A couple weeks ago, my colleague at the League of American Bicyclists, Meghan Cahill, tried to convey the power of the pin. They may be plastic and, yep, they’re neon, but people go crazy for those little bike pins, she told me.
Last week, as I lobbied with the Missouri delegation on Capitol Hill, I saw that love affair first hand.
Everybody wanted a bike pin: receptionists, lobbyists, even random people in the elevator. We gave one to the staffer in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office, who told us he rides to work everyday on Capital Bikeshare. We gave a handful to an assistant in Rep. Jo Ann Emerson’s office, who told us she owned a Trek and needed a couple extra for brothers who ride centuries. We dug in our bags and raided our own lapels to make sure the entire staff in Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s office had a way to showcase their boss’ incredible and continued support.
In the halls of the Senate and House office buildings, I saw bicycles pinned to countless suit jackets — and not just those of fellow National Bike Summit attendees. Those cheap plastic pins revealed something priceless: the near-universal appeal and affection for the simple act of bicycling.
That’s not to say our members of Congress were willing to commit to supporting continued dedicated funding for biking and walking programs. Many of the staffers told us they were with us on the benefits of active transportation but, facing a crushing deficit, they couldn’t commit to protecting any program no matter how valuable. So, while I was on cloud nine seeing all those bike pins, I know we need to get grounded for some serious work in the coming weeks and months.
We know we have an impact. Last month, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when our programs weren’t attacked in the hundreds of amendments to the 2011 House budget. That wasn’t dumb luck; that was the result of local and state advocates engaging their members of Congress in dozens of in-district meetings, highlighting the benefits of bicycling and, perhaps more importantly, showcasing the strong, influential constituency of our growing, bi-partisan movement. Alliance member organizations certainly led the way.
Late last year, America Bikes organized a national push to educate members of Congress in 182 key districts. Alliance leaders stepped up, committing to organize meetings in 86 key Congressional districts in 20 different states. So far, 25 have held meetings, 14 have scheduled meetings and 32 have meeting requests into their members’ offices. Those opportunities for education and relationship building are still more critical than ever. Though we dodged one ax in the House, we're not out of the woodshed yet — not by a long shot.
I wasn't the only one inspired by seeing the halls lit up with those neon bike pins. And I know, when our members of Congress start making tough decision in the 2012 budget and the next transportation bill, I won't be alone in making sure those members remember the critical programs and unified movement those popular pins represent.
Photo: League of American Bicyclists