I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship from the NBDA to attend the 2013 National Bike Summit in Washington DC. The National Bike Summit is an annual event in our nation’s capital that brings together a varied bunch of folks from the bicycle industry, from advocates to city employees, shop owners and enthusiasts. There are attendees from every state and a few from Canada. The event has several goals, one of which is to present a unified lobbying effort on Capital Hill. The League of American Bicyclists coordinates this unified effort by choosing a targeted message each year. This year’s theme was “The Business of Bicycling”. As a former board member of an advocacy group, I feel this theme was an excellent one for me personally, advocacy groups all across the country and the bicycle industry as a whole. Why? In the past, I think bicycle advocates have been lumped into a passionate yet tumultuous group oftentimes found spouting off about bicycle rights and narrow minded topics that benefit cyclists alone. It’s always been an “us” vs. “them” issue. I think this year’s summit opened the eyes of many to a new direction for the bicycle advocacy world, and that direction is showing people with factual data, that cycling is GOOD FOR EVERYONE even if you don’t ride a bike. The growing popularity of cycling is good for OUR economy, OUR environment, OUR world. It’s good for combating a growing national obesity problem that drives up EVERYONE’S healthcare costs. It’s good for bringing communities together and transforming ailing small towns into unique travel destinations. It’s good for attracting a new generation to our cities and towns that are increasingly shunning the automobile. You may never ride a bike in your life, but I would venture to say that cycling has positively impacted your life in some way, shape or form.
Several presentations focused on very sophisticated research that showed how many millions of dollars get pumped into a local economy solely by bicycle tourism. The presentations were varied and informative. One covered the economic impact of active transportation in the New Jersey. Another the economic impact of Bike Tourism in Oregon. Another tying mountain biking to conservation and preservation of public lands which we as taxpayers ALL OWN. Indianapolis’ mayor presented a compelling story on how a mission to make his city bicycle friendly brought over $60 million in Federal, state and local funds to his city. There was even a representative from the American Automobile Association that announced a new campaign stating they’re an advocate for all road users be they motorists, cyclists or pedestrians, complete with a video on sharing the road with those who bicycle. The list goes on.
What’s my point in sharing all this? I think people are finally going to start “getting it”. It will take some time, and it may see some ups and downs, but eventually the us vs. them mentality will diminish and we’ll all realize that you are me, and I am you. Let’s stop thinking of the other as motorists and cyclists and realize that all we really want is to improve our towns, cities and country which we can do simply by supporting the cycling industry and the collective good it brings to everyone. Bicycle advocacy groups and the industry as a whole need to understand and implement this thinking as soon as possible to get things moving in the right direction.
Lastly, let me relay a story as told by Howard Chang, an Ignite presenter at the summit. He described a situation with a motorist that had nearly run several riders in his group off the road. The motorist had stopped further up the road (for reasons unbeknownst) and rather than launching into a tirade, as calmly as he could, Howard simply asked the motorist to think about the fact that his group on bicycles were no different than those in the vehicle, they were brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, etc. He said after a moment the motorist began crying and apologized simply saying “I get it”. It sounds mushy but it’s amazing how our choice of vehicle, be it bicycle or automobile so easily isolates us from the fact that we’re no different from the other and often spins us 180 degrees into that dangerous “us” vs “them” mentality.