The Spirit of the Movement: Change Comes from Local Bike Summits

Next month, the National Bike Summit will take place in Washington D.C. For two and a half days, over 700  “bike people” will descend upon our nation’s capital and will join together to celebrate all we’ve done to increase the number of cyclists around our country. We will strategize about the current challenges we are facing, and we will meet with our elected officials to ask for additional policy support to make it easier to create safe places to ride.

This is the big league, and our nation’s leaders who have “been there, done that” will spread their knowledge and share their battle wounds. It’s an impressive feat to see the large room of advocates, retail dealers, the bike industry and local officials working together to achieve a common goal—the bright colored bike pins show our unity and give a sense of whim and delight to our message. But, overall, this is where the serious business gets done.

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege to participate in a number of state bike summits across the country. And, with no disrespect to the important role of the National Bike Summit, I’ve concluded that the real magic of the bike movement is taking place at local summits across the country. I know, a bold statement, right? But, here’s my rationale:

The spirit

Every local summit has the feel of a big family reunion, and the spirit of “togetherness” comes through loud and clear. These are exciting times for the bike advocacy movement, and that spirit bubbles through the rooms. I love to see the successes, and to hear the battle stories of how pioneering bike projects got accomplished. People just “got stuff done” and then asked for forgiveness later. As an example, in Memphis, TN, local advocates put their first bike lane down on the street with a couple cans of paint from Home Depot. It feels a bit like a bunch of high schoolers who got away with their senior prank. But, better—because these sneaky projects resulted in more bikes. And now the cities are embracing the movement and asking for help in getting more accomplished. That sense of accomplishment hangs in the air and always leads to very funny stories over a beer at the opening reception. I love each and every story.

Wisconsin Bike Summit
Wisconsin Bike Summit

The Innovation

Pulling from best practices and learned experiences, communities are getting the most up-to-date technical assistance and guidance from leaders like the League of American Bicyclists and People for Bikes’ Green Lane Cities to learn what really can move the needle in areas such as infrastructure design, funding tools, and user experience. With this knowledge, these communities can cherry pick their approach and can use a much more educated decision making process in their design and product selection. Many cities are working on increasing safety features in their designs and adding amenities like public maintenance and air pumps into their public space—these are elements that used to be seen as the icing on the cake. But now, I’m seeing cities that are starting from a much higher, more sophisticated space to work from and unexpected places are quickly becoming places that are looked at for inspiration. Take Tulsa, OK—this emerging city has an extensive off street network (River Parks bike trail) that would make any city drool. The ten mile network allows riders to get into the downtown without having to navigate city streets.

Oklahoma Bike Summit
Oklahoma Bike Summit

The unlikely pairings

On a national level, a lot of effort is put in to connecting the advocates with the bike industry, the government officials, and engineers. It seems like we all still have our silos in which we work. I notice at local bike summits, it’s a much more cohesive integration between the groups. So often, the bike shop owner serves on the community bike council and works hard on securing funding and making selections in the products used in the community and may be the local advocate as well. All hands on deck on the local level make a cohesive group working together. I’d love to see this model scale more easily to the national level!

So, with all these charming aspects and positive momentum of the local bike summit, I’m torn in my own mind to answer the looming question—which is better and more effective. I’m giving my best political response (though in this instance, I truly believe it): Both local and national bike summits are necessary and both need support, attendance and individual ownership. Increasing the number of bikes can only happen if we hit the gas on all levels. Please join me in celebrating and encouraging the huge amount of effort that goes into planning and executing these events. It’s the future and the mainstream.

National Bike Summit
National Bike Summit

Upcoming local bike summits:

 - Sarah Reiter, Saris Parking Category Manager

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