Louisville Bike Summit II

The Louisville Bike Summit redux was better than I was expecting. This isn’t to say that I have a totally changed attitude towards the progress this city is making in becoming bicycle friendly. There is a lot of work to be done.

The beginning and most of the morning was occupied with hand clapping and back slapping in a way that reminded me of listening to some big politician speak in front of Congress. The infinitely interrupting applause. No, it wasn’t that bad of course, but what was bad was the topic warranting the applause. A lot of discussing what has been done, how far it’s come along, and where it’s going. So what is IT? Basically, recreational bicycling. Too much talk about the Louisville Loop, too much talk about trails through parks, too much talk about parking lots. I even heard mention of facilities for horseback riding and in-line skaters. This recreational talk is far too distracting for what I came there to hear and speak: bicycle safety on the streets. Where are the priorities?

The emphasis on the Loop and the many recreational attributes it brings to the city reeks to me of fluff and status recognition with the League of American Bicyclists, who I’m sure would be just as willing to elevate Louisville from Bronze to Silver status if we were to institute more safety measures rather than recreational measures. Towards the end of this leisure chatter, the audience was asked if we had any questions. Mostly crickets were heard in the gymnasium, until a petite older lady one table over stood up and asked the quite poignant question as to the alternative transportation needs that this city wants and it’s citizens desire in order to establish a smaller carbon footprint (in so many words). Happy to hear this controversial query I joined her in the minority by letting out an audible “whoop”. “Here here!” I couldn’t agree more, let’s prioritize alternative transportation.

I believe the next dude to get up and congratulate himself was from some park development company. More banter about parks and paths. At one point I hear him mention something about getting his canoe in the river after driving for forty minutes is a good thing. Then something about a Park drive, where motorists would have a scenic route. Isn’t this the Louisville Bike Summit? II? Evidently Louisville’s bicycle conversation, while I’m happy [the conversation] exists at all, is far from the reduction of internal combustion driving as transportation. Too much talk of biking on surfaces other than the street and roads. Too much path and trail talk. Accessibility to these parks is more often than not by car, accessing via bike or foot seems secondarily mentioned.

Interesting they kept the number of attendees limited to 270 with all this unused space. I guess the limiting factor might probably be managing more people in the break-out groups—but still.

One other thing that irked me a bit was the attitude of some of the folks with the microphones. I’m not an entirely serious guy myself, I have many a sarcastic bone in my body, but I don’t for some reason take it in good fun the lack of seriousness in a subject that others may be taking very seriously. Immediately at the beginning of the morning the man with the mic was thanking people who ride their bikes (I think specifically from data taken from an online poll) and blithely mentioned that those who ride year round “don’t count” referring to some local bike club called the Mad Dogs. Blah, I know, minor insult/inside joke at best. But the point is, some people do take pride in riding year round, and to have the president of the Louisville Bicycle Club say that they don’t count, even in a joking manner struck me as having an attitude that the entire event was unimportant. I ride year round, and I took the day off of work to attend this summit, maybe I take this subject too seriously.

The other point I thought was in mildly bad form was the description of cities like Portland, Davis, or Boulder being unrealistic cities. Compared to Louisville, which “is a REAL city”. I get it. Louisville is down and dirty, it has varied elements that make bike infrastructure difficult, but I didn’t like the fact that achieving a bike infrastructure similar to what Portland has was derided as being unrealistic. This is the mindset that holds progress back in my opinion, and if that mindset is at the top of the management, then I don’t have a lot of hope for any real progress.

Mayor Jerry I think was next. His talk was a bit more of the same although with a little more appreciated enthusiasm. The planting seeds and preparing for future developments once the economy straightens out, sounded to me like obvious delays and potential procrastination. But it was good to hear his opinion on some of the recent accidents we’ve had in Louisville, how some accidents have been malicious and states that the numbers of injuries are unacceptable. This seemed promising in its awareness.

The break out sessions were somewhat constructive “feeling” whether or not our suggestions are considered or followed is another matter. During one of them I pointed out the fact that there were virtually zero low-income people in attendance at this summit (beyond myself of course)—surely these road users should have a say in this discussion. For that matter, how many strict motorists were in attendance—those that don’t drive but might be affected by decisions made in this process. I also mentioned a number of potential engineering solutions that I’ve witnessed in other cities that seemed to work—namely Portland. After two of these break out sessions, I had to break out myself, a half day’s wage was calling my name.

Long and short of it, the whole process seems a bit over complicated. As if we’re adding complexity to it to enable people to make money off the system. Too much “business” when, in my opinion, paint and signs might just go a long way. I can’t complain too much though, like I’ve said before, it’s an open discussion, bicycles are being talked about at high city government levels, the mayor rides a bike and talks about improvements, and for that, I’m thankful to be here in Louisville and involved in the process to make it more bicycle “friendly”.