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Member Profile: Sen. Rodney Ellis

Senator Rodney Ellis may represent thousands of Houston residents when he takes his seat at the Texas capitol in Austin, but when he gets on his bike, he’s an advocate for safe and healthy communities on a much grander scale.

A past speaker at the National Bike Summit and bicycle proponent at the annual gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ellis is a leading cycling champion.

“Senator Ellis has been a vital partner in advancing bicycling, not only in Texas, but across the country,” says Robin Stalling, executive director of BikeTexas. “In addition to authoring critical legislation, he has opened doors for advocates and broken down barriers across party lines. Senator Ellis envisioned the annual National Conference of State Legislators’ bipartisan bike ride that is now in its 10th year, which has engaged scores of legislators to help improve the climate for bicycling at the state level across the country.”

We were honored to get some insight from the Senator on his love of bicycling and how to get more policymakers on board with our shared vision for a Bicycle Friendly America in the September / October issue of our American Bicyclist magazine. 

How did you get involved in bicycling?

A good friend of Congressman Mickey Leland got me into bicycling a long time ago, and it’s now a lifelong passion of mine.

Why are you a champion of bicycling in your work as a policy maker? How do you believe bicycling can or does benefit your constituents?

I’m a champion for increasing cycling for transportation and recreation because it’s important for safety, public health, local economies, equity, and quality of life. Bicycling can relieve traffic congestion, reduce pollution, and it offers a healthy and convenient way for my constituents to get around.

Are there any particular bills or issues you’ve championed that you’re most proud of as relates to bicycling or safer streets?

During my tenure in the Texas legislature, I’ve fought to make biking safer and more accessible for all Texans. In 2005, I passed the Texas Tours and Trails Act, which sought to maximize federal and private funding for the development and promotion of bicycle tourism. In 2009, I passed legislation to require a bicycle safety component to the state drivers’ license exam. I’ve also spearheaded efforts to pass a safe-passing law, as well as state adoption of a Complete Streets policy. In 2012, Houston’s Mayor, Annise Parker, and I co-chaired the campaign to pass a $100 million bond referendum for trails, which also has the potential for up to a $100 million match from other, mostly philanthropic, sources. This will greatly expand the trails that have already been built in Houston. Our bayous, or creeks, wind through every neighborhood in town, and we think that continuous trails along them will be an important thread in the social fabric of our diverse city.  

When you talk about bicycling with your legislative colleagues or constituents, what resonates most with them? Health, economic development, safety, etc?

With a growing and aging population, childhood obesity on the rise, and overstressed infrastructure, these arguments for cycling are starting to resonate with my legislative colleagues in Texas. 

What’s your hope or vision for Texas or your district as relates to bicycling, health, safer streets?

I envision a Texas with diverse cycling culture that includes all ages, races, and genders. In urban areas, I see protected bike networks or cycle tracks, as well as trails. Texas cities and towns are interconnected with safe trails and routes that all ages can utilize. These things combined will improve the quality of life in Texas, and also make it one of the greatest destinations in the world for bicycle tourism.

Thanks for your support and vision, Senator Ellis!

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