Currently about 1.6% of federal transportation dollars is spent on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects ($2.16 per capita/year), even though walking and bicycling make up about 11% of our trips nationwide. Most of these projects are funded through the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School programs, which are part of the current 5-year transportation bill. This bill has been extended for several years, as lawmakers have a hard time agreeing on a new bill. This year the House GOP finally drafted a new transportation bill (HB-7), but one that does kill both the transportation enhancements and the safe routes to school programs. A more complete list of reasons why this proposed bill is bad for cyclists can be found here.
photo is by Frank Chan from San Francisco, CA and is curtesy of the Alliance Photo Library
In our state bike and pedestrian fatalities make up about 20% of total traffic fatalities, and programs like Safe Routes to School are sorely needed. No wonder that organizations like the League of American Bicyclists, Rails-To-Trails, Bikes Belong, America Bikes, and the Alliance for Biking and Walking have asked their members to contact their representatives to protest against this proposed bill. It certainly looks like these calls have helped, as the proposed bill has been abandoned because of lack of support within the GOP. However, this week the GOP is working hard on a new version which will probably be a 1.5-2 year bill, and which will likely restore funding for transit, but not for biking and pedestrians. Bicycling organizations are pushing hard to win votes for the bi-partisan Petri amendment, which aims to partially restore funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. It is not clear whether the House will vote on the new bill before the extension of the new bill runs out the end of March.
In the Senate things are moving along a little faster, but the situation is not a lot better. Instead of federally mandated funding for bike/ped projects, it is left to the states how they want to spend the funds. Here bicycle organizations are strongly fighting for support of the Cardin Cochran amendment, which will shift spending priorities from the state level to the local MPOs. Local organizations (like our CRTPA) tend to support bicycle-pedestrian projects to a much higher degree than the state.
Of course the main reason for the problems is due to the fact that gas taxes have not been raised for years, and they now make up only 2/3 of the proposed federal transportation spending. It seems, however, that nobody has the political courage to raise gas taxes at the moment. If only 10% of the non gas tax dollars would be spend on bike/ped projects we would do well. And of course, you don’t have to be a cyclists to want to spend on bicycle infrastructure. Bike/ped projects create 1.5-2 times more jobs per dollar than road projects, and the benefits in terms of reduced health care costs, reduced air pollution, increased real estate values provide a return of about $3 per for each $1 spend on bike/ped infrastructure projects.
So what can you do? The most urgent thing is to ask senators Bill Nelson and especially Marco Rubio to support the Cardin-Cochran amendment. An easy way to do this is via the America Bikes website. In the House the situation is less clear, but check back here for updates as the new draft bill becomes available.