As headlines in the States are littered with concerns about the country's national debt, the ever increasing cost of oil, and the health and environmental repercussions of a largely inactive and auto-dependent population, the fate of federal funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure is uncertain.
According to the League of American Bicyclists, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works was scheduled to discuss key elements of the Senate version of the transportation bill at the end of last week. So far, no details of those talks have been released, and the process of writing the new transportation legislation is far from complete.
In the past several weeks, various drafts and analyses have been circulating in the bicycle advocacy world. Most reports indicate that the ambitious follow up to the $286.4 billion SAFETEA-LU bill, which expired in 2009, could be a six-year, $556 billion surface transportation bill. In fact, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, this $556 billion proposal is already in the hands of Congress and it is now up to them "to come up with their plan and do their debate. We’ve given them an extraordinary blueprint — one that people haven’t seen in a long time.”
So what is included in this blueprint and what does it mean for cyclists? Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, is excited about the proposal. Based on the information that the League has at this time, "not only is the livability piece potentially larger than the current bike/ped funding through [Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement programs] but bike/ped would still be eligible for all other programs," said Clarke. There would also be a stronger emphasis on measuring and rewarding alternative transportation initiatives, which could benefit bicycle programs.
However, this proposal is just that "“ a proposal. LaHood and Clarke have positive things to say about this blueprint, but both also acknowledge that it is now in the hands of the House and the Senate. Due to her previous support for programs such as TE, SRTS and Recreational Trails, the League is hopeful that Senator Barbara Boxer will help to protect future funding for these programs in the Senate. The House bill, conversely, may suffer without the support of a representative like Sen. Boxer, and if the transportation decision-making responsibilities are shifted more to the states’ Departments of Transportation, that scenario does not bode well for bike/ped programs.
Throughout this March's National Bike Summit in DC, attendees were educated to ask our representatives to protect existing funds for Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to Schools and Recreational Trails. Darren Flusche of the League states that "these are important programs for transportation, safety, and health that will have a huge impact on available funding for bicycling and walking projects. The Senate version is our best opportunity to protect these programs. If these programs are not included in the Senate draft, it will be nearly impossible to add them later in the process."
Realistically, given the state of the economy and the pressure on politicians to focus on reducing government spending, cycling advocates are fighting more to cling to current funds rather than seeking to increase funding in any dramatic way. So we have been asking. Maybe even begging. As gas prices continue to rise, and drag up the prices of everything else that we consume, from the cost of food to the cost of bicycle tires, please do not cut funding for alternative transportation initiatives.