Next Thursday, February 2, the House Transportation Committee is expected to vote on the “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act.” Note the propaganda-friendly naming. This is, in fact, intended to be the long-awaited multi-year transportation bill.
As usual, we are being asked to PANIC about it and contact appropriate representatives. The League is asking us to contact everyone (even though this is still in Committee), because the current versionÂ eliminates the two largest programs that fund biking and walking infrastructure — Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School.
Most representatives will not be a part of this voting process. Work is also underway to restore these programs to the bill, probably via a Committee member such as Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
I agree that keeping Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to Schools active in any new transportation bill is important. I agree that people should contact appropriate House members to urge amending the bill or not passing it from Committee. I am growing a little tired of the constant state of panic about “they are going to kill cycling!”
Transportation Enhancements has been under near-constant assault for the last year. Transportation Enhancements federally funded, community-based projects that enhance surface transportation by improving the cultural, historic, aesthetic and environmental aspects of the infrastructure. They can address bike/ped infrastructure and safety, landscaping, rail-trail work, environmental mitigation, archaeological planning/research, historic preservation, and tourist facilities.Â The Heritage Foundation, a big conservative think-tank, has labeled them “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Because, look. They can’t kill cycling. They can remove funding, make things harder when working with federal funds, etc. But they lack the ability to dictate the use of local funds for cycling. They lack the ability to quash the grassroots. Sure, some existing infrastructure could be eliminated, but that’s true right now. A key to keeping cycling alive is much more about expanding the “movement” beyond the already-involved, the lifestylers, and advocates and convincing members of the community that bicycling is worthwhile, that bicyclists aren’t trying to force everyone’s ass onto a banana seat, and that by providing access to many modes of transport within a community we enrich users of ALL modes.
When you make that expansion, situations like this are less about paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanic and more about harnessing the general social sentiment. Right now, the general sentiment isn’t there to harness outside of specific communities. And that’s where we need to focus more energy — rather than on repeating the advocacy panic response repeatedly.
That said, check the list of members. See if your member is on the Transpo Committee. Note that if your person is not a Republican, you’ll have to manually find their House web site to call or e-mail them, the preferred methods of contacting an office in this modern, post-terrorist age. In Minnesota, these are Tim Walz of MN-1, and Chip Cravaak of MN-8. The League of American Bicyclists also has an excellent run-down of the act, some facts around the at-risk programs, and nice contact forms for members of Congress.
January 27, 2012 at 10:31 am
Fair enough, but in most communities, the idea of using “local funds” is not realistic. Nearly every community I have ever worked with in my professional career is 100% supportive of building bike planning and building bike infrastructure – so long as they can receive grants to do it. Only the most affluent communities have local funds that haven’t already been promised to some other program or commitment. In an atmosphere where the majority of the population continues to be skeptical about walking and biking being legitimate transportation modes, it is difficult for cities to justify diverting public works dollars to bike/ped projects.
However, I agree that momentum can go a long way. I have heard from unofficial sources at MnDOT that even if there is no federal support for SRTS, MnDOT would continue to voluntarily fund the program (albeit, probably at less than current levels) because it has widespread support.
January 27, 2012 at 10:41 am
What you say also kind of gets to my point, though, too. There’s not enough full-community commitment to pay for it “ourselves,” even though federal funds are a form of paying for it ourselves, of course.
That lack of broad commitment starts to influence not just the local conversation, but the national conversation, leading to this sort of PANIC MAYHEM. The programs are assailable because advocates and people already in the bicycle/transport community like them, but no one has done nearly enough to sell them to a broader base — thus, your skepticism about walking and biking as legitimate modes. The broader your base of support, the less frequent these shenanigans get. Meanwhile, there is broad support for reduced spending, and since these programs have niche support… they’re assailable.
I’ve referred to it as a circle-jerk before, and I’m likely to again. The circle needs to expand so that the bike lobby isn’t considered a niche interest group.