A Representative for the Riders

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) is a bicycle fanatic who rides his various bikes about 2,300 miles a year.

One of his bikes, a limited-edition Trek, cost $6,800. "Better be quiet about that, my wife may be listening," he said quietly during a telephone interview from his home.

It should be no surprise that Oberstar -- the powerful chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- recently inserted a bicycle provision into a hefty bill dealing with major airport and airplane projects.

On page 13 of the 168-page bill needed to fund the Federal Aviation Administration and its next-generation air traffic control system, Oberstar ensured that bicyclists and their rides were being represented.

The bill would allow airports to use federal funds -- which are usually tapped to build terminals and parking garages -- to construct bicycle storage facilities for passengers.

"Doesn't it make sense?" Oberstar said, noting that the fathers of aviation, Wilbur and Orville Wright, were originally bicycle builders.

Oberstar, 72, said he got the idea to include the bicycle provision in the FAA bill when he read a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about a man who rode his bike to catch a flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The man could not find a place to put his bike, so he locked it to a signpost inside the terminal, the newspaper reported.

When the traveler returned from his trip, his classic Raleigh three-speed was gone. It had been cut up and carted away by security, said Oberstar, his voice dripping with equal parts remorse and disgust.

Oberstar quickly enlisted the help of bicycle enthusiasts to reassemble the bike. It was returned it to its owner at a press conference just days before the November elections. The incident got Oberstar thinking: Why were there no storage facilities for people who might want to use pedal power to reach the airport?

He made a pledge to his bicycle friends. "I told them that we are going to change the law," Oberstar said.

If the bicycle language becomes law, serious questions will soon emerge. Who would ever want to ride a bike to the airport? How would you get your luggage there -- in a side car?

"True, you likely wouldn't be going to an airport on a bike with a suitcase," Oberstar concedes, adding that bikes might work better when flying out on short trips.

Even if your airport has bike racks -- Reagan National has them; Dulles International does not -- how do you safely navigate NASCAR-inspired cabbies and other drivers racing to catch a plane?

Oberstar, who has never ridden a bike to take a flight, said he is already thinking of a solution: bike lanes on airport roads.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company