Bicycle Friendly: Commuting with a Congressman

Co-host Ari Shapiro commutes to work with Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer. He is head of the bipartisan Congressional Bike Caucus. Blumenauer says creating a culture of biking to work in every state is essential to fixing America's oil woes.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And now we're going to go from global energy issues to more local ones.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Which, for you, Ari, meant taking a bit of a detour on your way to work. Let's hear it.

SHAPIRO: I'm riding my bicycle through the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and I'm on my way to meet Congressman Earl Blumenauer. He's a Democrat who represents Portland, Oregon, and he also chairs the Congressional Bike Caucus. He uses one of the most energy-efficient ways of getting to work every day: his bicycle. We're going to commute with him.

(Soundbite of traffic)

SHAPIRO: This is Congressman Blumenauer's house. Hi. I'm Ari Shapiro.

Representative EARL BLUMENAUER (Democrat, Oregon): Howdy. How are you?

SHAPIRO: Good to meet you.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Good to meet you.

SHAPIRO: Okay, so is this your regular morning routine? Around 6:00 AM, the bike comes out of the house, and suit up and ride to the Hill?

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Somewhere between 5:45 and 6:30. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Well, shall we ride?

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Absolutely. Now this is my routine for 12 years.

SHAPIRO: For 12 years. Now when you arrived in Washington, you didn't even bring a car, right?

Rep. BLUMENAUER: That's right. I have never had to look for a parking space in Washington, D.C. I've never been stuck in traffic, ever.

SHAPIRO: So when people complain about $4-a-gallon gas…

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Okay, your choice.

SHAPIRO: Is it really a choice for - I mean, I think so many Americans would love to commute by bicycle and just, you know, in many cities, they just can't.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Well, yes and no. How do we develop more choices for people? Because 20 percent of the trips in this country are a mile or less. Virtually everywhere in the country, 40 percent are two miles or less.

I started my week cycling up Pennsylvania Avenue for an event with state and local officials dealing with infrastructure and whatnot, and it took me three or four minutes more. And as I'm coming back down Pennsylvania Avenue that morning to the Capitol, this is my view.

SHAPIRO: So you get to work, you're drenched, covered in sweat, or you've been in the rain. What do you do?

Rep. BLUMENAUER: We're set up here where there is a - there are shower facilities for members of Congress and for our staff.

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you on a more serious note: Why hasn't Congress been able to do anything about global climate change? You've recently introduced a bill that is more ambitious than the Lieberman-Warner bill, which failed recently.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Well, I mean - there are three things that are at work here. We have an administration denying global warming is a problem.

SHAPIRO: But why hasn't Congress been able to pass anything, setting aside for a minute whether the president would sign it into law?

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Well, I mean, there is a huge gap here on Capitol Hill. Even though the rhetoric has changed, the mindset is going to require some significant adjustment. This stuff takes time, and we're dealing with something that is profound. We will have, whoever is the president - both McCain and Barack Obama have committed to a carbon-constrained economy. But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and this is hard work. We need to change the policies, because it shouldn't have to be a…

SHAPIRO: Oh, here comes a car head-on. (unintelligible) happening here.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: We are making one rule - yeah, violation here, coming down the wrong way on a one-way street.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: So our fault there.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: My fault. I'm sorry. Here, I just got carried away.

SHAPIRO: No, it's all right.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: At the end of the day, these are the approaches that are going to help us reduce the carbon footprint, enrich people's lives, strengthen the economy, and I think we'll just be better off.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're here on Capitol Hill. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, thanks for letting me join you on your commute.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: Any morning. You're welcome. Thanks.

SHAPIRO: Have a great day.

Rep. BLUMENAUER: You bet.

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