Together We Lead: PEC Attends National Bike Summit

The 2016 National Bike Summit & Women’s Forum is the premier bicycle advocacy event of the year.

Tony Spagnoli, Program Manager, Trails & Recreation

Hosted annually in Washington D.C., the Summit has shown real impact in leveraging increased investments in bicycling at the federal, state, and local levels. This year’s event had added significance, as PEC sent three staff members to the event for the first time in order to learn and bring back useful information that will help transform our state into a place that welcomes cyclists of all levels and abilities.

The theme of the 2016 Summit was “Together We Lead,” and along with my fellow PEC staffers Frank Maguire and Lizzie Hessek, we tried to bring back actionable strategies to help PEC as we aim to be a statewide leader in trail building.

There were a number of themes that seemed to reoccur throughout the conference’s three days from March 7-9, and I wanted to explore a few of those topics and how they were interpreted by each PEC staff member.

Equity in Disadvantaged Communities

Tamika Butler, Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LCBC) spoke about understanding systematic problems that keep residents from getting on a bicycle. For example, LCBC was not holding training sessions in South Los Angeles because of limited transit access. Trains don’t go to South Los Angeles because the neighborhood has been systematically disinvested in for decades. When LCBC decided to start holding training sessions there despite that fact, it addressed the issue and gave the neighborhood respite from the problem by explaining and providing training on using a bicycle as alternative transportation.

Bike Summit logoIn another session, we were shown a screening of the short film “Mama Agatha.” The film tells the story of a 59-year-old Ghanaian refugee in Amsterdam who teaches learn-to-ride classes for other migrant women. It explores how our sense of security is connected to our sense of ownership of the public space. By training refugees to ride a bicycle they were able to give a group of women a sense of community in a place they might otherwise feel lost. And in Amsterdam, where bike transit makes up 32 percent of all trips, it helped to connect the refugees with important resources around their new city.

Similarly, the Nice Ride Neighborhood Program (part of the Nice Ride bikeshare system) was implemented as a starting point for growing a community of people on bikes in underserved neighborhoods around Minneapolis-St. Paul. Many of these neighborhoods have histories of disinvestment and separation due to heavy highway infrastructure and inequitable development.

The panel explained how they used small group classes, targeted particularly at older populations (many of whom had never learned to ride a bike) and walked them through the process of riding, commuting, and generally using their bike as a recreational and utility machine in order to better connect them to their city. The program offered attractive incentives which helped draw a large community of support. First, they were loaned bike share bicycles for a three-month period to practice on. If they showed up to each weekly class they were given prizes like helmets and if they completed each course they were given a $200 credit towards the purchase of a bike.

Using Bicycle Tourism to Spur Economic Development

Ginny Sullivan of Adventure Cycling made the argument for bicycle tourism as disbursed tourism. The company did a survey with the Montana Office of Tourism that showed that while car tourists hit the “hot spots”, bike tourists also visit small towns off the beaten path. Adventure Cycling used this research to change state park policies and have seen more communities cater to touring cyclists.

On the other side of the country we heard a case study about the Silver Comet Trail, a multi-use trail that runs 95 miles from Atlanta to Anniston, Ala. Two million users annually contribute to $57 million in direct spending and $182 million in property value increase. Brent Buice from the Georgia Bicycle Alliance noted that “real estate developers are treating the trail in the same way they sell river frontage.” A 66-mile extension to Chattanooga Tenn., is expected to create an $86 million increase, also linking to Atlanta’s Beltway.

Health and Wellness through Bicycling

The University of South Carolina’s Morgan Clenin implored session attendees to build a message that resonates with target audiences. She showed that in surveys, there is an awareness at an individual level of a need for physical activity, but it hasn’t led to action. Traditionally, policy actions have changed behavior, but the political climate right now doesn’t allow for it. She suggested a number of ways we could craft a message that resonated better with our audience.

  • Use simpler terms, (walkers vs pedestrians).
  • Health and safety are better messages together than health alone.
  • A list of facts and stats aren’t believed, but a single powerful fact resonates.
  • Roads, parks, and bicycles need to be a part of the physical activity conversation facilities (like gyms) that are often seen as a solution, but the reality is it’s the daily small changes to lifestyle that will make a difference.
  • The amount of leisure time hasn’t changed, but the physical activity of our daily routines have. Our engineered environment makes us sedentary.
  • Local neighborhood changes make more of a difference than larger centralized projects.

In a session about using electronics like vehicle safety systems and electric bicycles (eBikes), we learned from representatives from Bosch and Delphi about how eBikes can lead to an increase in ridership well over the normal weekly average. In a study with the University of Washington, a survey of eBike users found they rode an average of 3.5 days per week, compared with just one day per week on a conventional bike. The same study also found that more than 70 percent of eBike users bought it specifically to “replace some car trips.” This fact astounded many in the audience and gave us a different perspective on the practical use of electric assist bicycles.

Together We Lead

As PEC strives to be a leader in bicycle projects across the state of Pennsylvania (and beyond) we use opportunities like the Bicycle Summit to expand our knowledge, network with others doing amazing work, and bring back ideas which will get more Pennsylvanians outdoors. Together, with our state’s bountiful resources, hundreds of miles of trails, and active public we believe that we can lead the nation in outdoor recreation!