By Tanya Snyder
DC Streets Blog
March 11, 2011
Every year, the cyclists that gather in Washington for the National Bike Summit meet with hundreds of Congressional offices to ask for expanded bike funding. This year, they’re just asking lawmakers not to cut it.
With an anti-spending mood prevailing inside the Beltway, bicycling advocates are trying to be realistic. “We haven’t forgotten that there’s a bill out there that still needs support,” said League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke, referring to the larger transportation bill that will lay out the federal investment in bicycling. “We want to work a slightly different strategy and find out who is willing to support something like that up on the Hill, without making it ‘The Big Ask’ for everyone.”
The League and America Bikes, which ran the legislative sessions at the Summit, outlined their strategy for preserving what they’ve fought so hard for in previous years:
The business aspect. America Bikes put together fact sheets for each individual district showing how much money that district has received for “transportation enhancements” (TE) like biking and walking, how much they’ve invested in Safe Routes to Schools, how many bike retailers are in the district, and how much money those retailers bring in. In most cases, the numbers show that retailers earn in one year about one-half to one-third of the amount spent on TE in the past 17 years – a pretty good return on investment, they’d argue. (Those district data sheets, which also include local legislation and advocacy groups, will be online soon at www.americabikes.org.)
The local aspect. In their 400 meetings with Congress members’ offices, advocates made the case that bicycling is important to constituents by talking in detail about the popular trails and busy commuter routes in each district, as well as the bike stores and local business. They invited lawmakers to join them for a bike ride, an event, or a ribbon-cutting for a trail as a way to get the member to have a personal connection with biking in the district. Their motto was “don’t cut what you haven’t seen.”
The ask. Lots of members of Congress will tell you how much they love biking. They’ll go on at length about how many miles they put in each week, how they ride to their district office in spandex, how they’ve taught their kids to ride bikes. But do they support continued dedicated funding for bicycling and walking programs like transportation enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and the Recreational Trails Program? That’s what advocates were trying to pin the offices down on. “If they say they support biking but they don’t support funding for these programs, they don’t support biking,” said one movement leader.