Ketchum bike racers Rebecca Rusch and Greg Martin are greeted by Bikes Belong President Tim Blumenthal in Washington D.C. at the end of their 535-mile, five-day tour with Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington to join the National Bike Summit. Photo by Rebecca Rusch
As Congress wrestled over the future of surface transportation legislation prior to spring recess, Blaine County athletes Greg Martin and Rebecca Rusch hit the pavement on the Eastern Seaboard for a grueling 535-mile, five-day bike tour to help advocate for pro-bicycle funding.
"The first two days we rode about 125 miles. The third day was a little easier," Martin said.
He said about two dozen cyclists, including 10 riders from Idaho, stuck together much like a professional bike-racing team to reach the Capitol in time for the National Bike Summit.
"We stayed in hotels and had [bike component manufacturer] SRAM's support wagons," he said. "We weren't camping."
Rusch, a professional competitive mountain biker, and Martin, director of the Wood River Bike Coalition and trails coordinator for the Blaine County Recreation District, joined the Ride on Washington, an annual invitational ride in its second year of pushing for pro-bicycle legislation in Washington, D.C. The event was founded by national cyclocross champion Tim Johnson.
"This year's big push is to try to get a new bill," Martin said. "Before the Easter break, an initial bill in the House stripped all funding for recreational trails, Safe Routes to School and transportation enhancements. It never came to a vote. It was widely rejected by the public."
The threat of funding cuts for nonmotorized transportation set the mood of the ride, but a bike-supportive Senate bill did pass before the spring break. President Obama ultimately signed another three-month extension for current transportation law, which currently funds the Safe Routes to School program, Recreational Trails Program grants and transportation enhancements for bicyclists.
"It was a great trip," Martin said.
Martin said efforts like the ride he and Rusch joined help to push for more federal bicycling support. The ride was also a fundraiser for the Boulder, Colo.,-based advocacy group Bikes Belong. He said the riders raised more than $100,000 for the organization.
The race is now on for leaders to try to come up with long-term transportation solutions by summer, which is a core issue for Martin, Rusch and Johnson. The riders met in Boston and rode through Hartford, Conn., New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore on their way to two days of advocacy work in Washington, D.C. They attended a mix of engagements including bike industry presentations, dinners, receptions and sit-down meetings with staff members in the offices of Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, both R-Idaho.
"We went into a couple of meetings where staff said, 'We've got to get more chairs,'" Martin said. "It was great. They definitely listened to us. We had good representation and that felt good."
He said many questions remain about where legislation stands post-summit, but funding for existing programs is secured at previous levels at least until June.
"There is movement definitely towards something more sensible and you could feel that momentum," he said. "As mountain bikers, it was good to get involved in the process and be a part of something. We had good and productive conversations. Hopefully, we can keep talking and move something forward.
"It felt more like working toward consensus, especially where we were with the Senate having passed their bill. It helped lift the spirit of the day. Advocacy has a lot to be happy about, but there was a little bit of a panic when that first House bill passed, but it was an uplifting conference."
Since the Johnson ride to D.C., Bikes Belong has rolled out a new Green Lane Project—its selection of six focus cities out of a pool of 42 applicants "that will become national leaders in creating comfortable spaces for people on bikes over the next two years."
The Green Lane Project is being promoted in Austin, Texas, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where Bikes Belong is advocating for "installation of world-class bicycling facilities in the U.S."
"We're seeing an explosion of interest in making bicycling stress-free on busy city streets, " said Bikes Belong President Tim Blumenthal.
Project Director Martha Roskowski said the selected cities have "ambitious goals and a vision for bicycling supported by their elected officials and communities."
"They're poised to get projects on the ground quickly and will serve as excellent examples for other interested cities," Roskowski said. "What they share is a strong commitment to rethinking how city streets are used and making room for bicycles."
Martin said one of the highlights of the ride for him, in addition to visits to historic bicycle shops en route was a conversation he had at the summit with Advocacy Director Tom Archer of the Portland, Ore.,-based Northwest Trails Alliance about a progressive sort of trail development.
"The trails group bought trail-building equipment [that makes narrow, single track]," Martin said. "They bought the machine and make it available to state Parks, the Forest Service or BLM. They get a good rate on rental, which helps to stretch project dollars. It was just an interesting piece of collaboration. Having an organization facilitate something like that makes [bicycling] better for everybody."
Martin said the road to safer cycling can be bumpy, but the ride to D.C. went pretty smoothly except for a moment in East Philadelphia where he ran over an empty liquor bottle while locked in a pace line.
"It knocked me up in the air and destroyed the wheel," he said, adding that he was pretty shaken up, but only wrecked a rim. "Thankfully, we had SRAM support. They were amazing. It was like pro tour support. You had a new wheel in two seconds. It was eight seconds—Rebecca's just corrected me."
Riders looking to test their orienteering skills and stamina in the East, or anyone simply curious to know what 125 miles from Philadelphia to Baltimore looks like on a Google bike map, can find the entire five-day route on the Bikes Belong route and schedule link (http://rideonwashington.org/route-and-schedule/).