Local activist reports on National Bike Summit
Claudia Nix has been riding WNC roads since she first came to Warren Wilson College back in 1965. For more than three decades, she and her husband, Mike, have been active in local efforts to promote cycling both for recreation and transportation. They own Liberty Bicycles (1987 Hendersonville Rd. in south Asheville).
Mountain Xpress caught up with Claudia a few days after her return from the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. While there, she and four other Tar Heel cyclists met with eight different NC. representatives and senators to discuss cycling-specific issues.
Mountain Xpress: What were some of the highlights of the bike summit?
Claudia Nix: The support among the 234-cyclist community, representing everything from bike manufacturers to bike commuters, was exciting. A coalition called “Bikes Belong” helps find funding sources for local communities by providing grants which can be used as a match for federal funds. Bikes Belong has hired a lobbyist to work on the reauthorization of TEA-21 (the main funding source for roadway improvements that makes cycling safer and easier). Another exciting plan is the development of a national bike trail called the East Coast Greenway. It will span from Maine to Miami and offer riders a safe off-road trail system.
MX: What other advocacy issues did you hear about?
CN: “Safe Routes to Schools” has two pilot programs currently in progress that hope to provide safe and effective measures for our children to walk or ride bikes to school. In the ’60s, 40 percent of our children walked or rode bikes to school. Now it is less than 10 percent. Marin County, Calif. — one of the two pilot programs participating in the program — has increased their numbers to 59 percent this past year.
The summit promoted the Bicycle Commuter Act (House Bill 1265), a bill which includes cycling as another component to the incentive in the transportation-fringe-benefit program. It is similar to the existing program, which encourages employees to utilize mass transit or car-pool.
One of the most promising outcomes of the summit was convincing a Republican Texas senator to co-chair the Senate Bicycle Caucus with Democatic Sen. Richard Durbin. [The Bike Caucus was conceived as an informal, bipartisan group whose primary goal is to provide a place for cycling members of Congress and their staffs to have fun. They also provide the leadership to promote the importance of cycling to our communities.]
MX: Bringing this enthusiasm and support home to Asheville and WNC, what are ways that we can encourage others to invest in cycling and other alternative modes of transportation?
CN: Compared to 20 years ago, we have made great improvements. However, traffic volume has increased dramatically. The cars are faster and much larger now! Cycling is still a viable mode of transportation; our community is still relatively small and compact.
[City Traffic Engineer] Michael Moule, [former city Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator] Oliver Gadja and city transportation planners have been very successful in calming traffic, advocating cycling and walking, and developing long-range plans.
We still have a connectivity issue with certain areas of our county. [Nix mentioned Bent Creek and areas east and west in the county as places where it’s harder for bike commuters to get into Asheville.]
On an individual level, if you want safer roads and more cycling options, get involved! There needs to be more grassroots efforts on the local and state level in North Carolina. Express your concerns to city, county and state leaders. Make your cycling and pedestrian issues known. Support those that respond to our needs.
For other ways to get involved with local bike-and-pedestrian issues, visit www.blueridgebicycleclub.org or call Asheville Transit Planner Jeffrey Burns, the coordinator for the Pedestrian and Bike Task Force, at 259-5943 (e-mail: JeffBurns@mail.ci.asheville.nc.us).