Top 10 Reasons Sen. Boxer Must Keep Her Word on Bike/Ped Programs

This post originally appeared on www.bikeleague.org. The author is the president of the League of American Bicyclists.

For the past 20 years, local elected officials have been given rare access to state transportation funds through a handful of programs administered by state Departments of Transportation as grant programs. These also happen to be the primary sources of funding for bicycling and walking initiatives: Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails. They account for just 1.5 percent of the overall federal transportation bill and have all been heavily over-subscribed since their creation.

Who could be against healthy programs like Safe Routes to School? Photo by Allan Crawford.

Despite the overwhelming success and popularity of these programs, House Republican leadership and a handful of influential Senators have waged an unexplained and inexplicable vendetta against these programs — not to save the government any money, just to prevent state or local governments spending their money on these specific programs and activities, removing any vestige of local control over transportation investments into the bargain.

The threat of elimination provoked a rare display of bipartisanship in both the House and Senate — a bi-partisan effort to preserve these programs was narrowly defeated in a heavily-whipped House committee vote by just two votes (29-27) and the equally bi-partisan Cardin-Cochran amendment to the Senate transportation bill was successfully adopted.

Remarkably, the single-minded attacks on even the bi-partisan Cardin-Cochran compromise continue. House leadership entered the conference committee process to hammer out a transportation bill (something they couldn’t even get passed in the House itself) with the elimination of funding for bicycling and walking as a top priority. Senate conferees are struggling to hold the line against these attacks, desperate as they are to get a transportation bill — a jobs bill — completed before the summer.

Here are our top ten reasons why Senator Boxer must hang tough, keep her word, and lead the transportation committee conferees to reject these small-minded and vindictive attacks:

  • This is so much more than just a bicycling and walking issue. Transportation stakeholders in support of Cardin-Cochran include mayors, AARP, the American Heart Association, Transportation for America, Sierra Club, The National Council of La Raza, NAACP are just a handful of the dozens of groups from the health, environmental, equity, local government and transportation sectors that signed a letter of support to conferees.
  • If this is about jobs, we’ve made the jobs case. Transportation investment in bicycling, pedestrian and trail projects are more effective in creating jobs, per million dollars spent, than traditional road projects.
  • Reducing congestion and easing the morning commute: We’re doing it. Even small reductions in vehicle miles of travel in recent years have resulted in 30 percent-plus reductions in congestion in our major metro areas. We can do  even more with a very small investment.
  • Replacing short car trips with bike or walk trips improves air quality and saves energy: It’s self evident. A 77 percent increase in bicycle commuting since 2000 in cities that have invested in bicycling programs shows that these voluntary behavior changes are actually happening.
  • Worried about efficient project delivery? Small-scale projects to improve the safety, functionality and operation of highway system for all users — those projects funded by the TE, SRTS and RT programs — are popular, successful, and get done quickly. Unpopular, 1950?s-era mega-highway projects with dubious actual benefits will still take years to get built even through a streamlined process… because they are still unpopular, ineffective, and unnecessary.
  • There are so many benefits beyond transportation to investing in more walkable, bike-friendly communities. Highway agencies may not care about health or livability but the American public does.
  • Military readiness? Yes, we can even play that card. The U.S. military is so concerned about the general lack of physical fitness among kids that they are big supporters of the Safe Routes to School program as one way to get our children moving again. Really, who wouldn’t be in favor of Safe Routes to School?
  • Last but not least, there is still an underlying fairness and equity argument underpinning this whole issue. Bicycling and walking make up 12 percent of all the trips that are made by Americans; 14 percent of traffic fatalities are bicyclists or pedestrians; but only 1.5 percent of federal transportation funds address these issues.

Now even that tiny investment is under serious threat. I really don’t get it: What else do we have to do or say to make the case for continued investment in bicycling and walking; for preserving some minimal level of local involvement and control in major investment decisions? Senator Boxer, Chairman Mica…what do we have to do?