US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and House Representative Earl Blumenauer of Portland, Oregon, shared top billing at the breakfast opening of the National Bike Summit on Wednesday morning.
Both politicians gave impassioned speeches on the importance of cycling, but were clearly frustrated by a Congressional impasse that has stalled a transportation bill that includes federal support for cycling, walking and other "highway enhancements".
Other speeches – albeit less inflammatory – were made by Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and House Representatives Peter DeFazio and Tom Petri.
Stabbing his finger, LaHood said:
"The Senate bill is a good bill. It’s paid for. No more excuses. No more politics. Ride up [to Capitol Hill] and tell them to pass the bill. If you do that you’ll be doing a good thing for America."
Both LaHood and Blumenauer stressed that getting shovel-ready construction projects started this Spring would be good for the American economy, and as there were many projects to encourage sustainable transport, the bill would be a positive one for cyclists, too.
Blumenauer told the 800 delegates they were "heroes" because they had put the kibosh on amendments to a House transportation bill that would have killed many cycle-friendly projects:
"Make no mistake about it. This is a movement and you are the heroes of this movement…The pedestrian, the cyclist, the people who take transit, they all deserve to be listened to, they all deserve to be funded."
Blumenauer added that the well-organised, clamourous response from bicycle advocates had been seen, heard and read by legislators.
"The cycling movement made a huge difference last month. We were faced with what the Secretary here described as the ‘worst bill ever’ and it was. It was an outrage… It wasn’t just attacking cycling and [highway] enhancements, it was backed by arguably the most powerful person on Capitol Hill [the Speaker]… But you were part of a coalition that stopped it dead in its tracks.
"You made it possible for me to waive a petition in committee signed by over 600 organisations pointing out how far and how out of touch their policies were."[Cycling has always been pretty good at getting the message out: in the 1890s, a petition of 150,000 names was presented to Senate by Albert Pope, the bicycle manufacturer. Taking a break from the Summit, I went to see this petition in the US National Archives: it’s big, impressive and helped pave America while motorists were still in metaphorical nappies].
Introducing LaHood, Blumenauer had described him as "the best transportation secretary we’ve ever had."
"The message for the House is very simple. Pass the Senate bill. It’s not complicated. Take the Senate bill, put a house number on it and pass it! Set aside politics for just one day. The House could do that tomorrow."
House Representative Tom Petrie was less animated than both LaHood and Blumenauer but he said the slashing of funding for sustainable transport was a scandal.
"The most powerful nation on Earth can’t afford to invest in safe routes to school? Can you look kids in the eye and tell them that?"
He railed against Tea Party types who want to "turn back the clock" by not funding "highway enhancements".
"We have to educate these people," said Petrie.
"We must build a 21st century transport system. We must mitigate the exodus of dollars to pay for imported oil. This is a fight. This is a fight we cannot lose."
The National Bike Summit has attracted industry leaders as well as cycle advocates. Here’s Scott USA’s marketing director Adrian Montgomery in conversation with Gary Fisher: