2018 National Bike Summit recap

By Karen Brooks

The League of American Bicyclists hosted a vibrant and vital National Bike Summit earlier this month in Washington, DC. This year’s theme of “Grass Roots Grow Together” was particularly apt—the current bike-friendliness of the national government is uncertain at best, but through workshops, speeches, and lots of positive examples, attendees took away the message that the most powerful changes happen on the local level.

I kicked off my Summit experience with a cool Mobile Workshop—a tour of the University of Maryland via bike share. UMD’s College Park campus has been part of the League’s Bicycle Friendly Community program since 2011 and is currently at the Gold level, part of a select group of only 20 universities to earn this status. The tour was a great example of what making space for bikes can do for a university or town: there’s much less pressure for space for parked cars, students can get to class quickly, and connections to transit options are easier. The UMD program includes an on-campus bike shop, staffed by student workers, that offers basic repairs and accessories. There’s also a recreational aspect, with mountain bikes for rent and group rides on local trails. The best part was the bike share system—23 stations offer handy bikes (and easy parking) throughout campus.

Mealtimes were a chance to meet fellow advocates and find out what’s going on across the country while gleaning valuable nuggets of inspiration and wisdom from keynote speakers. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced a new multi-modal report from the Department of Transportation—this may sound boring, but it’s the first time that this DOT has paid much attention to bicycling. Our favorite “bike-partisan” representative, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, reminded us that, of transportation choices, cycling has the highest rate of return for investment. Veronica Davis, the founder of Black Women Bike DC, told the audience she was heartened to see kids out riding bike-share bikes around the city.

The most valuable session I attended was the last in my schedule, “Creating Representation of Diversity Through Content Creation.” The presenter, Ayesha McGowan, is on a mission to become the first African-American pro road cyclist in the United States and to inspire other bike riders along the way. (Check out her site, A Quick Brown Fox, for more info). Ms. McGowan led the audience through exercises and taught via examples in what felt more like a graduate-level class than a presentation, designed to lead us to see different ways that an individual’s story can be told and to think about how best to do so without distorting or tokenizing their experiences. Some of the media examples she provided were downright painful, while others seemed OK on the surface until we began to delve deeper into possible implicit biases of the producers.

There is one notable absence at the National Bike Summit, this year as well as others: the bike industry. Aside from a few loyal supporters and sponsors (shoutout to Advanced Sports International, which always has a presence), there are very few bike companies who take the time to attend the Summit, to their detriment. It’s clear that with mini-revolutions like bike share, and communities cooperating to transform into bike-friendly places, people want to ride. But the typical industry stance is to preach the benefits of the next micro-trend product to an ever-shrinking choir, while largely ignoring the crucial work that goes on to ensure that there are places to use a bike. I challenge more bike companies to send people next year and promise you’ll learn a lot.

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