Trails in Indiana

National Bike Summit 2012 Washington, DC. March 20-22

Richard Vonnegut and Mario Vian of the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council joined eleven other Hoosiers, and more than 800 participants at the Grand Embassy Hotel for a noisy and focused gathering of bike believers caught in the swirl of political frenzy over possible funding cuts in reauthorizing the National Transportation Bill.

The conference focused on maintaining the policy status and funding cycle for cycling (and walking, handicapped access) to the national transportation budget.  This element of funding first saw light during the George H. W. Bush administration which started funding these venues for the first time in U. S. history.  (Ironically, it was the League of American Wheelmen in the 1880’s  which first petitioned the government for road funding, before motorized mobility held it hostage.)

Such national groups as the League of American Bicyclists, Adventure Cycling, the Bikes Belong Coalition, the International Mountain Bicycling Association,  the National Bicycle Dealers Association, the U. S. Department of Transportation and  Federal Highway Administration and two dozen other bicycle related and corporate members joined with the Kimberly Clark Corporation to spearhead this event, focused on holding the line or increasing bike (and ped/handicapped) backing.

Political strategists, psychologists, bicycle manufacturers, planners, political and government figures all addressed the crowd during the summit. 

At Tuesday night’s dinner, following a troop challenging address by Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR),  Mark McKinnon, former presidential campaign and chief media advisor, enjoined attendees to know their message well  and be authentic in their presenting.

Wednesday’s prep talks for Thursday’s challenge to Capitol Hill included The Secretary of Transportation himself, Ray LaHood.  He encouraged the crowd to be direct in their presentations to members of Congress.  I thought that Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service was impressive.  He encouraged cycling and cited the United States Bicycle Route System as a significant contribution to the National Parks System in making available cycling connections.

The luncheon speaker that day, Jason Dorsey, the “Gen Y Guy”, made a valuable point in schooling the advocate audience: communication along generational lines can make a significant impact on your message.  The cross generational analysis of the cultural characteristics of the last four generations sent a clear message:  know the cultural bias and cultural assumptions of the audience age group you address.

Caucus work with the Indiana contingent of 13 cycling proponents and a former Indiana resident living in Colorado meant getting assignments to contact the Indiana representatives on the Hill.  Nancy Tibbett, Executive Director of Bicycle Indiana efficiently meted out the contact assignments.

Even though the Hoosier caucus was limited to discussing bicycling and trail issues with staffers of elected officials, just having the dialogues were refreshing and revealing.

Although the impact of the event moving any Congressional hearts over the issue of bike/ped funding, but the summit did bring at least brief attention to quieter, healthful means of moving along life’s highway.  The unseasonably warm weather perfectly complemented the cherry trees in full bloom.

As a curious sidebar event, Mario and Richard met with the Rails to Trails Conservancy at their headquarters in D.C. on Tuesday (3/20, afternoon) before the bike event.  Andy Strauss, an attorney and planner from New Jersey who we met at the National Archives in College Park, MD just outside D.C. alerted us to the meeting.  While the meeting itself concerned developing trails alongside active rail lines, Andy and I were hoping that developing a group to negotiate with railroads in railbanking issues might get serious topical consideration.  It didn’t. Meeting and networking with leading trail administrators along the East Coast was interesting and informative.

By Mario Vian

Edits by Richard Vonnegut