Seventy intrepid Bike Fed members hit the marble halls of the State Capitol in Madison on Tuesday. All told they met with 51 legislators, including 25 Republicans and 26 Democrats. All of the major legislative leaders, including the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader and the co-chairs of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, were contacted.
And it wasn’t just our members but leaders of the bike industry, including John Burke of Trek, Chris Fortune of Saris Cycling Group and Chris Kegel of Wheel & Sprocket, who took time out of their schedules to meet with legislators.
We had three simple requests for changes in the state budget:
- Don’t repeal the Complete Streets law.
- Restore $2 million in Transportation Alternatives Program funding.
- Restore the Stewardship Fund.
While we anticipated that all the Democrats would support our changes (and they did), we also knew that the Republicans hold large majorities in both houses and, as a result, on the Joint Finance Committee as well.
So we were particularly curious to know what kind of reaction we would get from the Republican side of the aisle.
In truth, it was mixed, but we did find some openings for common ground. Several members or their staffs were eager to talk about their cycling exploits or the bikes they owned or bike events in their districts of which they were proud.
But one visit in particular synthesized the challenge. It was a meeting between our member David Lindow of Sheboygan Falls and his Republican senator Devin LeMahieu. Our Deputy Director Dave Schlabowske accompanied David at the meeting and reported how the conversation went.
Sen. LeMahieu was happy to meet with us and generous with this time. In fact, he was eager to talk about the IronMan competitions he had completed and his love of cycling. And he was painfully aware of two tragic cycling deaths in his district.
But here’s our problem. Despite all that the senator told us he would not support any of our requests. On the one hand, we appreciate his candor. He could have strung us along. But on the other hand, this points up the work we need to do.
We have Democrats who never get on a bike who support good cycling policy wholeheartedly and Republicans who are avid cyclists who don’t. And to make matters worse, the Republicans hold virtually all the power in state government right now.
While we try to be “bike-partisan” we have to acknowledge honestly that at this moment cycling is a partisan issue. For some reason – and it’s probably mostly a “culture wars” thing – Republicans are not seeing the value in pro-bike policies.
So if you are represented by a Republican and you ride a bike, please reach out to your elected representation and see if you can help them see that bicycling is a very simple, inexpensive solution to many expensive problems we face in Wisconsin. Remind them that Wisconsin is as much our nation’s capitol for the bicycle industry as much as it is the nation’s dairyland. Remind them bicycling adds about $2 billion to our economy every year and supports 14,000 jobs.
Then ask them politely again if the can support and of our three ask.
Our task for the weeks and even years ahead is to figure out how to take Republican legislators who love cycling and get them to recognize the value in pro-cycling policies. The point isn’t to blame anyone. That wouldn’t get us anywhere anyway. The point is to figure out where the disconnect is and make that connection.