Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Biking heroes of politics ride forth this week

September 16, 2011 - 12:12 PM
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(Photo: flickr/tvol)

It's oddly fitting that on the week Chuck Thies writes of "The War on Automobiles" over on the Huffington Post's new D.C. page, some of the District's real biking heroes have emerged to tackle genuine issues — and ones that hardly do anything to further a "war" against cars. That's tired rhetoric that takes away from understanding the dimensions of transit and smart growth that accompany these biking issues, and it's a shame to diminish them with such a binary way of thinking. Cars vs. bikes? We can do better than that.

Mere days before Capital Bikeshare turns one year old, here's how biking got political as of this past week:

• Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells has continued to earn a healthy share of good will lately, despite the political committee reshuffling of early this summer. This very morning, he announced plans to cook in front of the Wilson Building as part of Park(ing) Day. Here's a photo of the gathering.

What's really news, however, is that Wells has voiced support for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's cyclist anti-harassment legislation and may propose it as soon as Tuesday, according to WAMU.  Wells will co-introduce the bill with Ward 2's Jack Evans and Ward 1's Jim Graham. The legislation would give cyclists better protection and legal recourse against drivers who intentionally harass or assault them on the road. The idea of such a bill has gathered momentum as the result of a video depicting just such an assault on a cyclist riding along Rhode Island Avenue, which WABA unveiled earlier this month.

• Multiple U.S. Congress members have now voiced support for adding Capital Bikeshare stations to the National Mall. The National Park Service had resisted the move until recently, and the Congressional letter of support for the bikeshare stations is a further important push to ensure that these bikeshare stations are eventually installed. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) in addition to Reps. James P. Moran (D-Va.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)., Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Tom Petri (R-Wis. ) signed the letter, according to a Post report yesterday.

Blumenauer, as I talked about before, is the founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus. Hopefully adding the bikeshare stations to the Mall will ease tensions between D.C. bicyclists and NPS.

• National tension also rose this month as funding for biking and pedestrian projects came into question. Would Congress cut the Transportation Enhancement funds in the highway bill as politicians battled over its extensions and long-term form? Just maybe. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) in particular has been resisting those funds.

But other senators have fought back vocally — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and others have stood up for Transportation Enhancement funds. According to The Hill, Reid said recently about Coburn's objections: "[Coburn] says that he doesn’t like bicycle paths being part of the highway bill. Well, for most Americans, they are absolutely important. It’s good for purposes of allowing people to travel without burning all the fossil fuel on the highways."

Taken together, these moves represent a large and impressive step forward on these biking issues in the face of rather stark objection from detractors. Many comments about the startling cyclist assault video that WABA released didn't see the motorist as particularly at fault for hitting the bicyclist. But are these proposals so wrong? I can see the case against WABA's new legislation — why not better enforce existing laws rather than pass something new? many might say — but most of the above is a natural extension toward our cultural shifts toward more biking and bike commuting that has emerged in the last decade.

Don't believe the trend? New York City is planning to unleash 10,000 bikes onto its streets through a new bikesharing program in 2012. Biking issues are officially everybody's issues.

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