Tyler Dewey, Executive Director of BikeAthens, joins us in a guest post to recap the 2017 National Bike Summit where women were in the spotlight and bikes are finally being viewed as change agents from all areas of society.
Memories of the National Bike Summit almost always fracture into a kaleidoscope of images — panels, dinners, jokes, new friends, and new stories. There is so much packed into the week, and it’s easy to succumb to sensory overload. But that is why we take notes.
Reviewing our 12 pages of hand-written reminders reveals two themes braided through our reflections on the 2017 Summit: 1) women creating their own communities, clubs, products, job, and inclusive “bike culture.” 2) bicycles being taken more seriously as change-agents and tools of community empowerment.
Monday’s opening Plenary featured stories from six women who blazed their own bike trails. The storytellers–Melissa Balmer, Monica Garrison, Barb Chamberlain, Maria Boustead, Timberly Jones, and Kit Keller–all discovered the joys of biking at different times and in different ways. But they are similar in that they use their passion for bikes to create entirely new roles for themselves and others.
We heard from more than just the women on stage. Throughout the summit, we learned from innovators like Jamie Gaskill-Fox from Fort Collins, who helped create the Bicycle Friendly Driver program. We talked with women leaders working to improve Pittsburgh, Baton Rouge, and South Carolina. And of course, we spent a lot of time with our fellow Georgians who inspired us with cool progress in Macon, Decatur, and Atlanta.
That inspiration was sorely needed too because make no mistake, it was a strange time to be in D.C. There have been a lot of shake-ups in bike advocacy at the national level (to say nothing of the political climate). Wednesday at the Summit was always the day we talk with our Legislators; however, this year no one knew when Congress would tackle a major infrastructure bill or what it might look like. Amid all of this confusion, there is one guide stone. Bicycles are tools of empowerment. Riding bikes as part of schools’ Physical Education programs improve standardized test scores and reduces behavioral problems. More people riding bikes means safer streets. In Atlanta and Carrollton, we’ve seen first hand how bike trails energize neighborhoods and spur development. These are facts.
This year, it is not just advocates who see these benefits. On the Hill, we heard staffers talk about the benefits of better places to bike. Many staffers ride bikes in D.C. but admitted their city is not known for bike safety. We were proud to cite the success of Atlanta’s Beltline as concrete proof of how active transportation projects improve the perception of a city. Georgia legislators see the increasing demand for safe places to walk and ride bikes, and they are seeing the positive transformations resulting from active transportation projects. Will this common understanding lead to more Federal support of biking and walking projects? Our Magic 8-ball says, “Cannot predict now.”
The future may be hazy at the Federal level, but our resolve has not wavered. As always, a week at the National Bike Summit, elbow to elbow with our favorite people, has re-energized us. We are more committed to our mission than ever. We are more certain biking, walking, and transit are the solutions to transportation needs, in Athens, and around the country.
You can also find selected sessions and photos on the Bike League’s website.