A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in the Wisconsin Bike Summit. It was a great chance to meet with state bicycling leaders as well as the legislators in our respective districts. We sat in on bicycling related seminars and learned how to effectively present information to our representatives.
The two issues to discuss with our legislators were the support of a vulnerable user law that would help give prosecutors options when pursuing charges against motorists at fault in incidents involving vulnerable users such as bikers, walkers, motorcyclist and anyone else traveling on the road legally that is not surrounded by a 3000 lbs steel cage.
As the situation currently stands in the state of Wisconsin if a motorist is at fault in an incident that injures a cyclist (or other vulnerable user), prosecutors only have two options on opposite ends of the spectrum. A normal, everyday traffic ticket like a speeding ticket or inattentive driving; or on the other extreme they can pursue vehicular homicide which can be very tricky to prosecute. This vulnerable user legislation gives prosecutors some middle ground where the punishment would more accurately fit the crime.
The other issue was a consistent, dedicated source of funding for bicycle transportation and other bicycle related projects. Something that is currently lacking from the state budget.
First up was a visit to my State Senator, Neal J. Kedzie. During our visit we were informed that both the Senate and Assembly were in session, so we met with staffers instead. It was a little disappointing not to be able to speak to the representatives themselves, but at the same time the staffers are the ones who do the research and get stuff done.
At Senator Kedzie's office we met with staffer Doug Wheaton. We had a very engaging conversation about the issues we came to discuss. Doug was very noncommittal, but he was willing to listen and engage in dialogue which I took as a positive sign. When it came to funding, of course there was no money in the budget. But like I said, he did listen to our concerns and at least managed to seem concerned with our situation. So I walked away feeling like we had a good first meeting.
Second up was a trip to our Assemblyman Stephen Nass where we me with his Policy Advisor Mike Mikalsen. When the issue of vulnerable users legislation came up, we were told that Rep. Nass does not support the bill. He was not willing to consider our point of view and throughout the whole meeting never asked a single question to show he was interested or fully understood what we were trying to ask him to consider. I asked him several different times to reconsider his position using several different approaches, but he was not willing to budge from his stance. So I urge you to email (Rep.Nass@legis.wisconsin.gov) or better yet call him ((888) 529-0031) and encourage him to make your safety a priority, because based on my conversation with his office, I feel he currently does not. When the issue of money was brought up, we were given a speech about the current financial state of the state. In other other words, nope.
In retrospect we probably didn't do a good enough job of selling bicycle infrastructure as an investment rather than just another bill for taxpayers. Oh well, live and learn.
My follow up plan looks something like this: I will write a follow up email to Senator Kedzie thanking him for his time and encouraging him to continue considering the issues we discussed. I plan on writing weekly or monthly emails to Rep. Nass thanking him for his time and urging him to reconsider his support for a bill that will help to protect many of his constituents. Perhaps I will call or email his office every time I finish a road ride and share every time I almost get taken out by a motorist (which is more times than I am comfortable with already).
We wrapped up the summit with two mingling sessions where I met quite a few interesting and influential people, including Kevin Hardman (Execute Director of the Bike Federation of Wisconsin) and Bridget Brown (the Wisconsin DNR trails czar (exact title may differ)). The last session of the night was hosted at the Trek Bicycles Mansion where I got to meet the owner of Trek Bicycles and a few other leaders in the industry. It was a beautiful house and I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit and mingle was such great folks.
I want to thank IMBA and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and all the other sponsors of the summit for coming together to put on such a great event. Also I want to thank Trek bicycles for opening up their house so that we could continue to build relationships after the summit had officially ended. It think it was an excellent success and I look forward to attending in the years to come.