I traveled to Madison last week to participate in the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin’s annual Lobby Day. Over 100 people from all over Wisconsin showed up to talk to their State Senators and State Representatives about why they should support bicycling both in the districts they represent and statewide.
I arrived at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in time for the networking breakfast and enjoyed the opportunity to talk to people from other parts of the state. It is always interesting to learn about the successes and challenges that others face in making their corner of Wisconsin a better place for people to ride bicycles.
One nice surprise was meeting a fellow resident from Stevens Point. Kevin Tuttle founded a relatively new company called Draft Cyclery, a dealer for hi-performance women’s and men’s bicycle clothing manufactured by Funkier. I was pleased to learn of a bike-oriented business here in Stevens Point that I had been unaware of. (Check out his company’s website here.)
The rest of the morning was spent listening to Bike Fed Executive Director Kevin Hardman addressing the attendees with advice about how to conduct our afternoon meetings with our legislators. For first-time attendees it was helpful to learn what to expect, and for those who had attended past Lobby Days there were lots of good tips.
There were two “asks” that the Bike Fed wanted us to discuss with our legislators. One was to restore funding for the Transportation Alternatives program to the level it was at in the previous budget. Governor Walker’s proposed budget cuts TA funding by half.
The other “ask” was to support a Vulnerable Road User Bill to help make Wisconsin’s highways safer for people traveling on bicycles as well as several other categories of road users not enclosed in high-speed vehicles. This bill is expected to be introduced into both chambers of the state government this week.
Hardman gave us all a good overview of these two issues so that we were well prepared to discuss them with our legislators.
Since Tuttle and I were the only constituents present in the districts represented by Sen. Julie Lassa and Rep. Katrina Shankland, the two of us spent lunch organizing ourselves and reviewing how to conduct our meetings with them and their staff.
After lunch ended, Tuttle and I walked the few blocks to the State Capitol Building. The Capitol is always busy, but on this day we saw dozens of folks wearing bike pins looking for their representatives’ offices to talk bikes, just as we were doing.
We spend about 30 minutes each with administrative staff for both Sen. Lassa and Rep. Shankland. The legislators themselves were at other meetings and could not be present. One always hopes to talk directly to one’s elected officials, but discussions with staff are just as important and productive.
Tuttle and I both got to share our personal stories about why we care about bicycling in our hometown. The value in ordinary citizens like us meeting with our legislators is that we put a human face on bicycle issues that these legislators, who value our votes, will eventually need to take a position on.
We also had good discussions about the two legislative “asks”. We recorded the questions and comments that the staff members had in order to relay these to the Bike Fed for follow up.
Having completed our visit to the Capitol, there were a couple of hours to relax before an evening reception back at the Convention Center to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Bike Fed.
I had just taken a piece of the celebratory cake when I noticed that Rep. Shankland was present. She had come specifically to meet with Tuttle and myself. Wow! The three of us had a wonderful half-hour conversation about the importance of improving bicycling, both here in Stevens Point as well as on a statewide level.
Knowing that Rep. Shankland had been elected recently, I introduced her to Bike Fed Executive Director Hardman. They had a good conversation, and I hope Rep. Shankland learned more about what the Bike Fed is trying to achieve and how she can be supportive.
The long day finally came to an end as I drove back to Stevens Point. Much of the day was a blur, but I came away with many positive feelings:
- I had talked to a lot of people about Poky Pedaling Stevens Point, the Bike Fun that we share, and the sorts of people who participate. PPSP was received very positively.
- I was thrilled to meet Rep. Shankland and to learn about her general support for improving bicycling in Wisconsin. It is a pleasant surprise to discover that your elected representatives, who are often portrayed as bigger-than-life in the media’s spotlight, are ordinary nice people no different from those they represent.
- Although I did not get to talk with Sen. Lassa this year, I was encouraged by our discussion with her staff. They were quite knowledgable about transportation issues and the benefits of encouraging citizens to choose to bicycle for getting around.
- It was awesome to see so many people at Lobby Day meeting with their elected officials. The message that we need to do more to make our roads safe for people who bicycle is being heard.
- Finally, it is always inspiring to see what the Bike Fed is able to accomplish with its limited staff and resources. I want to express my appreciation for the efforts of their staff in organizing another successful Lobby Day.
For a reaction to Lobby Day from the Bike Fed’s perspective, read this blog post from their website.
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