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Bike Lane Comes Naturally
Blumenauer of Oregon Rides to the
White House; Look Out for Motorcades
December 29, 2007; Page A1
-- A little after 6:00 one morning, Earl Blumenauer emerged from
his Capitol Hill row house. The temperature hovered near 40 degrees
and it was really raining. The Oregon congressman hopped on his
rust-colored Trek Portland, an aluminum-frame bicycle with a carbon
front fork designed to absorb road shock, and pedaled to his office.
was alone on the road, and despite the downpour, he stopped at
every red traffic signal. At one odd-shaped intersection, Mr.
Blumenauer mused aloud about all the streets jutting off at odd
angles. Perfect for a traffic circle, he suggested.
Later that morning, House Minority Leader John Boehner,
the Ohio Republican, was incredulous that anyone had been out
in such weather. "Are you out of your mind?" he asked.
of Congress come to Washington and get in the fast lane. The 59-year-old
Mr. Blumenauer came to Washington and got in the bike lane. Few
members of Congress care more than he does about cranks and sprockets.
"obsession with bicycling borders on the interesting,"
sniffed TV satirist Stephen Colbert.
a House colleague from Oregon calls him. Mr. Blumenauer owns seven
bikes. His congressional office is one of the few -- if not the
only one -- that didn't even apply for a parking permit. On occasion,
Mr. Blumenauer has cycled to the White House. On Mr. Blumenauer's
first visit, the Secret Service, more accustomed to limousines,
was flummoxed at the sight of his bike.
it up against the portico," Mr. Blumenauer says.
isn't particularly bicycle friendly. The summers are swampy. The
winters are cold. And if you aren't careful, you could get flattened
by a motorcade.
But Mr. Blumenauer
has been a pedal pusher since his days on the Portland City Council,
when he pressed for more bike lanes and set an example by riding
around in his suit and a big bow tie. When Mr. Blumenauer arrived
in Washington in 1996, he didn't bring a car. Soon he was preaching
the benefits of pedaling.
the Congressional Bike Caucus, a bipartisan group that promotes
public investment in cycling. In his early days, he tracked down
Speaker Newt Gingrich in the House gym to pitch transit-fare subsidies
for House workers. He got them. As the ranks of the Bicycle Caucus
have grown -- there are now more than 170 members -- money for
bike projects has grown, more than doubling during his time in
has Mr. Blumenauer's reputation: He's a Pacific Northwest liberal,
labor and eco-friendly, with an earnest demeanor. He broke his
foot in early 2006, tripping as he took out the trash for recycling
at his home in Portland. "It could not have been more politically
correct," says Kerry Tymchuk, state director for Oregon Sen.
Gordon Smith, a Republican. For several weeks afterward, Mr. Blumenauer,
on crutches, stayed off his bike.
At a community
fund-raiser last winter, Washington Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat
representing a district across the Columbia River from Portland,
spoofed Mr. Blumenauer and Portland's liberal sensibilities. In
a dead-on parody of President Bush, Mr. Baird confused the word
"bicycle" with "bisexual."
they do things different out there in Oregon than we do in Texas,"
Mr. Baird said with a Bush twang.
bike, a Trek Portland, leans up against the wall in his Washington
office. Trek makes two bikes named for urban places -- the other
is the Trek Soho -- and Mr. Blumenauer likes the idea that he
represents one of them. "Really slick," he says. "How
do I not buy that?" Actually, Mr. Blumenauer bought two --
one for Washington and one to keep at home.
On his way
out of Rayburn House Office Building, Mr. Blumenauer pushed open
the door with one hand and dragged his bike through with the other.
He exited among soaring columns and onto a horseshoe-shaped drive,
where 11 cars lined up along the curb. Many more were parked tightly
on the street beyond.
swung his leg over the Trek and pedaled off, a blue messenger
bag slung around his neck, crumpling the collar of his blazer.
A reflector strap was tied around his pant leg. He turned right
at the bottom of the drive, avoiding Independence Avenue, choosing
instead a more circuitous but less congested route.
As he approached
a metal guard gate, a Capitol policeman called out, "Getting
your exercise, Sir?"
several Greenpeace activists tromping around in whale suits near
the Supreme Court.
A few blocks
beyond, he pulled up at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where
Democrats were meeting to talk election-year strategy. He was
there to give a presentation on online town halls. He looked around
for a bike rack. With none in sight, he grabbed the heavy-duty
U-lock slung over his handlebars and secured the bike to a street
sign: Authorized Permit Parking Only.
in the majority for the first time since he came to Washington,
Mr. Blumenauer snagged a seat on the Ways and Means Committee,
and has had some success peddling a proposal to encourage bike
commuting. The tax code already encourages employers to subsidize
parking spots for workers who drive or fare cards for those who
use mass transit. But it is silent on bikes.
can't provide a benefit for people who burn calories instead of
petroleum," says Mr. Blumenauer, in disbelief. "It just
seemed outrageous that somebody who cycles got zip."
would encourage employers to provide fringe benefits to bicycle
commuters -- such as for repairs and annual upkeep -- at a cost
to American taxpayers of $1 million a year.
found a home for the proposal in the massive energy bill crafted
by Democratic leaders in the House over the summer. When the measure
first hit the floor, Republican critics derided it as an attempt
"to tell the American people, stop driving, ride a bike,"
as Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina put it. The measure
was later dropped, and has a ways to go before becoming law.
not anticar," Mr. Blumenauer says. In a pinch, he will take
a cab. And back in Portland, he and his wife drive a Toyota Highlander
In his more
than 10 years in Congress, Mr. Blumenauer says he has saved tens
of thousands of dollars by not driving, money that helped pay
for the townhouse he bought. And when he cycles across town to
an event, he often gets there faster than his friends in Congress
rainy ride to the Capitol, Mr. Blumenauer was unfazed by the wind
and the damp. He wore running shorts and a black pullover, and
planned to change into work clothes at the office. He pulled up
to the garage at the back of the Rayburn building at about 6:30.
A heavily bundled police officer waved him in. Late that night,
action on the House floor kept the congressman from making a trip
across town to the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. He stayed
instead in the Capitol. After votes, he led an hour-long debate
on energy policy and global warming. One important solution: bikes,
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