CalBike & LACBC Bike Summit a Success!

Bike Summit 2011 panel
CBC Executive Director Dave Snyder presides over a morning panel discussion: CBC's Advocacy and Capacity.

Last weekend the California Bicycle Coalition (CBC) and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) organized a ‘bike summit’ for active transportation advocates here in Downtown Los Angeles. And we can call it a success: about 150 attendees filled the Kyoto Grand Hotel ballroom to hear from state-level advocates and nonprofit leaders about the year we’ve left behind, and the year in organizing that lies ahead.

Conference panels included ‘Getting Your Message Out,’ ‘Sustainable Community Strategies and Regional Transportation Plans,’ ‘Best Practices in Membership Development,’ and ‘Bike Friendly Business District.’ (There were other panels too: see the conference program for panels and participants and have a look at Bike San Diego’s useful Recap of 2011 California Bike Summit.)

Bike Summit 2011 Charles Gandy in Regional panel
Long Beach's Charlie Gandy keeps the SoCal regionals breakout sesson focused!

For this Westside LA cyclist and organizer, a high point came early when the conference kicked off with a Friday session that convened Southern California advocates to talk about their priority issues.

Every Southland road-warrior knows how such problems relegate us to second-class road users. Led by Long Beach‘s mobility coordinator and bike advocate extraordinaire, Charlie Gandy, the gripes came tumbling out:

Poorly-educated drivers and a low bar for licensing (unlike Europe);

  • A dearth of dedicated cycling facilities and infrastructure;
  • Cops not familiar with how the vehicle code treats cyclists (like other vehicles) yet recognizes exceptions (we must ride ride except when in a ‘substandard’ width lane or where ‘not practicable’); and,
  • Local ordinances that vary from locality to locality and that put cyclists at a unique disadvantage relative to motorists (who merely follow the vehicular code) when moving across our multi-nucleated metropolis.

And many, many more. What was so impressive from this ad-hoc brain trust was the truly imaginative solutions on offer:

  • Early mobility education for kids instead of ‘driver’s education’ for motorists (as if there weren’t any other kind of road user);
  • Rationally rethinking speed limits (in lieu of our current process of notching up limits to the speed reached by 85% of drivers);
  • My own proposal for no-fault liability for collision injury or death (because fault is often difficult to assign or too easily evaded); and,
  • A big-picture campaign to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic fatalities called Vision Zero, offered by Ted Rogers of BikingInLA.

Ted, by the way, single-handedly keeps our community informed of tragic, avoidable loss-of-life and injury stories via his BikingInLA. Folks like him, convened at an event like the Summit, reminds us all how important it is work towards the common goals cited by session attendees. We could live in a better world today if even a few of the ideas expressed here were realized.

Saturday’s panels were kicked off by bike friend and State Senator from Long Beach, Alan Lowenthal, who proclaimed, “We’re right on the verge of doing great things!” before detailing Jerry Brown’s inexcusable veto of the cyclist-friendly SB910 legislation (aka three foot passing law). “The car-centric highway lobby is currently powerful,” he said. “Their position is, ‘We own the roads.’ The AAA goes right to the state agencies and the governor. As if the roads are not for all of the people of California.” He added, “Cycling is a major component of a sustainable society, but it  comes into conflict with their issues.”

Afternoon panels addressed transportation reform (with heavyweights Jessica Meaney of California Safe Routes Network and Graham Brownstein of TransForm); grassroots networks  with Dan Ward of Midnight Ridazz, Colin Bogart of LACBC, and Ben Guzman and Aurisha Smolarski of the Bicycle Kitchen; and Fundraising tactics with Ron Millam (co-founder of LACBC).

Bike Summit 2011 Chris Morfas
CBC Board President knows how to deliver a morale-building stemwinder!

The panels were bookended by general strategy sessions devoted to identifying and prioritizing transportation reform initiatives. Alexs Lantz, Policy Director (Streetsblog profile) for the LACBC sketched out the terrain while CBC Executive Director Dave Snyder and Board President (and loud-talker) Chris Morfas alternately cautioned of challenges yet rallied us on. “We are on the right side of history,” Snyder said. “Changes are coming.”

One of the most promising tools for leverage that change is Complete Streets. Again and again it surfaced at this policy-oriented Summit. Chris Morfas hailed it as “a compelling vision with a policy component” that may yet turn “battleship Caltrans.” He noted specific accomplishments like securing appointments for cycling reps on an important Caltrans facilities committee to remind us that change can happen. Yet these leaders made clear that we’re not merely snapping fingers to make a better world; we’ll have to organize in order to deliver safer streets and ultimately Ted’s Vision Zero for zero traffic fatalities.

That’s a goal that we can all get behind – and one we can eventually realize – if we in the cycling community collectively row with the beat laid down by the Summit.

If I have any suggestion to make, it would be to give us even more to chew on: organize panels around cases where specific advocacy messages resonated with policymakers and enabled new, pro-bike policies to be implemented. Or identify specific pressure points in Sacramento, the regional planning agencies, or local departments of transportation where we can target our efforts. We’re standing ready with torches and pitchforks, sure, but advocates will always benefit from tools crafted for maximum effectiveness.

Bike Summit 2011 Alexis Lantz and Martin Lopez-Lu
Alexis Lantz and Martin Lopez-Lu presiding over the registration table at the 2011 Bike Summit

In sum, maybe the most valuable aspect of Summit was re-establishing a connection between we cyclists on the ground and the advocates working on our behalf in the city halls and state capitol. It’s crucial that we support them, so point your browser over to the membership pages for the CBC and LACBC and let them know how much you appreciate them for organizing this mind-meld – and for their inspirational message and consistent efforts on our behalf.