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by Sherman Phillips
Not knowing exactly what to expect as a rooky at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., I was mostly successful in keeping an open mind as our plane touched down on Monday at Reagan National Airport. Durwood Mayfield and I, both Lubbock Outreach Coordinators, grabbed our luggage from the baggage claim area and immediately realized what the consequences were going to be from over packing as we contemplated negotiating shuttle buses, subways, and taxis for the next four days.
A bit tired from long layovers and queezy from the rough flight (after all, it was a bargain fare), we approached a uniformed official. “Excuse me sir, but I’m so lost I don’t even know where . . . .” said Durwood in his colorful and friendly West Texas drawl. But before he could continue, and not feeling in the mood for conversation, I interrupted, “Shuttle to subway?” “Yeah”, the official somewhat gruffly responded. And so we were off to the Summit to hear the latest on bicycle advocacy, meet with leaders in the bicycle industry, and to enlighten our public officials as to the importance and benefits of “that other form of transportation”.
Tuesday evening consisted of preparing first-time attendees to meet with congressional representatives and their aids. We were told what to expect, what not to expect, and how best to present our message. It may sound simple, but we learned that it’s an art in gaining the attention of people who hear countless requests every day. On Thursday, we would have the opportunity to implement our new-found knowledge.
All day Wednesday we attended sessions that included “Bicycling: Good for You and the Health Community”, “Safe Routes to School: Diversifying our Partners and the Communities We Serve”, and “Health, Wealth and Freedom: The very Tangible Benefits of Bicycling and the Bicycle Industry”. These panel discussions were lead by leaders in their respective fields, and all were responsive to questions from the audience. We were also treated to a surprise visit during the keynote luncheon by Floyd Landis, this year’s winner of the Tour de France. What a delight in listening to such a sincere, unassuming star athlete as he answered the audience’s questions with humor and candor. It’s no wonder he received two standing ovations. Later that evening we attended additional training on the various issues we would bring to the attention of our legislators. The night ended by coordinating our efforts for the following day by forming teams to visit with as many representatives and senators as possible from each of our respective states.
The previous week our Executive Director, Robin Stallings, advised us to wear comfortable shoes with our suits when we visited our congressional representatives. Fortunately we took him at his word as we covered long distances on marble floors in the office buildings that house our senators and representatives. Each of our three teams from Texas of four individuals each had at least one veteran from whom we would watch and learn for the first of many appointments that were scheduled prior to our arrival. Subsequent to the initial “break in” period, each member of the team took turns in leading the discussion and bringing our concerns to the attention of either the congressman/woman or staff.
Our first talking point was the bicycle commuter act which would extend to bicyclists, the same tax benefit to employers who already offer cash reimbursements to individuals who commute by mass transit, car and van-pools. We asked that the definition of “transportation” be extended to include bicycles. Our second “ask” was that an additional $3.6 million be allocated to the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program which would put the funding level at $12 million. This program benefits local communities by fostering partnerships between federal, state and local entities and generates a four-dollar return for every dollar spent. Our third discussion revolved around the rescission of Texas Department of Transportation enhancement funds. These funds were cut by 73% and severely undermined many bicycle and pedestrian plans for improvements at local levels. And our final “ask” was that the congressman/woman joins the Congressional Bike Caucus. In that way, each member would have access to the latest legislation affecting bicycling. These four talking points had to be addressed within a 15 minute time frame for our teams to remain on schedule, which we did.
The big question is did we make a difference? I suppose that can only be answered with time. But it is a process and the most appropriate way to initiate meaningful and lasting change. We left the Summit with a better understanding of not only an awareness of cycling affecting Texas, but also of cycling issues affecting the entire nation. In addition, I for one, have a better understanding of the political forces required to implement legislation. “Do you think we will have the opportunity to attend next year’s Summit, I asked Durwood. “You betcha”, he says. And I think to myself, as long as we find a bargain airfare and cheap lodging. Besides, I still have $12.25 on my subway pass.