From the Minnesota Bicycle Summit 2011
A key component of the 2011 Minnesota Bicycle Summit was advocacy. The event served as an opportunity for citizen advocates and community organizations to learn about current cycling issues in the state of Minnesota and federally, and whip up knowledge and enthusiasm for pushing the agenda of cycling as a mode of transport.
Gary Sjoquist of Bikes Belong and Quality Bicycle Products provided an update on cycling issues at the federal level. Gary pulled no punches and declared the federal situation “a mess.” More than 500 amendments have been proposed in the House of Representatives to reduce spending, and while bicycling has not yet been targeted… it’s probably just a matter of time. The goal of Bikes Belong and other national organizations is to build a “firewall” around the enhancements category in transportation spending. However, it is possible that everything but roads may be considered for cuts.
There are more than 85 new representatives in the House, many of whom have little political experience, may come from rural districts, and lack history on federal transportation funding. Bikes Belong and other organizations are trying to educate these new representatives quickly.
Meanwhile, the Senate is to introduce the new transportation bill next week. It is expected that Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) will propose an amendment that will make funding and spending on enhancements — basically, anything not a straight-up road — optional.
Gary emphasized that the federal situation is hour-by-hour, and that if citizen voices are needed organizations like the League of American Bicyclists and Bikes Belong will put out the word to request immediate phone calls and e-mails to legislators to try to protect cycling at the federal level. It’s a challenging situation, and still developing.
As part of the introduction of the state legislative agenda, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota Executive Director Dorian Grilley welcomed Patience Caso of the MN Environmental Partnership to discuss how to represent the issues at the Capitol. Patience emphasized the importance of being involved throughout the year, and not just during elections. Citizen voices can have a significant impact on dialogue at the Capitol.
Patience had 12 tips for dealing with legislators. Highlights include:
- Legislators are people too — be respectful, be polite, be punctual, and be direct.
- Treat legislative staff with respect, as their opinion is also important.
- Do not lie, make up information, or otherwise be a doof. If you don’t know something, say so and offer to follow up.
- Be as specific as possible — if there is an active bill, let them know its file number and status, if you know it (find out).
- Allow the legislator to ask questions and respond.
- Thank legislators for their support if it is offered or has been committed; be understanding if it is not.
- Be sure to follow up after the meeting with any information you promised, or with a thank you for the meeting and recapping the conversation and your position.
Dorian reviewed the key legislative priorities for the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota for 2011:
- Increase Careless Driving Penalties — Per previous coverage, the Bicycle Alliance is encouraging the passage of House File 68 and Senate File 201, which would increase the penalty for causing a death while committing a careless driving offense to a gross misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $3,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Present penalty is a misdemeanor, which carries a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail. The Bicycle Alliance also supports increasing penalties for causing great bodily harm and substantial bodily harm while committing a driving violation to a gross misdemeanor.
- Authorize the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) State Bikeway — MnDOT’s 2005 Bicycle Modal plan calls for a state Scenic Bikeway System, and estimates that 88% of the proposed 3,750 mile system is already suitable for bicycling. The system would require only minor improvements and signage to be complete. Authorization of the MRT would allow MnDOT to plan the route and work with other units of government on implementation of the system. There is strong public support for this system as demonstrated by public meetings, and the system will encourage bicycle tourism and recreation.
No specific bill is in place for this, but the system will be a part of MnDOT’s legislative proposal.
- Reauthorize Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) — Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program includes projects and programs to encourage and increase physical activity and reduce health care costs in the state. SHIP is implemented chiefly by city and county health departments via grants from the Minnesota Department of Health. Many grantees have used funds to encourage cycling and walking. The program was created in 2009 with a $47 million allocation; without reauthorization it will expire June 30, 2011. The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota urges the reauthorization of the program, with funding of $20 million/year for the next biennium.
- Fund Safe Routes to Schools Grants — Minnesota’s Safe Routes to Schools program is funded by federal program dollars. Approximately $1.5 million in grants are made to school districts each year to enhance local infrastructure and encourage children to bike or walk to school safely. MnDOT receives many more grant requests each year than can be funded. The Bicycle Alliance would like to see Minnesota provide additional program funds to meet more grant requests; however, in the absence of a boding bill this may not occur during this legislative session.
Multiple speakers emphasized the need to tie cycling investments to measurable return — increased tourism and industry revenues, reduced congestion, reduced health costs, and improved quality of life. Many attendees planned to call on their state senators and representatives in the afternoon to advocate for cycling. Others, unable to secure appointments, plan to write and call their legislators to do the same, and non-attendees are also encouraged to consider such action.