On Tuesday cyclists lost a good friend in Congress when Congressman Jim Oberstar went down in defeat in Minnesota’s eighth congressional District.
Back in the mid-90’s Congressman Oberstar’s wife had breast cancer and for a family activity, they started to bike around the D.C. Area. The Congressman quickly came to the conclusion that there were not very many places to ride his bike. Unfortunately, Jo Oberstar lost her battle with cancer. The Congressman started to ride his bike more often to deal with his loss. The more he rode his bike, the more he came to the conclusion that America needed to become a more bicycle-friendly country.
In 1997, I received a phone call from Congressman Oberstar who wanted to talk to me about the industry’s effort, or lack thereof, in working with Congress to get more bicycle facilities built. The Congressman’s pitch made sense to me and so I told him that we would get involved. Trek stepped up and was a major contributor to lobbying for the inclusion of bicycle-related programs in the new transportation bill. Congressman Oberstar crafted the legislation to include bicycles in the federal transportation bill for the first time. After we got the bill passed, we were a founding member of Bikes Belong, an industry group with the goal of putting more people on bikes more often.
In 1997, the federal government spent $20 million a year in bicycle facilities. Last year that number was $1.2 billion. In 1997, the bicycle industry was completely disorganized. Today the bicycle industry has an effective voice in Washington. Today the bicycle movement is alive and well in America. Cities across the nation are investing in bicycle infrastructure because they realize that the bicycle is a simple solution to the complex problems of the environment, congestion, and the obesity crisis. None of this would have happened without the leadership of Congressman Oberstar.