Peddling for pedalers: Couple goes to D.C. to attend bike summit
NATCHEZ — Learning the innerworkings of big government is something Allen Richard is willing to tackle if it means bringing more walking and biking infrastructure to Natchez.
Richard and his wife, Beth, will travel to Washington, D.C., Monday to attend a national bike summit hosted by the League of American Bicyclists.
The goal of the summit, Richard said, is to meet with legislators and stress the importance cycling can play in local communities such as Natchez.
“I’m a private-sector kind of guy, but you have to understand how to work with government as a partnership to improve — not only our local community — but also statewide and nationwide the facilities, infrastructure and attitude toward cycling,” Richard said. “If we understand how it works on a national and state level, then those conversations can start on the local level.”
The theme of this year’s summit is, “Bicycling means business” and that’s exactly what Richard hopes local officials realize when discussing the need for more biking infrastructure such as bike lanes on roads around town.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on showing the economic impact for local cities and communities that are bicycle-friendly and have laws, facilities and infrastructure that are conducive for walking and riding bikes,” Richard said. “The big thing right now isn’t necessarily advocating anything new, but just keeping these things in the budget and keeping them from getting cut.
“Cutting those kinds of things takes away so many economic opportunities for cities and communities.”
The economic opportunities are even greater for communities such as Natchez, Richard said, that already have existing bicycle-friendly infrastructure.
“We’re blessed here in Natchez to have the Natchez Trace and a good network of county roads that are very scenic,” Richard said. “We have all these resources already here, so now it’s just trying to encourage and grow what’s already there and also getting some new things in place.”
Those new things could be something as simple as signs to help guide cyclists from the Trace to downtown Natchez.
“With a little bit of signage and some paint, we could easily direct people from the Trace to downtown who are already traveling through on their bikes,” Richard said. “The discussions don’t always have to include creating a new bike lane because there are other things like a good rest station that are just as important to bikers.”
Being classified as a bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists could also bring significant tourism dollars to this Miss-Lou, Richard said.
“A lot of cycling groups take cycling trips, and that’s anywhere from 10 to 15 people staying four to five days with hotels, restaurants, gas and the whole thing,” Richard said. “And it’s not always your spandex race type of people either, because it can also be families and tourists who feel comfortable enough with the area to get on a bike.”
The Richards will travel with other members of Bike Walk Mississippi, a bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group.