This article was also posted to the Bikeleague website.
Yesterday marked a major advance for the bicycle advocacy community in Richmond, Va., the Commonwealth of Virginia, and, I would argue, for the nation as a whole.
Along with representatives of numerous pro-bike advocacy groups, and more importantly, transportation planners and administrators from the City of Richmond, and the surrounding counties of Henrico, Hanover and Chesterfield, I was invited by Richmond Sports Backers to tour the growing bicycle infrastructure in our nation’s capital and neighboring Arlington.
It was a long day, and we saw many impressive sights, but not the usual ones you associate with a field trip to Washington D.C. Every year, millions of tourists travel to Washington to stare upward at the gleaming monuments and across long vistas, but for the most part our eyes were firmly planted on the streets below our feet and our wheels, and the many wondrous new lines, symbols and devices that proclaim Washington and Arlington as emerging world class bike-friendly cities.
Space does not permit me to describe them all, but it was encouraging and educational to see what can be accomplished with the existing streets in a major U.S. metropolis. Too often, we advocates hear “That’s fine for Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but it’s totally different here.” After yesterday’s trip, that kind of glib dismissal just won’t stand up anymore. I think many eyes and minds were opened to the possibilities for Richmond and for Virginia. The only thing standing between where we are and the kind of infrastructure in Arlington and DC is the will to act.
Had that been all we saw and learned yesterday, it would have been a huge success, but there was more to see and perhaps more profoundly, to hear. We had the honor of speaking with Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine over lunch, and, predictably, these two keen cyclists and former governors professed their strong support for our efforts, extolling the transformative and indisputably positive effects of more bike and pedestrian friendly communities.
But in many ways, the true highlight of the trip was our meeting with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). On the steps of the Capitol, he unequivocally declared his support for our efforts to build bikeable, walkable, livable communities. To the delight of everyone, he even alluded to his recent discussions with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the intellectual pillar of the Congressional Bike Caucus. He admitted that there was some bridge building to do, but his willingness to embrace the goal was good news.
To some, Mr. Cantor’s statement was a surprise, to others, a welcome confirmation, but for a few of us, it was the culmination of a long process of constructive dialog, begun by VBF President Champe Burnley several years ago, with support and participation by other advocates.
Time will tell whether Mr. Cantor will find new ways to help advance our shared agenda, and many will remain skeptical until they see concrete action. From my perspective, this was a major milestone, and I look forward to more opportunities to engage with representatives of all political stripes, because when it comes to the subject of cycling, the spin is all good.