Progress Redefined

The Boxer/Inhofe 2-year transportation reauthorization bill (S1813) moving through the Senate right now is a big step backwards for bicycling, but it is not as bad as it could have been.  While it doesn’t entirely remove funding for bicycling and walking as some legislators wanted, it cuts those funds by about 30% and gives states the freedom to spend that lower amount of money on roads if they want to and includes a ban on bicycles on federal roads.

Given the current view of funding for bicycling and walking held by the majority party, EPW Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.)  opening remarks put the setback for non-motorized transportation in perspective: “The bill before us is completely bipartisan, and therefore nobody will think it is perfect,”  Despite amounting to less than 2% of the entire budget, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)  and some other from his party fought hard to cut all funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

The result of that fight was the decision to strip a requirement that states spend a specific percent of federal money on non-car transportation projects. Inhofe (R-Okla.) got his wish that states can choose what portion goes to bike or pedestrian projects. His opening statement explained the compromises:

“The bill reduces the number of programs by 2/3, eliminating or consolidating those that are duplicative or don’t serve a national transportation goal. One of the areas of greatest contention was transportation enhancements, or TE. This was a pot of money in the last three highway bills that could only be used for bike paths, walking trails, highway beautification, museums, and a number of other activities that I believe do not reduce congestion or improve the condition of our crumbling infrastructure.  I would have preferred to eliminate this funding altogether, but Senator Boxer believes strongly in TE funding and activities.”

This all happened yesterday when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved S1813, or MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century), by an 18-0 vote.  The bipartisan “reform” bill rolls the three primary bicycle funding sources -

Click for a bigger view of this side-by-side comparison of the new transportation bill with the previous bill.

Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails – into the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. CMAQ will now have two parts, traditional CMAQ activities and additional activities. Bicycling projects fall under additional activities. Unfortunately, the total amount of funding for bicycling projects is equal only to Transportation Enhancements’ FY 2009 level. There is also an opt-out clause that allows states to use the “additional activities” money for the traditional CMAQ activities, if “unobligated balances” accumulate.

Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails would be consolidated and listed as “eligible uses” under an $833 million additional activities category of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ). That would represent a $317 million cut from the $1.15 billion devoted to those programs in 2010. That year, Transportation Enhancements was funded at $878 million, Safe Routes to School at $183 million, and Recreational Trails at $85 million.

As mentioned above, the bill rubs salt in the funding wound by allowing states to divert their share of the $833 million additional activities money to traditional road projects that add traffic lanes or don’t involve bike and pedestrian infrastructure at all. As a compromise to those who wanted to eliminate bicycle and pedestrian funding entirely, the new bike-ped sub-category of the CMAQ program would be broadened to make eligible new road construction if the project “enhances connectivity and includes public transportation, pedestrian walkways or bicycle infrastructure.”

A little time bomb hidden away in the 600 page bill is language that allows bicycles to be banned from roads on federal lands (page 226):

(d) BICYCLE SAFETY.—The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road.

Even if the trail is in very bad shape or crowded with people walking, and the parallel low traffic, 30mph road is perfectly safe, bicycles will not be allowed on the road.

Page two of the comparison

The MAP-21 bill is the successor to our last bicycle-friendly transportation bill dubbed SAFETEA-LUThat this can be characterized as a bipartisan reform bill is a result of the mid-term elections in which the majority flipped in both the House and the Senate.  It is a reform bill in that it cuts the number of federal programs from 90 to 30, but it fails the conservative smell test in that it comes with a bigger price tag of $85 billion. It is also more business as usual in that it includes a $12 billion gap between funding and the projected revenue generated from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon U.S. gasoline tax.

The committee did not recommend a funding source to bridge the $12 billion gap. Finding a way to close that gap will be up to up to Max Baucus (D-Montana), chair of the Senate Finance Committee and a key member of EPW. Baucus reports: “We’re finding it. We’re close.” But as for where the money will come from, “That hasn’t been determined yet.”

As it stands right now (and there is still lots of time for amendments) “transportation reform” is now defined as more money for cars, less for people who bike or walk and bigger deficits for the taxpayers and bans on bicycles in parks. This says a lot about the priorities we voted for last election and puts a spotlight on the need to better make the case that bicycling and walking are one of the least expensive investments with the highest rate of return America can make.

For our wonky readers who made it this far and still want more on this issue, some suggested reading from the League of American Bicyclists:

Proposed Law would Force Cyclists off Roads on Federal Land and onto Paths (11.09.2011)

Proposed Program Reshuffling (11.09.2011)

Bicycling and Walking Organizations Respond to MAP-21(11.08.2011)

What a Week in Washington (11.08.2011)

 

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 11 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave lives with his wife Liz and daughter Frankie in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's west side.

9 thoughts on “Progress Redefined

  1. “…not as bad as it could have been…?”

    Are you serious? Obviously, Wisconsin must not have much in the way of Federal land. Those of us in the West would find this to be an unmitigated disaster, given the amount of Federal land and Federal roads out here.

    In and around my small community of Los Alamos, New Mexico, many of our roads are on land owned by the Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Interior (national parks), and Federal forest service. We would find ourselves in tough shape should such a law be passed and be thought of as precedent for “bicycle safety”. Please don’t write us off with such dismissive language. Thanks.

    • Khal, What I meant by not as bad as it could be, is that if Inhofe got everything he wanted, bike funding would have been completely eliminated. Certainly this is nothing to be happy about, which is why I wrote about it. But I do appreciate your perspective about the reach and impact that the bicycle ban could have if it stays in the bill.

  2. Thanks, Dave

    I think the sensitivity out here, at least my own, is that in the West, we depend critically on a small number of roads and highways once one is out of the major population centers such as Bicycle Friendly Communities (Bronze) Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces, just as examples. Out here, the Feds own so much land that that hidden gotcha on page 226 is pretty alarming in its potential reach and destructiveness. So while we certainly want to keep those funding programs in place since they contribute so much to the bicyclist’s landscape, esp. in and around population centers, we also need to make sure we have legal places to ride elsewhere.

    Each part of the country has its own critical issues as well as ones we share in common, determined by topography, land ownership, climate, population dispersion, etc. Your point on Inhofe’s desire to gut the program and its nationwide implications is certainly correct. We could have done worse in that regard.

    Thanks for the response and all the best to BFW. Hope to make it back to Wisconsin sooner rather than later, i.e., my last trip there was the Madison Pro-Bike/Pro-Walk. You guys do good work.

    • Thank you Khal, and please let us know if your New Mexico bike advocates take up this issue relative to the ban. There is plenty of time for amendments and this seems like the sort of thing that could be removed with a reasonable amount of bipartisan support. I would guess the thinking on this ban, however incorrect, is that “if we pay to build you bikers a trail, use it and get out of the way of motorists on the parallel road.” Clearly there are many reasons why that doesn’t make any sense, but I would bet that is the reasoning.

  3. What’s Congress thinking, or are they even thinking? I’m concerned that all Federal highways will have bicycle bans, even if bicyclists and motorists already safely co-exist on them. Does that mean that bicyclists wouldn’t be able to use US 18 (Bluemound Rd.) between Milwaukee and Waukesha? Or US 45 heading south out of Union Grove? And as for any hope of bicyclists riding the Daniel Hoan Bridge, is any hope of a permanent bicycle route dashed because it’s on I-794? I hope not in any of these cases.

  4. It is all part of the drive against the myth of the supremacy of the car. People are not being told the truth, because they want to feel like tough independent cowboys and drive big giant trucks 100 miles a day with cheap gas. I work with a lot of these guys, and their impression of green living, climate change, living close is a wildly distorted vision of right wing propaganda and media consumerism. They do not want to drive slow in a girlie car and commute short distances. They want to live free on their private open range and produce testosterone. It is insane, and it is sad, and every time I see Senator Inhofe’s name in the press it is him working against my interests and programs.
    Gaack! (A giant hairball in his lap)
    …and I am sooooooo tired.

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