At a press conference outside the Capitol this morning, where gusty winds nearly carried off the visual aids (if it weren’t for a few diligent supporters), bicycle advocates joined members of Congress to unveil the results of a new survey about federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The telephone poll of 1,003 Americans, commissioned by the advocacy group America Bikes and conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, was unequivocal: 83 percent said that federal bike-ped funding should increase, or at the very least be maintained.
“Even we were surprised,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “From this day forward, we can say with total confidence that this issue has bipartisan support and is in the national interest.”
The poll is timely, coming the day after the first official meeting of the House-Senate conference committee charged with hammering out a compromise transportation bill before policy expires on June 30. The Senate bill includes some protections for bike-ped programs and devolves certain funding decisions to cities and local governments, while early drafts of the House bill eliminated those programs altogether.
Even more notable than the overwhelming support for current funding levels (and “increasing” had the edge over “maintaining,” 47 percent to 36) was the constant level of support across geographic, demographic, economic, and — perhaps most surprisingly — political boundaries. Among self-identified Republicans, 80 percent still favored maintaining or increasing bike-ped funding, compared to 88 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Independents.
“Every way you cut the numbers, it makes it all the more perverse that a few members of Congress would be opposed to this,” Clarke told Streetsblog.
Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tom Petri (R-WI) were on hand to tout the survey’s results and defend the importance of bicycle and pedestrian programs.
“Some people fight crime, some people fight terrorism,” said Durbin, enumerating just a few reasons to enter public service. “The Tea Party came to fight bikes.” Durbin, who sits on the transportation bill conference committee, said that even his suburban and rural constituents are incredibly proud of their bicycle infrastructure and want to see continued federal support.
Fellow conferee Blumenauer invoked the “soft-spoken” mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, as one leader who understands the link between bike-friendliness and the retention of young graduates from colleges and universities. (The Princeton survey found over 90 percent of respondents aged 18-29 support bike-ped.) Chicago, along with New York and Portland, will soon join Washington in embracing bike-share programs, and Blumenauer pointed out that in addition to bicycling’s obvious benefits to health and congestion mitigation, “D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare is the only mass transit system in the United States fully funding its operating costs.” (Well, close enough.)
Clarke praised Petri, the lone Republican lawmaker present, for his “courage and fortitude” in defending bicycle programs against a strong prevailing wind from the right wing of his own party — though Petri questioned whether his actions can truly be called courageous if 83 percent of Americans are with him. Petri previously co-sponsored an amendment to the controversial House bill, H.R. 7, which would protect crucial sources of bike-ped funds such as the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School programs, but it was voted down in committee despite bipartisan support. Some have speculated that his steadfast defense of bike-ped funding may be the reason he was not nominated to the conference committee by Republican leadership.
“It’s great to have conferees [Durbin and Blumenauer] speaking out in support of this issue,” said Caron Whitaker, campaign director of America Bikes. Whitaker said she hopes the survey results will help convince the conference committee to retain the provisions of the Cardin-Cochran amendment to the Senate bill, which places bike-ped funding decisions directly in the hands of local authorities.
The greater D.C. community was also represented at the event as an example of what local commitment to biking and walking can look like. Angela Fox from the Crystal City Business Improvement District said she is focused on shifting perceptions of her modernist community, sandwiched between the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan Airport and built atop a system of underground tunnels. Under her direction, Crystal City has invested heavily in Capital Bikeshare, which Fox says has helped attract and retain the type of employees local firms prefer. (She has also expanded National Bike to Work Day, scheduled for next Friday, into Bike to Work Week in Crystal City.)
Local parent Sandra Moscoso was also on hand, having come directly from an event commemorating the first ever National Bike to School Day at nearby Lincoln Park. Her organizing campaign within the D.C. Public Schools system succeeded in getting 324 children to ride their bikes to school that morning, a strong showing that Moscoso believes is reason enough to want to see Safe Routes to School funding survive the conference process.