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Enthusiasts + Education = Effective Advocacy: NC’s First Bike Summit

Lauren Blackburn, Director of the NC Department of Transportation’s Division of Bicycle Pedestrian Transportation

More than 175 bike enthusiasts convened for the first NC Bike Summit at Raleigh’s McKimmon Center  October 12th and 13th. Some folks arrived on bikes, and many brought bikes to participate in the two planned, group rides the conference planners arranged to showcase Raleigh’s growing network of greenways and bike lanes (and to appease an active group who doesn’t enjoy sitting unless they are balancing on two wheels!).

Lauren Blackburn, Director of the NC Department of Transportation’s Division of Bicycle Pedestrian Transportation kicked off the day-and-a-half conference with an overview of North Carolina’s leadership nationwide in bicycling support and infrastructure, and the investments being made in bicycle infrastructure statewide today.

Blackburn said that the way people move around is shifting. “Young people are waiting longer to get their drivers’ licenses and buy cars,” she said. The demographic shifts in our population — the graying, browning and increase in single-person households — means more people will want to walk and bike to get around.

Friday morning’s breakout sessions included one on community involvement, which featured the Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance describing the ups and downs of starting and maintaining a grassroots bicycle advocacy group; Winston-Salem’s efforts to engage the public in bicycling with their Way To Go! Winston Salem campaign; and tips on how to engage with your local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) from Asheville’s MPO and bike advocacy group.

The keynote lunch speaker, Andy Clarke, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists, updated participants on the changes in the federal transportation policy and the implications those changes are having on funding for, among other things, bicycle infrastructure. 

“Congress stripped the transportation funding of any guarantee that bike or pedestrian considerations will be funded,” Clarke said. Clarke urged the group to work through local Metropolitan Planning Organizations to advocate on behalf of keeping bike and pedestrian issues front and center.

In the afternoon, we learned about Safe Routes to School and training the City of Raleigh police department has undergone to better understand bicycle transportation laws.

The training will improve how officers interact with bicyclists, and reduce the number of car-bike crashes. This training model can be adapted to other communities and used to improve law enforcement’s and cyclist’s relationships, ultimately making biking safer for all.

The Adam Little Foundation presented on how that organization is educating motorists and cyclists about the cycling rules of engagement. You can see some of their campaign materials online.

On Saturday, we attended a half-day focus group to offer input into the NC Bike Pedestrian Plan on topics as diverse as safety, driver and cyclist education, public health, and public policy. The room was electrified with ideas that were bounced around about boosting economic development through travel and tourism; attracting businesses and talented people to our state who want to bike, walk and use transit; improving our residents’ health; and simply making North Carolina a place where the quality of life is good. The session concluded with participants offering ideas on next year’s conference.

It’s not often you leave a conference so energized and excited. This first conference was a huge success, and I know the organizers would join me in expressing the desire for even more of us to attend this fun and educational event next year.

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