Yesterday was lobby day on Capitol Hill at the National Bike Summit, and Wisconsin’s delegation of citizens, business leaders and advocates to the Bike Summit had pleasant meetings with all of our elected leaders or key members of their staff. The good news is improved our relationships and reminded our electeds that bicycling is big business in Wisconsin, bringing more than $1.5 billion dollars a year into our economy and supporting more than 14,000 jobs. In meeting after meeting, our bike industry leaders from Planet Bike, Saris, Trek, and Wheel & Sprocket told their legislators that the federal funds leveraged by local and private funds that build bicycle facilities in communities across our state are essential to the continued success of their businesses.
In a meeting with Rep. Paul Ryan, Rob Gusky, representing Kimberly-Clark, told the powerful congressman, that his company’s significant investments in bicycling have yielded a healthier workforce and lower healthcare costs. Brandon Buth from Trek told Senator Ron Johnson’s transportation staffer (coincidentally named Tom Petri) that by making Madison a Platinum rated bike friendly community, it will be easier for Trek to hire talented workforce. “We’re competing against California, Washington and Oregon,” said Heather Fortune from Saris Cycling Group, which employs 200 people at their manufacturing plant outside of Madison.
In every meeting I attended, I cited examples of how our state bicycle industry is a rare example of companies bringing good paying manufacturing jobs back from overseas. Federal funds that build trails, protected bike lanes, and support bikesharing put more butts on bikes. More people riding bicycles equates to more business for our state bike industry, which means more jobs and more money pumped into our economy.
Of course, like every year, we also made the asks suggested by the League of American Bicyclists:
- Please co-sponsor The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act
- Please co-sponsor The Safe Streets Act
- Please co-sponsor The New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act
While all our elected officials listened cordially, each of them raised the specter of the Highway Trust Fund going into deficit later this summer or fall. The US is spending more on transportation than our gas tax brings in and based on current spending and revenue trends, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund will encounter a shortfall August or September. Raising the gas tax is politically unpopular right now, so most suggested that congress will probably kick the can down the road for a couple of years by propping up the fund with a short-term fix that doesn’t solve the problem.
To this we simply responded that whatever the solution, even if it is short-term, bicycling needs to be included. Because the federal funds allocated for bicycling are a drop in the transportation funding bucket, even if they were all cut, it would do nothing to solve the overall problem, but it would kill thousands of jobs back in Wisconsin.
I leave our nation’s capital today and head back home, I feel good about what we accomplished, but know we have a lot of work ahead of us if we are going to save federal funding for bicycling.