Washington is known as a very bicycle friendly state. As a matter of fact, according to the League of American Bicyclists, we have been the #1 bicycling friendly state for the past 7 years. For those of us who live and work in Washington and who hold riding a bike in high regard, this is a beautiful thing. That said, there is still much work to be done and progress to be made. To that end, Washington Bikes, the leading state-wide bicycle advocacy organization along with Cascade, the largest bicycle club in the country, brought back a statewide Bike Summit this year held in the state capitol of Olympia, March 16 & 17, 2015.
The Summit existed years ago in a different format, but this new version is bigger, better and far more powerful in terms of influencing the future of bicycling legislation in our state. Having the good fortune to work for a company that places a high priority on supporting bicycle advocacy, we attended the Bike Summit last week to support the cause and connect with other like-minded folks. The take-aways and inspired ideas were plentiful and worth sharing along with the idea that every state who cares about better bicycling and improving bicycle infrastructure should think about hosting their own state-wide event, if they are not already doing so.
I set out for the Washington Bike Summit early on a Monday morning towing a trailer full of bike racks. Sportworks provided bike parking for the weather braving souls who decided to ride to the event at the Governor Hotel. Having never driven a trailer any distance before, I had some trepidation so I took it slowly. Trying to imagine how I was going to unload the unwieldy racks in my skirt and possibly the rain did result in a mild panic, but thanks to the good folks with strong arms at Washington Bikes, installation went smoothly. I also brought along one of our Westport No-Scratch racks for a "Made in Washington" display highlighting Washington based manufacturers. The rack joined the Raleigh "Rainier" bicycle and Ortlieb panniers creating a display of companies who are committed to the bike advocacy vision. After the heavy lifting was complete, I settled in for what would be an enlightening, bonding and motivating 2 days.
When we talk about better bicycling infrastructure, the topic includes many components with safe places to ride at the top of the list. The Bike Summit opened with an impassioned speech given by Martha Roskowski, the VP of Local Innovation for People for Bikes. Martha has long been a strong voice in the bicycle advocacy world and spoke to the rise of protected bike lanes as a high priority in creating safer streets for riding. The idea behind the Green Lane Project is to help cities build better bike lanes and to create lower stress streets. Learn more at http://www.peopleforbikes.org/green-lane-project.
Safe Routes to School was also front and center. With the childhood obesity epidemic in full swing, getting our kids exercising more is the key to their overall health and well-being. Having safe routes to ride between home and school is crucial in breaking down the barriers to getting more kids on bikes more often.
There is state and federal funding available for these projects or you can take the grass roots approach and start a biking school bus where parents and kids ride in organized groups to school creating safety in numbers. Organize a bike rodeo to teach safe riding skills or celebrate bike to school month in May by having kids count their trips to school and win prizes. Getting to school safely is paramount, but schools also need to have enough secure bike parking once kids get to school so they have a safe place to park their bikes while in class. Safe Routes to School at http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/ has great information on how to get started.
Vision Zero is a Swedish born concept taking off around the country with mayors in many cities embracing the idea. This successful concept is based on the idea of creating better road safety and can be summarized as follows: "No loss of life is acceptable. Vision Zero is based on the simple fact that we are human and make mistakes. The road system needs to keep us moving. But it must also be designed to protect us at every turn." You can learn more about how Seattle is working toward Vision Zero here: http://www.seattle.gov/visionzero.
The Bike Summit had its share of advocacy related topics such as the aforementioned programs, but there was also a big focus on other sectors of the community and economy that are positively impacted by bicycling and bicycle infrastructure. A recent Earth Economics impact study in Washington State concluded that 3.1 billion dollars are spent annually in the state that can be linked to bicycling. The study included everything from bicycle industry manufacturers to bicycle tourism, especially the impact it has on surrounding communities. "Compared to many activities where equipment purchases provide the significant economic impact to their activity, bicycle riders' trip-related expenditures account for a whopping 96% of the economic impact of bicycling. This means that bicyclists like to contribute to local economies via shopping, lodgings, and eating. It underscores that bicyclists are " wallets on wheels."" This study reinforces the fact that bicycling needs to be part of the legislative agenda at the state level to insure there are funds to spend on creating the bicycle infrastructure needed to support the positive economic impact.
Another hotly anticipated component of the Summit were the professional workshops, especially the NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) seminars. These seminars focused on educating attendees on the new Urban Bikeway Design Guide which includes addressing bike lanes, cycle tracks, signs & markings and bicycle boulevards. Professionals earned credit for attending the seminars and were able to interface with other DOT and planning organizations to discuss their challenges and successes. Lynn Peterson, the Washington State Secretary of Transportation, who spoke at the Bike Summit, was one of the first to officially endorse the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide. Many cities in the state have followed suit.
Timing is important. The Washington Bike Summit was planned to coincide with Transportation Lobby day on the hill. The Washington State legislature has been working on a transportation revenue package that had recently passed the senate at the time of the Summit last week. Our job as bicycle advocates was to convince in some cases, or at the very least to reinforce the need for dollars allocated to bicycle related programs and infrastructure. Specifically, the message is to invest in Safe Routes to Schools for Washington's Kids and Walkways & Bikeways to connect the state. The ask is roughly 300 million dollars for these programs out of the 15 billion dollar package. Our state spends little on bicycle/pedestrian programs compared to other states and considering the economic impact of bicyclists across our state, an easy argument can be made. The package is not perfect, there are some issues that the House needs to work out in favor of the bike/ped programs in order to secure the needed funding.
The remaining Summit program was filled with inspiring speakers such as Samantha Ollinger, founder and Executive Director of BikeSD, whose mission is to transform San Diego's streetscape into a world-class bicycle friendly city. In less than 3 years, BikeSD has led efforts to pass a progressive $312 million city bike plan update and approve $200 million in regional funding for urban projects in neglected neighborhoods. BikeSD won the 2014 Advocacy Organization of the year award from the Alliance of Biking and Walking as a result of their visionary work. Listening to and learning from these kinds of successes presents a model that can be emulated to create viable programs and organizations in other communities.
Why is a state bike summit important for your state? There are many ways that your state can benefit from holding a similar event including bringing bike/ped advocates together to share ideas and success stories as well as challenges in implementing programs in their communities. After two days in our state's capitol, I can say that I know far more about the issues and opportunities facing those of us that ride a bike in our state. Not only am I enthused about the programs and projects, I am genuinely excited about the connections I made while there. As with many things, energy flowing in the same direction creates momentum. In other words, there is strength in numbers and when talking about making a difference at the legislative level, numbers count.
On a personal note, it is fun to share one's passion with like-minded people. Who knows what kinds of projects and collaborations might come out of spending time with others who are similarly driven? I came away from the Washington Bike Summit more educated, more connected, more empowered and more humbled by the efforts and passion for the cause.
Creating safer places and spaces for more people to ride a bike is good for everyone. Riding a bike improves your health and the health of the environment, connects individuals and communities, is a sustainable form of transportation, provides positive economic impact and is accessible to just about everyone. Rallying the believers in your state and unifying your voices in support of better bicycle infrastructure is powerful and will make the difference in shaping a bikeable future for all of us.
Some stats provided by Washington Bikes from the 2015 Washington Bike Summit:
Total number of attendees: 185.
The original goal was 100 attendees. In the end, the number nearly doubled and pushed the limits of the conference space. Organizers are already looking for a bigger space for next year.
Towns represented: 48.
Aberdeen, Anacortes, Auburn, Bellevue, Bellingham, Bremerton, Burien, College Place, Denver, Dixie, East Wenatchee, Edmonds, Everett, Fife, Hood River, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Lacey, Lake Tapps, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Mead, Oak Harbor, Olympia, Port Angeles, Port Orchard, Portland, OR, Pullman, Puyallup, Redmond, Renton, San Diego, CA, Seattle, Sequim, Shoreline, Silverdale, Snohomish, Spokane, Tacoma, Tumwater, Union Gap, University Place, Vancouver, Victoria BC, Wenatchee, Winthrop, Yakima. (Boldface cities/towns are Bicycle Friendly Communities)
Types of businesses and organizations represented:
Bike manufacturing, bike shops, bike clubs, bike nonprofits, design/planning engineering firms, cities, local elected officials, Chambers of Commerce, federal agencies, pedestrian advocates, trails organizations, public health districts, health foundations, transit, neighborhood organizations, metropolitan planning organizations, regional transportation planning organizations, WSDOT, colleges/universities, Washington State Dept. of Health, local agencies including streets, public works, planning, and economic development
For more information on the Washington Bike Summit go to www.WAbikes.org