By Susan Grasso, Complete Streets Associate
Day 1 of the LAB National Bike Summit took place on a beautiful sunny and warm day in DC with cherry blossoms abounding - a real taste of spring! I borrowed my daughter's bike for a safe and pleasant 2 mile ride to the National Union Building (which is next to the amazing National Portrait Gallery), took advantage of the League's pop up indoor valet bike parking, and began a full day of sessions in the LAB Active Transportation Leadership Institute (ATLI).
The ATLI is an opportunity for LAB leadership to share and groundtruth new policy positions and research plans with advocates around the country. The meetings were discussion based and, boy, do bike advocates have a lot on their minds! One area the LAB is considering beginning to tackle is developing a national strategy to reduce speed limits. Their first step is to understand the widely-varying traffic speed laws across the country, so keep an eye out for this research. They are also seeking to improve their national benchmarking reports by adding a measure that quantifies the quality of bike networks. Lastly, in the third session I attended, they brought participants up to speed on autonomous vehicle legislation and participants explored what an autonomous future means for people who walk and bike. I rounded out the day by learning about the League's resource for helping local advocates choose and successfully implement a project, and then listening to a panel of advocates discuss some alarming examples of where hate speech and threats have been used to reduce the quality or even eliminate bike facilities. There remains much work to be done!
It's been wonderful to meet so many passionate advocates working to promote conditions for people who bike. I've talked to folks from Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; Brookline, MA; Illinois and more, and heard about the different problems these places face, ways in which their organizations function, and strategies they are utilizing. I'll be bringing some of those ideas back home with me to Local Motion!
Day 2 of the National Bike Summit began for me with a three hour Tactical Urbanism excursion around D.C. The big takeaways? Protection is the goal. Rapid implementation is the approach. In D.C. they avoid the dilemma of our long planning, design and build process which often leads to the implementation of outdated car-centered (instead of people-centered) street designs. By working within street curbs and using inexpensive materials, space can quickly be created for people who bike. Upgrades then happen over time. The ride gave participants the chance to see examples of this approach, and physically experience how design choices affect cycling comfort (bike lane widths, type of protection, type of curbing, intersection crossings). It was great.
The afternoon sessions began with an opening plenary that highlighted the Federal Highway Administration's goals to eliminate transportation-related fatalities and inequities. Never before has there been such unity of mind on what needs to be done nor the federal resources to get there. After that, I heard speakers from the IIHS (an independent research organization on traffic safety); the NYC's Fleet Management program, and the Twenty is Plenty campaign share their approaches to managing speeds of motor vehicles, which has been shown to improve the safety of all people using the roads regardless of whether one is driving, biking, walking or rolling. My day concluded with learning about new technology to improve bike safety - from improved dashcam systems for reporting problems in the bike network to smart sensing technology that informs the cyclist about approaching vehicles.
March 28th was the last day of organized sessions at the National Bike Summit. In the morning, I participated in a work session that focused on how to provide local communities with technical assistance to implement bike network projects. The speaker lineup was terrific, including the architect of the Safe Streets for All grant program and the manager of the CDC's Active People Healthy Nation program among others. We brainstormed ways the FHWA, CDC and other agencies can better support local communities, who often lack the resources and capacity to apply for and manage federal funding. But the direction is clear from Washington - biking (and walking) are good for the people of this nation and they support our efforts to make it safer and more accessible for everyone.
In the afternoon, I took advantage of another learn while you ride session, this time led by the DC Department of Transportation and the Dutch Cycling Embassy. With 40 cyclists in attendance we rode mostly on protected bike infrastructure, but took the lane on Pennsylvania Ave, where we learned of plans to upgrade it for biking in the near future. One takeaway - the Dutch are not impressed with DC's centerline running protected bike lanes!
The day ended with a plenary given by Tim Carney, a Senior Fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, who shared his thoughts on arguments for promoting better walking and biking conditions that best resonate with a conservative frame of mind. Those arguments centered on family - safe bike networks help busy parents by allowing kids to travel to destinations on their own. They also help build confidence in kids, or just provide an inexpensive outdoor activity that allows families to spend time together. Other well-received approaches include biking as a healthy activity, as well as the need for safe biking facilities to help promote equity in transportation.
The last day of the LAB's National Bike Summit always ends with Lobby Day - a visit to Congressional representatives by summit participants. Imet with legislative staff from the offices of Senators Sanders and Welch and new member House Representative Balint to ask for support for three federal policy actions.
The first federal "ask" involves an action to reduce the disproportionate impact of truck crashes on vulnerable road users, particularly people who ride bikes. Trucks account for only 4% of vehicles on the road, but are responsible for 11% of cyclist fatalities across the nation. In Vermont, truck crashes account for 11% of combined bicycle/pedestrian deaths. These fatalities are primarily caused by air pressure differentials that suck vulnerable road users (if hit or too close to the vehicle) under the truck carriage, with death following by being run over. By adding appropriately designed lateral side guards to trucks to prevent these vulnerable road users from being trapped underneath trucks, these fatalities could be reduced by roughly 60%. While the last federal highway bill calls for the USDOT to conduct research into the need and design for lateral side guards to prevent underriding of cars, which is also a significant cause of motorist fatalities, the bill did not include vulnerable road users. The request, therefore, is for expanding the scope of that research to include people walking or biking, with the hope that lateral side guards will be required for trucks in the US, as it is in almost 50 other countries.
The second request is for members of Congress to support (and sign on as co-sponsors) the new e-bike bill. This federal bill would provide rebates of 30% of the cost of an e-bike (capped at a maximum of $1500). The bill includes income caps to make sure that the benefit targets those who need it most. Single filers must earn at or below $150,000; heads of households $225,000; and joint filers $300,000.
The final request is for legislators to co-sponsor a new bill that would fix an unexpected problem in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). A major goal of the IIJA is to invest in roadway improvements to prevent the annual loss of more than 40,000 Americans each year in traffic fatalities, losses of life that are overrepresented by people who walk and bike. To accomplish this, the Act provides a key new tool which allows state DOTs to use funding from the Highway Safety Improvement Program as the local match for the Transportation Alternatives Program, a federal program which is a primary source for local bike/ped projects. The current wording of the provision, however, does not sufficiently clarify this intent to state DOTs, and the request to our legislators is that they fix that, so dollars can begin flowing to local communities to help them advance their safety-related transportation projects.
The LAB National Bike Summit provided a lot of helpful information for bike advocates as well as opportunities to hear perspectives from like-minded folks around the country. The next task here at Local Motion will be to think about how this new learning can be operationalized to help all of us in our work make it easier for people to choose to bike (or walk) for transportation or recreation purposes. Stay tuned!
Post script: The truck safety side guard letter garnered 12 signers from the Senate, including both Vermont Senators Sanders and Welch. This is a great response and we sincerely thank the senators for this support!
Susan Grasso is the Complete Streets Program Associate at Local Motion, and works as part of our Complete Streets team to help build places where everyone can discover the harmony created by walkable and bikeable lifestyles. Learn more about Susan by visiting localmotion.org/meet_our_staff.
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