Speeches By EPA Administrator
National Bike Summit, Washington, D.C.03/28/2001
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
National Bike Summit
March 28, 2001
Thank you for that welcome.
For the record, I should state up front that I’m here today in my official capacity as a member of the President’s Cabinet and as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But just between you and me, I’m really here today because I love to ride and I can’t think of anything more fun in Washington today than being with a roomful of fellow bicyclists – unless we were all out riding.
I want to congratulate the organizers of this summit and all of you who have made the trip to Washington to participate. I believe it is vitally important that bicyclists be a part of the debate in this town about a whole host of issues. From how highway monies are spent to how we work to reduce the air pollution caused by traffic congestion, bicyclists have an important contribution to make.
I’m what you would call a recreational bicyclist. I don’t ride to work, although I wish I could. But I do take every opportunity I can find to hop aboard my mountain bike and put a few miles on the tires.
My family shares my love for bicycling. Our family vacations often involve trail and off-trail riding. Last year, for example, my husband and I and some friends took a fantastic bicycling vacation in California wine country. We did some challenging off-trail riding in some beautiful countryside.
On our last morning, I had some time to kill before catching the plane back to New Jersey, so I decided to take one more ride. Of course, there wasn’t time to go off-trail, so I went for a ride along a street. Unfortunately, the street was narrow and not bicycle-friendly. A car came by and forced me off the road into a ditch. I got a few bumps and scrapes, but I was wearing my helmet so it wasn’t too bad.
The point of my telling you this story is to highlight my belief that we need to make our roads and byways safer for bicyclists. All the time we spent off-trail went by without incident. But as soon as I rode on a road, I got into trouble.
During my seven years as governor of New Jersey, improving access to safe bicycling venues was an important priority. In my second inaugural address, I announced a plan to create 2,000 miles of bike trails in New Jersey over ten years. For a state that only runs about 150 miles from one end to the other, that’s a bigger number than those of you from the larger states might think.
I recently checked on the progress they’re making in New Jersey, and I’m pleased to report that 1,200 miles are already in the pipeline. Since fiscal year 1999, New Jersey has awarded more than $10 million in funds for bicycle projects.
I also understand that before the end of the year, a continuous trail from High Point in the northwest corner of New Jersey to Cape May, my state’s southernmost town, will be ready for use.
Of course, my Agency doesn’t have jurisdiction over the construction of bicycle trails, but we do have responsibility for clean air. There’s no doubt in my mind that encouraging people to trade their cars for bikes – whether on their daily commute or for their regular errands – could make a real difference in air quality.
That was part of the reasoning behind my program to create 2,000 miles of new bike trails. I felt it was important, not only to have recreational trails available, but also to have facilities people could use to get from point A to point B. Getting people out of their cars and onto their bikes will help reduce traffic congestion as well as air pollution.
The states play the key role in this, since they are the ones in the best position to determine, with local input, where bike trails are most needed and can do the most good. I would urge you, when you get home, to meet with your local and state officials and share with them your support for more, safe biking options in your communities.
Every year I was governor I took a two-day bike tour through various parts of my state. This annual tour was designed to meet three goals: highlight some of New Jersey’s favorite tourist destinations; encourage exercise; and, promote biking.
Over the course of the two days we’d cover a lot of ground at a healthy clip. I can’t tell you how many members of my staff I left in the dust over the years. This wasn’t just some leisurely ride in the park. It was serious riding.
But it also played a serious policy role. If not for all the ground we covered on our bikes over the years, I’m not so sure my proposal for 2,000 miles of bike trails would have been so readily embraced by members of the Legislature – many of whom hadn’t been on a bike since they rode to grammar school on their Schwinn with coaster brakes.
So one of the most important things you can do as individuals is to be visible and be heard. Invite your local mayor to join you and some fellow bicyclists on a ride through your community – and let the press know you’re doing it. Sponsor bicycle safety programs for children. Take a day to clean-up local trails.
The key is to get involved and let people know you’re out there. Concerned citizens can do so much at the local level. In a country with 42 million cyclists, we ought to be able to make a difference.
So, as one cyclist to another, I urge you to take what you’ve learned here during this summit and put it into action. You really can make your communities and states friendly havens for bicyclists everywhere.
Thank you, and good riding.