Biking Advocates Gather for Annual Summit

Posted March 4, 2003 at 4:00pm

The 2003 National Bike Summit, which starts today, kicks off an intensive effort by bicycle lobbyists to ensure continued funding for alternative transportation.

Part of their lobbying efforts will focus on urging Members of Congress to ensure that the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which authorizes more than $200 billion in support for transportation, including bicycling projects, concentrates on alternatives to cars.

The League of American Bicyclists, as part of the larger America Bike coalition, plans to lobby Congress on three areas, said Mele Williams, the group’s director of government relations. “TEA-21 is good for bicyclists, but we want to continue to strengthen programs already there.”

Aside from TEA-21 lobbying, the coalition is also working for clarification in the current law that says bicyclists and pedestrians “must be considered” by the federal highway system.

“We want to work to create more bicycle-friendly places across the board,” Williams said.

The third area, the Safe Routes to Schools initiative, has been championed across the nation by government and interest groups alike.

“We are urging areas to be safer for children so they can walk or ride to school,” Williams said, “We understand it is going to be a struggle to keep the funding that we already have.”

But the coalition is pushing for clarification in the wording to make sure programs receive maximum funding from the bill.

Congress championed alternative transportation efforts last year by passing the Bicycle Commuter Act in both the House and the Senate, but the legislation eventually failed because it was part of the larger energy act that did not pass. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), an active advocate for bicycling, included legislation in the omnibus appropriations bill to improve conditions for bicyclists in and around the Capitol grounds. The bill ensures that the Capitol Police and Architect of the Capitol coordinate with the District’s Department of Transportation to create safe bicycle routes in and around the Capitol complex without compromising security concerns.

Most recently, Blumenauer and Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) on Tuesday reintroduced the Bike Commuter Act that aims to include bicycles in the Transportation Fringe Benefit to promote employees biking to work.

The Capitol Hill area historically has had some of the few bike lanes in the District. The high number of bicyclists recorded in the 2000 Census reflects the increased avenues for cyclists.

According to the 2000 Census 2 percent to 3 percent of people living in Capitol Hill commuted by bike to work, with some areas of Capitol Hill totalling as many as 5 percent to 8 percent. While this may seem low, it is well above the national 1 percent average.

“There is a huge percentage [of people] relatively speaking that do bike to work that live on Capitol Hill,” Ellen Jones, executive director of Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said.

“In a way Capitol Hill is an island of pretty decent bicycle-friendly streets bordered by pretty scary bicycle streets,” Jones said. “Getting from very industrial traffic to Capitol Hill, which is a nicely laid-out grid of streets, is the challenge.”

Now the effort has been to improve gateways in order to safely connect the Capitol Hill area with the larger metro area. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) secured $8.5 million in the last reauthorization bill to aid the District’s bicycle master plan, and Jones hopes it will continue to receive funding.

The 2000 Census also ranked D.C. among metropolitan areas with the highest percentage of residents without access to cars. “Thus transportation money that services people without cars is needed. We want our fair share of the money,” Jones said. “This is transportation for the 21st century and it is a tremendous investment.”

The third annual National Bike Summit will be held today through Friday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. For information, contact the League of American Bicyclists at (202) 822-1333, bikeleague@bikeleague.org.