Chains and Trains, Pt. 2

This is the second post in a series on my experience of riding an Amtrak train to the North Carolina Bike Summit in Charlotte

Bikes, Policy, and Politics

The morning discussion featured Representative Chuck McGrady, Will Morgan, Representative Charles Jeter, and Harry Johnson, Jr. They gave a run-down of the sometimes convoluted processes in gaining political momentum for bicycle-friendly legislation. One of the panelists talked about the mysterious origins of Section 7(b) of HB44, which would strip municipalities of the ability to replace automobile vehicle lanes with bicycle lanes during a “road diet” construction project. They mention that sometimes lawmakers have an urban versus rural dynamic, and will block city street improvements that curb vehicular traffic because it is perceived as a slight to the people who must use their cars to get to downtown amenities.

The great takeaway to this panel was how to get a legislator’s ear. While it is suspect, you have to cultivate a personal relationship with the representative. Ask if they have a bike, or spouse has a bike, and would like a ride. Sending a thank you note when a legislator does well in defending cyclists’ rights can make a big difference.

One must always stay vigilant with a bill even if an upsetting section is struck. Sometimes the provision finds another way to get passed. The best quote: “the true test of influence isn’t being able to defeat a measure, but to get one passed.”

Safe, Sustainable, Social Rides

Boyd Safrit, Pamela Murray, and Mike Sule describe their experiences with organizing social rides in Charlotte and Asheville. They emphasize continuity above all else. Being able to keep a group of regulars allows the rides to maintain momentum even during the slower months. The regulars are useful to enforce protocols; Mike Suler enforces riding in complete compliance with the law: while traffic lights and stop signs break up groups, having a well-scouted route can provide regroup points, and regulars can shepherd the broken groups back into the ride. By building the goodwill with safe, legal riding, businesses buy in and can help sponsor things like brochures, maps, and web sites. They also emphasize “overcommunication”, using a listserv, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and smoke signals to get ride details to the group beforehand. Finally, keeping stats gives everyone an idea of what the ride entails: how many customers businesses along the route might expect, what sort of traffic burst a cycling convoy might cause, how much time a ride might take.

Keynote: Gil Penalosa

8-80 initiative emphasizes a city that accommodates mobility throughout the lifetime of its inhabitants. Penalosa laments that elders are a wasted resource: after 65 they often have another “career” worth of life expectancy, but the built environment exacerbates limited mobility and the sense of isolation that senior citizens experience. We learned how to survive, now we must learn how to live, and how do we WANT to live. Change is HARD, and CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people are everywhere, but politicians are elected to do SOMETHING, not nothing. Improving mobility isn’t a technical issue: we know the techniques of boosting public transit, carving space from cars back to people, and increasing density. Instead, it’s a political one. Penalosa concludes with 5 Elements of change:

  1. A Sense of Urgency
  2. Political Will
  3. Doers
  4. Leadership
  5. Citizen Engagement

Small Towns, Big Impacts

This panel described the early, authentic outreach that Wake Forest and Marion engaged in their projects to increase cycling. They were able to pursue grants that some cities don’t consider, such as Congestion Management/Air Quality funding.  Public-private partnerships helped Wake Forest publish its BikeWalkRun map with color coding for cyclist proficiency