The residents of Florida’s 7th Congressional District must contend with some of the most dangerous pedestrian crossings in the country. And it’s beginning to sound like they’re tired of it.
But is their powerful Congressman listening? Rep. John Mica, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has put forward a proposal that would eliminate dedicated funding for pedestrian and cycling projects. During tough economic times, Mica has stated, states should have more “flexibility” on how they spend their transportation dollars.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, Mica’s idea has sparked a revolt.
“In his own backyard, and among his own constituents, he is now surrounded by opposition,” said Jake Lynch of the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
It all started in April when Volusia County, in the heart of Mica’s 7th District, unanimously passed a resolution opposing the congressman’s plan. Since then, other communities have piled on, including nearly half a dozen from within Mica’s turf.
Putnam County, the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization and the communities of Palatka, New Symrna Beach, Daytona Beach and Holly Hill [PDF] have all voted unanimously for resolutions that decry Mica’s plan and support dedicated funding for programs like Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements, and the Recreational Trails Program. And more local communities are coming forward with resolutions by the day. The Volusia regional planning agency is preparing a similar resolution for passage, as are the counties of Flagler and St. John’s.
“The people down here are taxing themselves to pay for these amenities,” Pat Northey, vice chair of the Volusia County Council. “This is not just about providing trails and pathways for people to get around in this county – this is about ‘heads in beds.’ This is an economic engine.”
On May 25, the paper wondered: “What’s attractive about living in a place where it’s dangerous to even walk?”
And on May 11: “What meager money now goes to sidewalks and bike trails could become rarer still if Rep. John Mica, chair of the House transportation committee, gets his way.”
All of this has been underscored by Florida’s recent last-place ranking in Transportation for America’s annual survey of pedestrian safety, the “Dangerous by Design” report, released last month.
Ken Bryan, the Florida director of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, points out that in the last decade more than 5,000 pedestrians have been killed on Florida streets [PDF].
To address this major public health problem, many local communities have developed long-term plans that include incremental improvements. But Mica’s proposal could render them obsolete.
Florida’s newly appointed state transportation secretary, Ananth Prasad, has said that he does not think transportation money should be spent on sidewalks and bikeways during periods of budget crisis. Without dedicated funding, local governments in Florida are convinced the dollars available for the state’s most vulnerable travelers will be curtailed.
Bryan said he is especially disappointed to see Mica take a position against pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Traditionally, the Congressman had been a big supporter of local trail projects, Bryan said. Florida advocates were excited when he was appointed to chair the Transportation Committee.
Now Mica’s loyalties seem to have shifted.
“He’s more interested in doing the bidding of congressional leadership than what his constituents want,” Bryan said.