The National Bike Summit is an annual event held in Washington D.C. focused on bringing advocates of cycling together to lobby for better bike support at the national level. This year’s focus was on the MAP-21 bill and ensuring it maintained dedicated funding for cycling infrastructure. Nick and I recently returned from the three day event, having learned a lot about advocacy, lobbying and national politics.
The event seemed focused on training the participants on what to say when engaging their representatives in Congress. The first day was mostly registration but there was a wonderful panel discussion about women in cycling and the need for better marketing towards them, as well as for more women to speak up about their wants and needs. The acronym M.A.M.I.L. (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) That was amusing.
The second day was down to business, with three sessions of classes, each with 6 options to choose from. They were all relatively focused on advocacy and many related to increasing ridership and engaging different populations. I attended one about the business and economics of bicycling, which had a few good points, but wasn’t that mind blowing. I followed that with one on boosting economic vitality in cities. This one was much more interesting with people providing some real examples of improvements they were able to attain by working with businesses. Finally, I wrapped up the day with a session specifically about what and how I should be speaking with the Senators and Representatives on the following day. This was great because there were staff members from congressmen there to speak about their experiences being lobbied and what the proper etiquette and methods are.
Finally on Thursday Nick and I travelled to Capitol Hill. We were just two of a larger group that spoke with staff members of Representatives Brady and Fattah, and Senators Toomey and Casey. All in all they were very receptive to our requests. Senator Toomey was the only one of the four that didn’t support the transportation bill, but it was explained that it wasn’t thorough enough. While this sounded nice, I am skeptical, but it was nice to have our voice heard, literally.
Nick and I had prepared some materials leveraging our thesis research, to help articulate and visualize our point. We developed small cards with graphics relevant to our thesis project to act as conversation pieces focusing the discussion on the improvements that cycling can have. We also developed a tumblr site, providing the url on the cards, to actually tell the story of Philadelphia and our cycling needs, to act as a follow-up to our verbal conversation. We were able to get these in the hands of many cycling advocates but even better, the congressional aides we spoke with. This way, we were able to add a new dimension to conventional lobbying creating more visual and memorable experience for the staff member, increasing the power of our message.