The post will be best appreciated with Battle Hymn of the Republic playing softly in the background.
I visited my elected representatives in Congress last week. I found the experience to be heartening. When we entered the first Congressional office building, I passed through a metal detector and my backpack was x-rayed.
But that was it. Once I got through security, I was free to roam the halls of the Capitol and its offices. Nobody asked me if I had an appointment–although Kristi and I did have appointments. I could have walked into the office of any Congressman or Senator and chatted up the staff for as long as they'd let me. I've encountered more security and scrutiny getting into convenience stores. I’ve encountered more obstinance ordering pizza.
The experience did great damage to my cynicism about government; made me feel that perhaps this country hasn't yet gone completely bonkers. Sure, I’d have been taken more seriously had I been pushing a wheelbarrow full of money. But still.
I’ve got my hunches.
Promoting cycling should be bi-partisan (or bike-partisan, as cycling wonks like to say), but it’s not–yet. The fact is, elected Democrats tend to support cycling more than elected Republicans.
Here are some bullets from BikePortland.org:
[T]here were 227 total co-sponsors of six different [pro-cycling] bills. Of those 227, all but nine are Democrats. There are only six Republicans members of Congress currently signed on as co-sponsors of all the major pending bike legislation in America. Here’s how it shakes out:
- The two Complete Streets bills (H.R. 1443, and S. 584) have 66 co-sponsors between them and not one of them is a Republican.
- The newly launched Active Community Transportation Act has six co-sponsors — all of them are Democrats.
- The Safe Routes to School bill (S. 1156) has 21 co-sponsors, all but four are Democrats.
- The Safe Routes to High Schools Act (H.R. 4021) has 21 co-sponsors; only two are Republican.
- The Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act (H.R. 3734) has 104 co-sponsors; 102 are Democrats and only two are Republican.
- The Land and Water Reauthorization and Funding Act (S. 2724) has nine co-sponsors. None of them are Republican.
Now let’s take a look at the bi-partisan Congressional Bike Caucus. This is the mission of the caucus:
To provide Congressional leadership in complementing the efforts of the millions of cyclists actively working for safer roads, more bikeways, convenient bike parking and increased recognition of the importance of cycling for transportation and recreation.
Hardly controversial stuff. So why is it that Republicans make up 56% of the House of Representatives, but only 23% of the Bike Caucus?
At the risk of sounding naive (again), I think it’s partly because constituents have not made the conservative case for cycling, and partly because bike advocates have tended to stress the issues that appeal more to Democrats (health and environmental benefits), and that is where the traction and momentum has remained.
You know how newly-converted cyclists are always saying they didn’t know how much fun it would be until they finally got off their butts and tried it? Advocacy is the same way. I encourage you to try it, if you haven’t yet. The League of American Bicyclists has an Advocacy Center, that is a good place to start.
On Friday I participated in Congressional Bike Ride in Support of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. I spent most of that ride talking to Tom Bowden, author of our popular article “How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative.”
After the ride, we pedaled over to Union Station and had a burritos. We talked about our experiences at the Bike Summit, and solved all the world’s problems. We concluded that cycling is one of those issues where people from different political perspectives can agree on the same solutions, but for different reasons. I want to save the environment. You want government to be more efficient. Kum-bike-ya.