Remembering Jim Oberstar

Champion of bicycling in America

This post comes courtesy of People for Bikes (

Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, bicycling’s great friend and supporter, passed away in his sleep on May 3 at age 79. No American has done more to boost bicycling than Mr. Oberstar. If you get out to ride this week, think of Jim, and know that he helped make your bike ride better. Read about his life and his half century of public service here.


A few words on Mr. Oberstar from People for Bikes president, Tim Blumenthal:

During his 36 years in Congress, the federal investment in bicycling grew from essentially zero to an average of $700 million per year, providing core funding for nearly 30,000 bike and walking projects in all 50 states.

He recognized all the problems associated with child obesity and inactivity, and almost singlehandedly led the successful effort to create the first federal Safe Routes to School program. More than $800 million has been invested in this program. The goal, as he framed it, was “to change the habits of an entire generation.” Thanks to this effort, tens of thousands of American children have started riding bikes to school.

He was the bike industry’s smart, compassionate, helpful uncle. He inspired us, challenged us, and led us to think bigger. He was truly a transportation expert. He knew everything about planes, trains and automobiles–and bikes. He could have co-authored Richard Scary’s famous kid’s book: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.

He cared so much about bicycling. He recognized that when people ride bikes, great thing happen–not only for bike riders but for the community, state and country. He loved to ride and (pre-Strava/pre-Garmin) kept a detailed count of every mile he pedaled.

He helped U.S. bicycling become politically savvy. Yes, bicycling is a good thing, he told us, but we would need to develop a full slate of campaign tools to earn government support. So we did.

He could speak just about any language and sound like a native: French, Italian, Slovenian, Spanish…Creole. He would show those language skills in just about every speech he delivered–and this was always entertaining. He would close every speech with a change in tempo: a fast-staccato delivery with a sense of urgency and always a call to action. Not many were better at rousing a crowd.

His father was an underground miner in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. From these modest roots, he rose to become the longest-serving Minnesotan in Congress (36 years) and an internationally respected leader. These details are just the tip of the iceberg. What a life!