Never has bicycling been more at the forefront. More people are choosing to ride. More cities, towns and businesses are investing in bicycling. And more of society’s pressing challenges—like the dramatic rise in obesity-related disease and families with tight budgets in tough times—actually seem solvable when you add bicycling.
That’s why we’re deeply disappointed in the new two-year transportation bill passed by Congress last week. No doubt about it: it’s bad for bicycling. Once again, the people and the movement are out ahead of most of our elected leaders.
Many people spoke up and voiced support for protecting funding for biking over the past couple of years in the lead-up to the vote last week. Nationally, there was a movement afoot, protecting bicycling and getting some high-profile wins. Locally, we sent literally thousands and thousands of emails, made calls and visited with all of our members of Congress. If it were up to our Washington state representatives and senators, we’d likely be in a much better place, largely due to the efforts of people like you. By and large, our representatives and senators now understand the importance of investing in bicycling and the difference it makes in their districts all across the state.
We’ll be working these next few months to analyze the bill and its local impacts. But the short version is this: it’s bad, but could have been worse. The new law will likely result in more than a 60% cut in funding for biking and walking, turning back 20 years of progress to make our streets safer, healthier and more accessible. At one point, though, it looked as though all funding would be slashed, meaning no Safe Routes to School projects to get our kids more safely to school, no bike safety projects like cycle tracks and greenways—not even any sidewalks in our communities.
Bill Overview: 10 Main Points for Bicycling
- Less money. The major pots of federal dollars like Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School are reduced—a 33% reduction in funding overall, but more than 66% of cuts if states choose to opt out (see next bullet).
- Transferring money away. States can transfer up to half of the funds from “Transportation Alternatives” and into just about anything—taking pennies from bikes to spend on expensive highways, for instance.
- Local control. I believe that transferring money away from bike safety projects isn’t local control—it’s just plain stupid. But there is an element of local control that I like: 50% of state funding goes directly to local communities through a grant competition—as long as the state doesn’t transfer the money into another bucket (see bullet above).
- More programs eligible. More programs are eligible like some road and mitigation projects. The funding is now called “Transportation Alternatives.” (I don’t like “alternatives” because I think bicycling should actually be messaged as more mainstream.)
- Complete Streets gone. Complete Streets language that was part of the Senate bill was left out of the final bill, despite cruising through the Senate committee with a unanimous bipartisan vote.
- Trails in—with a catch. Recreational Trails received a dedicated $85 million, but governors can opt out of the program each year.
- Mandatory side-path law. This is a raw deal for bikes. When a federal road has a separate bike path or trail, bikes are banned from the road. There is a clause that gives states some flexibility of how and where to apply this, but it’s still not good news.
- Safe Routes weakened. Funding for Safe Routes to School would come from overall transportation dollars instead of a dedicated program and funding a state coordinator position is allowed, but not required.
- Information. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the National Center for Safe Routes to School and the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse are defunded.
- A small scare. A previous printing of the bill allowed Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) money—something often used for bicycle projects—to be used for single occupancy vehicle lanes. I couldn’t believe my eyes. But it was reprinted and the mistake corrected.
So what’s next? The federal bill is in place until October 2014 and we’ll start working soon to influence what happens after that. In the meanwhile, we need your help to continue making the case that bicycling is great for our communities and that everyone deserves the freedom to choose how and where they get around—including by bike. Since states like Washington will have more control over how to spend federal dollars with this new bill, we need your help during our legislative session to ensure Washington State invests in building safer, healthier and more connected communities. And we need your help in our cities and towns to make sure that progress continues locally regardless of what happened at the federal level.
Thanks again to all those who took action by writing, calling and visiting your members of Congress. It made a difference and will continue to be important as we move ahead with a better vision for bicycling.