Last weekend I traveled down from Portland to attend the first Oregon Bicycling Summit at the Eugene Hilton. I missed the first speaker, Jay Graves, President of the National Bike Dealers association. However I heard most of what John Blackwell had to offer along with the other speakers and , for an avid cyclist, the words were encouraging. The vision that is being discussed is to make Oregon The Premier Bicycling Destination in the country.
Lofty goals, yes, but given some of the groundwork and the current buzz surrounding Oregon’s cycling culture, it is a vision with realistic ambitions. There is lots of work to be done, to be sure, but with some committed partners in both the public and private sectors the wheels are turning towards that vision.
It was too bad the Summit took place during Spring Barbie Camp, otherwise the attendance might have been even greater. Attendance was considered a success despite that with over 140 people participating. Most of the participants were from shops, clubs (BlackRock Freeride was there), politicians (The Mayors of Eugene and Wilsonville, rep. Peter Defazio, etc.), advocacy groups (BTA, Community Cycling Center, IMBA, etc.), Scott Rapp was there with his new edition of Mountain Biking maps. Cycle Oregon had a large presence and if nothing else is symbolic of the potential for success.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for realizing this vision is that our neighboring western states have as much a claim to the title of The Premier Bicycling Destination as Oregon. Todd Davidson from travel Oregon spoke at length and with exuberance about the potential for capturing large numbers of visitors that come to Oregon to ride bikes, He quoted some figures that the Oregon Board of tourism has generated: of the 19 million domestic overnight trips, 5% indicated they came to Oregon to mountain bike. That’s a significant number. Davidson elaborated that 44% of those visitors were “marketable” or represent the potential for commerce. Further surveys and studies would seem to indicate that Oregon generally gets higher marks than our neighboring states when it comes to the level of satisfaction with their visit to Oregon.
Davidson went on to construct the components of the vision that Travel Oregon can facilitate. They are working toward creating the “Mother of all databases” in the form of the Travel Oregon website as a resource for people considering making a trip to Oregon. By centralizing a hub of resources and links to the services available with maps and guides and trip planning tools we can capitalize on utilizing one of the most powerful tools: the internet.
Davidson also pointed out that the Board of Tourism and Travel Oregon can facilitate providing the resources, but the next step is to be prepared for these guests and deliver on the promise. That is where the private sector has to step up and make commitments to provide the services. No one has done a concrete study on the economic impact that “bicycle-tourism” will create for Oregon, but Colorado has estimated that about $190 million goes into that state form bicycle related tourism. These are the kinds of numbers that will get the interest of politicians that might not otherwise have cycling on their radar.
Tim Wood from Oregon Parks and Recreation spoke about the role of that organization in promoting bicycling. Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned from Mr. Wood that it is written into the statute that created the department that its mission is to provide for and maintain outdoor recreational opportunities . . . including bicycling. In a sense it is part of a mandate for Oregon to promote bicycling.
Sheila Lyons from Oregon Department of Transportation spoke about the role of that organization in promoting bicycling. ODOT is involved with generating bicycling maps that illustrate regional bike routes and paths. These can also be linked from the Mother of all Databases and through individual county websites. Deschutes County, for example has information about mountain biking opportunities in central Oregon. ODOT is looking into incorporating a bicycle version of the Trip Check feature of their website.
Congressman Peter Defazio was the keynote speaker. We were reminded that Congressman Defazio used to have a bike shop in Boston and is a lifelong cyclist. The congressman talked about his role in promoting legislation that has a benefit for cyclist. Most of this legislation is in the form of transportation issues. Perhaps the greatest symbol of his work is the Peter Defazio Bike Bridge that crosses the Willamette River at the Ferry Street Bridge. But there is much more. In 1995 he and Congressman Joe Kennedy put together an idea to ask for One Billion Dollars for bikes. A billion dollars is a huge eye-popping amount, but in the art of compromise that is our government system, it is the kind of money that will put a level of importance on the subject matter and promote the discourse.
So many transportation bills have been written with no regard for alternative forms of transportation and quite often destroy what infrastructure may have been in place prior to the new project. Defazio has fought hard in places to see those projects modified to include alternative transportation not just for Oregon, but wherever they may be.
During the Q&A session, local race legend Eric Tonkin posed the question asking what are we doing or what can be done to promote cycling among the youth. He put it rather bluntly when he pointed out that a lot of the emphasis on cycling as a commodity and vehicle to drive interest in tourism is geared toward the baby boomer generation with disposable income which won’t mean much if we are excluding the next generation of cyclists. Tonkin spoke about his experience which is shared by many of us that we got into bicycling as a form of freedom and outdoor play, but more and more the open spaces are disappearing and what remains is getting shut down by land owners concerned with liability issues. It’s a great point and unfortunately the question was not answered out of hand.
I did not stick around for the afternoon work group session where many of these questions were to be addressed and solutions suggested. Hopefully, given the turnout and level of enthusiasm there were some good ideas promoted.
In summary I would say that I am very encouraged by the ripe atmosphere surrounding this vision. If we cannot brand Oregon as The Premier Bicycling Destination in the country, we can certainly carve out a generous piece of the pie. This is a good time to be a cyclist in Oregon and hopefully this level of awareness that is being promoted will lead to a new thinking about the advantages of bicycling and specifically mountain biking can lead to in terms of the tangible economic benefits as well as the intangible benefits of promoting health and active lifestyles.
I will be getting a summary of the work sessions and will follow up with those findings. In the mean time if anyone else was there, let’s hear your perspective on the summit. I know I saw randy Dreilling there, I’d love to hear from him about how all the great work he has done in Oakridge with Mountain Bike Oregon and the races at Willamette Pass fits into the puzzle.
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