouse Detroit), Karen Kavanaugh (Governor’s office in Washington DC — not related to Kelli), and Ginny Sullivan (Adventure Cycling.) It was a great opportunity for exchanging bicycle advocacy information.

I spoke with Gary Fisher about coming to Detroit for an urban ride. He’s never ridden in the city and I think I had him convinced he needs to. I believe he was wearing tweed throughout the entire Summit — totally dapper.

The biggest disappointment? The National Bike Summit remains an event mainly attended by white adults. This lack of diversity perpetuates the stereotype that bicycles are white cultural phenomenon. There was a moderately interesting session on promoting diversity that relied largely on the efforts of the presentation by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Perhaps the best recommendation came from Keith Holt (Active Transportation Alliance.) He suggested groups start by diversifying their boards — a great suggestion for the League of American Bicyclists who organized the summit.

The biggest positive? MTGA getting a $15,000 grant to help Detroit become a Bicycle Friendly Community.

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2 Responses to “National Bike Summit: a Detroit perspective”

  1. Tuesday roundup: Detroit biking in the media | m-bike.org Says:

    [...] Model D just published an article on the recent National Bike Summit. They referenced our review of the event. Thanks, Model [...]

  2. achille bianchi Says:

    PLEASE PLEASE LET ME KNOW if you go on a gary fisher Detroit ride …. would give my right arm to come!!!
    -Achille

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