Fact Check: Sen. Sessions Gets It Wrong On Bike Paths in His Hometown

Last week, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) told Streetsblog freelancer Alice Ollstein that he had good reason to oppose Transportation Enhancements, the program that funds bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Mobile's local bike group on a ride that stopped at the local bars that accommodate cyclists. Photo: ##http://southernspokes.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/nice-rack-ride/##Southern Spokes##

“I just saw that in my hometown, they stopped construction of a highway because the federal government insisted on bike paths,” Sessions said. “It’s going to delay for over a year and add 10 percent to costs. So I’m very dubious about the mandates of that kind. A lot of the things we’ve been spending money on have not shown themselves to be ‘enhancements.’”

As it happens, Niklas Hallberg of Alabama bicycle blog Southern Spokes sent us the details about this supposed “highway” with bike paths. We’d like to point out five facts that Senator Sessions neglected to mention:

    1. Turns out this “highway” was a local road in Mobile, Zeigler Boulevard, that connects several neighborhoods with a city park and several schools. Local engineers say the road is “ideal” for bike lanes.
    2. It’s a minor detail, but just for the record, the project is a road widening, not new construction.
    3. Let’s be clear about what caused this delay: The city wanted to the feds to pick up 80 percent of the tab for the project but flaunted a federal mandate to consider – that’s right, just consider – bicycle access.
    4. Maybe Sessions knows something the local paper doesn’t, but at the time this article was written (10 days ago) in the Press-Register, it was unclear how long the project would be delayed for the city to go back and redo the plan. But perhaps more importantly, the plans for this road widening have been on the books for about a decade already, so it’s not like this is the first delay it’s faced.
    5. Sessions used the Zeigler Boulevard example to explain why he’s opposed to Transportation Enhancements. It’s true that there are certain, very small pots of money that can only be used for their intended purpose, and that purpose is non-motorized transportation. But that’s not the federal mandate that slipped things up in Mobile. That was a rule that bicycles be considered and, if possible, accommodated, on roadways built with federal dollars. Maybe Sessions opposes all elements of federal support for healthy transportation options, but he should at least learn to tell them apart.

Cycling is growing in Mobile, but it’s got a long way to go. It ranks 228th out of 244 cities for bicycle mode share, with just 0.1 percent of its residents regularly bike-commuting. (That’s 42 residents, give or take.) If the city wants to “catch up to the rest of the country” when it comes to multi-modal transportation, as Niklas of Southern Spokes says he’d like, they’re going to have to start at least complying with the bare minimum requirements for bicycle access.

  • Zman

    The 10% seems to get thrown around very casually these days. Transportation Enhancements are NOT 10% of highway funding. They are 10% of STP Program funding (Surface Transportation Priorities). The total highway spending on Transportation Enhancements is closer to 2%.

  • Very true, @Zman:twitter, and I appreciate your putting that out there. But that’s not the 10% Sessions is referring to. The article confirms his number, that the bike paths would add 10% to the project cost.

  • Nik

    Wow, I didn’t even know about Mobile’s ranking at 228.  It’s pathetic and we have zero snow and ice down here.  Thanks for reporting on it, it can be real tough to be an advocate for anything remotely progressive down here. 

  • Dgoldberg

    Great post. An additional factoid: Mobile adopted a local complete streets policy earlier this year. With their high rankings among obesity and fatality statistics, it was a smart move, and followed similar moves by a half-dozen other cities in that part of Alabama. 

  • Mark P.

    Sen. Sessions has nicely restored building–the GM&O–in his downtown thanks to TE funding. The sad irony is that it is completely inaccessible to pedestrians despite it being a transit hub for the regional transit authority.

  • Gonewest

    Important (albeit cynical) lesson here – with a 0.1% mode share in his city Sessions doesn’t need the truth on his side. It’s enough to make assertions that are plausible to the majority in his constituency.

    It will take something larger than funding allocations to get the city to be more bike friendly. In particular, the voters need to want it.

  • Phillly Bike Coalition

    Can we start compiling the lies that TE opponents are spreading and put them neatly on a webpage that we can easily refer people to?

  • Gonewest

    @ Philly Bike Coalition

    The best example I’ve seen for this is Skeptical Science

    They compiled a list of top arguments used by climate change skeptics and then refuted each one. The rebuttals even come in “basic”, “intermediate” and “advanced” forms depending how much depth you need.

    There are moderated discussion threads on each of the topics.

    They even have apps for iPhone, Android, and Nokia

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

  • Grammar!

    Flout, not flaunt.

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