by Karen Brooks
Advocacy work can seem like a struggle to earn understanding and respect from politicians who just don’t share our love for bikes. But we do have allies and fellow enthusiasts in high places. Casey Cagle, the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, is one.
Besides bicycling in his off hours (of which there are not many), Lt. Gov. Cagle has incorporated bike events into his charity work, and makes it a priority to ensure that Georgia children get enough exercise, partly with the help of bicycles. He is also a believer in the power of bike-friendly transportation policies to change lives and communities for the better. Best of all, he is a firm believer that bicycling is not a partisan issue.
Lt. Gov. Cagle’s path to becoming an avid bicyclist was not typical. He started off as “a traditional athlete,” playing college football. But after undergoing neck surgery six years ago, he found himself restricted at home.
“I’m one of those individuals who has to have things to do, so I asked the doctor about using a trainer,” he said.
Then while in physical therapy that incorporated swimming, it was suggested that he set a goal to ride a triathlon on the one-year anniversary of the surgery. Training toward this goal, he says, “I got hit with the bug pretty quickly, and fell in love with cycling. What I most love—when you’re on a bike, the world can be a million miles away. You get rid of stress; it clears the mind. It is my refuge.” He still competes in sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons, as well as hardcore bicycling events, such as the Six Gap Century.
Four years ago, Lt. Gov. Cagle founded the Lieutenant Governor’s Greater Purpose Century Ride—which took place this year on October 18th—to support the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and his own Greater Purpose Charity. The ride takes place near his hometown of Gainesville, GA and features plenty of hills on its four routes. The beneficiaries of the ride are near and dear to Lt. Gov. Cagle’s heart; he was raised by his single mom, and founded the Greater Purpose Charity to support children of single-parent homes. He also cites attending a camp of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a turning point in his young life. “That’s the thing I love about being Lieutenant Governor,” he remarked. “It affords a platform to do some wonderful things. It’s about being a leader that doesn’t just use his head, but his heart.”
Riders during the Lieutenant Governor’s Greater Purpose Charity Ride. (Image: Casey Cagle Century Ride Facebook page)
Through the Healthy Kids Georgia Initiative, Lt. Gov. Cagle helps Georgian youngsters stay fit through nutrition and exercise, including, of course, bike riding. The program puts on a number of large events through local schools, and has developed partnerships, such as that with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, that further encourage healthy choices. “We’re beginning to move the needle quite extensively to fight obesity among children,” said Lt. Gov. Cagle, “and we’re beginning to see the numbers come down. It’s positive and exciting to see.”
But bikes are not simply recreational in Lt. Gov. Cagle’s view—they are part of a complete transportation picture as well. He recognizes that more people are choosing to live where they can ride a bike to get around, and that this has positive effects for local economies.
‘We have been a huge proponent of not just simply more cycling lanes, but also cycling paths as well,” he explained. “Georgia is continuing to grow in that area. We have the Silver Comet Trail, a wonderful trail that goes from Cobb County all the way into Alabama. The beauty in seeing that particular development is that for real estate around the Trail, resale value is much higher than homes outside the area. The same is true with the Beltline—a large path that circles the city of Atlanta. Integrating more of these types of opportunities will create the ability for commuters on a bike to access [the city], and ultimately will benefit their health as well.” Given Atlanta’s notorious traffic congestion, this seems like a sound policy.
As far as the basics of fostering a bike-friendly atmosphere, Lt. Gov. Cagle understands bikers’ needs and does his best to meet them, even when it’s not easy. “We have also championed the three-foot law that gives cyclists protection while they are on the road,” he said. “By the same token, we had a situation where a legislator was going to introduce legislation that would force all bicycles to be tagged. It would have been very hurtful to what we’re trying to do for cyclists and we had to beat that back, fight it off. Certainly it has not been easy to promote cycling in the South, particularly in certain geographical areas. Fortunately we’ve won more battles than we’ve lost.”
Lt. Gov. Cagle (middle front) leads politicians through Atlanta by bike during the 2013 National Conference of State Legislators.
You may have guessed by now that Lt. Gov. Cagle is not the stereotypical left-leaning champion of bike interests in government. In fact, he is a member of the Republican Party and politically identifies as a conservative. But he is a firm believer in bike-partisanship. “Cycling is not political in the least,” he states unequivocally. “It is embraced and enjoyed by a very broad spectrum of individuals. I think, quite candidly, that it’s a win-win”win not only for individuals that do it, but win for the environment, for development, for acceleration in value because people like to live near places where bicycling development is available, and for their kids as well. I certainly don’t see it as a liberal or conservative issue—we need to make these options available for everyone. Nor are we mandating no cars. We have to meet people where they are, and provide a safe environment, not only on roads but alternative paths.”
Lt. Gov. Cagle was able to show some of his fellow politicians the benefits of bicycling firsthand when he hosted a ride through Atlanta during the 2013 Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislators. “Honestly, I didn’t expect that we’d have that many people show up,” he recalled, “but we had well over 200. We took them through the city, through the historic part, on the Beltline, past the home of Martin Luther King and Ebenezer Church. It was a fascinating thing—every person got a completely different perspective of Atlanta, because they saw it from a different vantage point, and were able to see things you’d never otherwise see in a car. People see value in that—appreciate that type of quality of life, and unique opportunities to experience.”
Proving that his support of bicycling interests is not just a fluke, Lt. Gov. Cagle has incorporated it into his current bid for reelection during the November mid-terms—you can find a selection of promotional bumper stickers on his Facebook page, including one that says ‘Cyclists for Cagle.’ It has been, by far, the most popular sticker requested.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (left), Rebecca Serna of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, and Georgia State Representative Margaret Kaiser at the National Conference of State Legislatures bike ride. (Photo: BikeTexas)