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Hill Visits Inspire Advocates and Members of Congress #NBS12
The Wisconsin delegation, including Chris Kegel (left), Kevin Hardman and Sarah Reiter, discuss bicycling issues with Congressman Tom Petri (R-WI, center)
There are many times that I believe I have one of the best jobs out there -- I get paid to think, write, and talk about bicycling all day long. But of all of those moments, Thursday was among the most inspiring, exciting, and challenging. I joined 800 bicycling advocates from every state (except Alaska) on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to preserve funding for bicycling and walking in the federal transportation bill.
The Hill visits give bicyclists an opportunity to sit down with members of Congress and their staff to talk about what bicycling means for their communities in personal terms. In over 400 meetings on Thursday, bicyclists talked about the local economic benefits of bicycling investments, the way those investments change communities for the better, and the opportunities that still exist to make cycling better and more accessible for constituents back home.
The League awarded 13 members of Congress with Leadership Awards. I was able to sit in on several of the meetings with bicycling champions in Congress. (Read about the meeting with Rep. Blumenauer and his staffer Tyler Frisbee.) These meetings were largely love-fests with folks that really get it. They know why federal bicycling investments are important, so the conversation often turned to what is happening back home and what advocates and business and health leaders can do to build even more local support and develop trail and facility networks.
Rep. Petri (R-WI), sponsor of the Petri Amendment, talked with Wisconsin bicyclists about how bicycling tourism can be used to convince chambers of commerce to support bicycling investments. Someone in the meeting suggested that the representative hit the campaign trail on a bicycle. We'll be watching for that one. We were happy to see Rep. Petri receive some positive press for the visit.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) receives a Leadership Award from West Virginia's Nick Hein and Dennis Strawn and the League of American Bicyclists
Without exception, the members of Congress whom I met and their staff had an extensive knowledge of bicycling conditions in their district and ideas for what should come next. West Virginia advocates met with Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Afterwards, Rep. Rahall's legislative assistant on transportation met with us for more than 30 minutes. He and the advocates traded stories and ideas for West Virginia with an impressive fluency.
Senator Cardin (D-MD) congratulates his staff person on his hard work in negotiating the passage of the Cardin-Cochran amendment to preserve bicycling funding and increase local control of federal transportation dollars
Another great moment came in the meeting with Maryland bicyclists. We were meeting with Senator Ben Cardin's transportation staffer when the senator stopped by to say hello. The room burst into applause for the man whose name -- along with Sen. Cochran's -- headlines the amendment bicyclists fought so hard for. Sen. Cardin then talked to us about the environment in Congress and how he always tried to counter attacks on bicycling when he hears them.
The energy on the Hill was fantastic. As always, bright bike pins were seen all over the capitol. At the Congressional reception, Rep. Blumenauer told the crowd about how one of his colleagues, who did not seem like a big supporter of bicycling investments, said, "the bicyclists are here. Do you have any more bike pins?" Mr. Blumenauer did, of course.
Attendees of the National Bike Summit finally get to relax at the Congressional Reception after a day of meetings on the Hill
Despite these positive meetings, we know that many members of Congress are not yet convinced. Our work continues in Washington, DC, and in districts all over the country to ensure that bicycling and walking are included in a well-balanced, forward-thinking transportation bill.