Houston Planners Will Spend All Their Federal Air Quality Funding on Cars

It looks like the Houston region still has a long way to go in balancing the needs of cyclists and pedestrians with those of drivers. The region’s Transportation Policy Council came down largely on the side of auto infrastructure Friday in deciding how to allocate tens of millions of dollars in federal funding. On the bright side, an all-out push from local cycling and pedestrian advocates successfully preserved a chunk of funding for biking and walking that had been under threat.

Houston planners justified their decision by saying more roads are needed and that pedestrian and cycling infrastructure benefits special interests. Photo: mrchriscornwell/Flickr

In a meeting packed with active transportation supporters, the TPC moved to dedicate 100 percent of its $80 million in federal discretionary funds to auto infrastructure over the next three years. Local advocates did keep the TPC from diverting an additional $12 million to roads that had already been dedicated to transit, walking, and biking.

“We did win something,” said Jay Crossley, of Houston Tomorrow, one of the groups that led the charge to secure increased funding for bike, pedestrian and transit projects. In addition to asking that the $12 million be preserved, they had also demanded that no more than 55 percent of the other $80 million be used for auto-oriented projects. Those funds come from two federal programs that often support non-automotive modes, including one dedicated to reducing congestion and air pollution.

“That’s $12.8 million that won’t be taken away from alternative modes, but we thought it could go farther,” said Crossley.

According to Crossley, 26 people spoke at the meeting in favor of increased bike and pedestrian funding. The four remaining speakers remarked on specific road projects, without entering the debate about how funding should be divided between different modes.

Ultimately, however, TPC members said expanding the region’s road network into sprawling and unincorporated areas was a bigger priority than “small-ticket things that are representative of individual communities’ values as opposed to regional values,” according to a report by The Houston Chronicle.

“We’re trying to provide the best mobility and alternative projects possible for the people of the entire region, not just some small part of this region,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

The TPC’s decision bowed to powerful real estate and development interests, despite popular outcry, Crossley said.

“There is no public uproar saying we need more roads,” he said. “They did not listen to the people.”

Crossley said the local advocacy community will turn their energy to new objectives in the coming year. They will be organizing to support a statewide Complete Streets bill and also working to support safe passing bills large cities.

“This movement can do a lot and change things,” Crossley said. “We can put Houston on the path for reasonable transportation choices this year.”