Saturday, March 17, 2007

2007 National Bike Summit

This past week, I had the chance to live the life of a political lobbyist in Washington DC. Given the fact that I am really not all that much into politics, that entire sentence just seems like a giant personal contradiction!

I was invited, along with my collegue Tim "Masi Guy" Jackson, to attend the National Bike Summit in Washington DC as the guests of the esteemed bicycle advocacy organization, Bikes Belong. I was just one of about 450 attendees from all over the nation who came to learn more about bicycle advocacy issues, be educated on how to lobby Congressmen/women and Senators about our issues, and then take the message straight to Capitol Hill.

The trip to DC was long but thankfully uneventful. After about 12 hours worth of flying and airport layovers, we landed in an unseasonably warm DC. Despite being tired and hungry, we managed to make it to our hotel via the Metro without even getting lost. Off to a good start.

View inside the Metro station

The next day started early as we needed to catch the Metro over to the Ronald Reagan Building/International Trade Center to attend our first day of meetings which started at about 7am. As we walked into the courtyard, it was suddenly very clear that we were indeed in the nation's capitol. The architecture is very much like so many of the other buildings in DC...stately, sophisticated, and powerful. Of course, the interior was equally impressive...lots of glass, metal, and marble. There was even a colorful piece of the Berlin Wall stationed right inside the front entrance.

The first day consisted of a series of "breakout sessions" where you can pick and choose from a variety of topics. In the morning, I chose to attend sessions presented by IMBA. After lunch, I attended a session that discussed the economic benefits of cycling. The day wrapped up with some advocacy training and a recap of the 5 basic "asks" that we were going to be lobbying members of Congress and the Senate for. So what are those "asks"? Funny you should mention it...

  • Support of the Bicycle Commuter Act. Currently, people who use forms of public transportation such as metro, subway, vanpool, and bus are eligible for a tax-exempt benefit of up to $110 per month from their employers who chose to participate in the program. Employers receive a tax benefit in exchange for offering this fringe benefit to their employees. There is a bill in both the House and the Senate that is seeking to change the way the current tax code is written to extend the definition of "transportation" to include "bicycles".

  • Fully fund the "Conserve by Bicycling" program. The 2005 Energy Policy Act established a program to determine the potential energy savings and impact of switching certain car trips to bicycle trips. The bill was passed, but the funds have not yet been appropriated for this program.

  • Preserve bicycle access in natural areas and increase funding for the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) wants to see alternatives to protecting land that will allow continued access to bikes. Wilderness Area designation does not allow for bicycle access; IMBA supports different designations such as National Scenic Area, National Portection Area, etc. that will offer equal or greater land protection without prohibiting bicycle use. IMBA would also like to see Congress increase Funding for the RTCA program to $12 million. This program's funds are used to restore river and wildlife habitat, develop and maintain trails, and preserve open space.

  • Join the Congressional Bike Caucus. The more involved members of Congress are with cycling-related issues, the more likely they will be to support cycling initiatives. Currently, there are 140 House members and 16 Senators in the Caucus.

  • Support the US Bicycle Route Network. There are plans in the works to establish a series of interconnected urban/rural bike routes thoughout the nation similar to those being created in Europe, South America, and Canada.

Whew! That's a lot of issues and a lot to learn in one day. On that note, we were released for the day with instructions to go back to our hotels, read up on these issues, and be prepared to discuss them with the Congressional and Senatorial staffers we met with the next day on Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill!!! How many people can say they've lobbied on the Hill before? Pretty cool.

As smooth as the first couple of days went, getting to Capitol Hill the next day was a complete cluster. A fire on the Red Line of the Metro (our line) shut the damn thing down moments before we were walking into the Metro station. Two hours later, we arrived at our destination but missed breakfast and the opening speakers. But, the show goes on as we immediately got into our little groups organized by state and hit the halls. The first few meetings were unscheduled and what are known as "drive-bys" where you stop by the Congressman/woman's office and ask to meet with one of their staffers (rarely do you ever get to meet with the Congress member). With apropriations meetings happening on that day, we pretty much struck out each time; not one staffer was available. In cases like this, we briefed the receptionist about who we were, what we were asking for, and asked to leave behind some information.

Later that afternoon, we had meetings scheduled with staffers from both Sen. Barbara Boxer's and Sen. Diane Feinstein's offices. We met with Sen. Boxer's staffer in one of the Senatorial hearing rooms. It felt so official and made you wonder what types of other hearings happened in that room over time.

Sen. Boxer's staffer, Ken Kopocis speaks to the CA group.

For the meeting with Sen. Feinstein's staffer, we actually got to meet in her office. It was pretty cool to look around the office and see pictures of her with other politicians and family members. It really made you feel like you were seeing something not too many other people have had the fortune to see. Sen. Feinstein's staffer, Kit Batten, was really cool. She was a cyclist herself and seemed to be really interested in what we had to say and the issues we were presenting.

After the 2 meetings with the Senator's we had a really nice reception in the Russell Senate Office Building Caucus Room. Typical fare like beer, wine, cocktails, and appetizers...only all the trashcans in the room had were imprinted with the official US Senate logo on them. Very impressive...and the food wasn't bad either.

Reception in the Russell Senate Building

And on that note, that's a wrap on the Summit. After we had our fill of wine and little snacks, we headed back to the hotel (in the RAIN) so we could pack our bags to head home early the next morning.

I can definitely say I walked away from this event with a much better understanding of the way our government works. More importantly as it pertains to my industry and my passion for cycling, I came away with the desire to be a better cycling advocate both personally and professionally. I will save those particular topics for another time as I have already taken up so much of your time with this hideously long post. I will leave with with a few random pics from the trip, including one of me in a suit. And that, my friends, is something you don't see very often so you better take a look while you can.



Donna Tocci said...

Great post, Jill. Thanks for the update, and for going and representing the industry so well.

Fritz said...

Thanks for the report and the photo journal too!

T-Guy J said...

Thanks for taking part in such an important event. The Bike Summit will hopefully go a long way in creating new policies to benefit the entire bike community.

Thanks again

Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Ha, ha, ha... you had to wear a suit! Wait, so did I... DAMN!

jill hamilton said...

Wow! I'm actually getting some readers. Thanks for the kind words guys (and gal)!

Howard said...

Great post! Did you, um, reward yourself with any cool Senate related stuff like one of the trashcans?

jill hamilton said...

Ha ha ha! If I could have easily fit one in my suitcase. They were pretty cool.

Dongoose said...

Hey Haro-ites...Thanks for attending the was great hanging with you. Look out for the white squirrels!
Don from Bell

Priscilla said...

Thankz for sharing Jill. It's easy to take a lot of these bike laws and bills for granted. Amazing to hear a little of what goes on behind the scenes to make it all happen.

Mark Davidson said...

Hi Jill,

I just found this blog from the "Go Clipless" blog that I subscribe to. I really enjoyed reading your account of the Washington Summit. I wish I could have written up my thoughts in such detail for a blog and perhaps I will someday.

Here are some more pictures from that event last month:

It was great to meet you!