This morning, the League of American Bicyclists released their 5th annual rating of the bicycle friendly states and Wisconsin slipped to #6 from #3 last year. The other Bike Fed staff members and I were very disappointed, but hardly surprised by the announcement. This year’s drop represents the continuation of a backwards slide that started two years ago when we fell from our position as the 2nd most bicycle friendly state in the nation. While other states are increasing the money they spend on cycling, in our last biennial budget, Wisconsin cut the state funds it allocates to bicycling and continues to rank near the bottom of states on the amount of federal money we spend on bicycling.
When I called Matt Wempe, the League’s state and local coordinator, to ask what precipitated this year’s drop, he was quick to respond with a short answer, “Wisconsin cut $3 million dollars for bicycling from its state budget.” At the same time we cut the bike funds, Wisconsin increased the transportation budget overall. So although three million dollars is a tiny fraction of our huge $6.5 billion transportation budget, when it is pretty much the only state money we ante up towards bicycling, cutting it has a big impact on how we compare to other states.
Matt also pointed out that of the total money the feds give us that Wisconsin could spend on bicycle and pedestrian projects, we only spend 1.17%. By comparison, since 2007, Washington (at #1) has spent 2.96% of their eligible federal-aid highway obligations and the national average is 1.74%. In real dollar terms, from 2007 to 2011, the state has actually only spent $50, 445, 992 on bike ped projects of the $4.3 billion the feds obligated for those types of projects. Note that this pattern of low spending on bike and pedestrian projects predates the current political leadership.
If you click on the chart to the left, you can see how all 50 states rate. Washington held their place as the most bicycle friendly state. Minnesota edged us out to score the 2nd best, up from #4, and Colorado jumped from #12 to the #3 slot. Our neighbors across the cheddar curtain to the south in Illinois failed to break into the top ten again at #11, despite the big improvements going on in Chicago. This year Arkansas dropped from #48 to #50 to carry the lantern rouge.
As an early leader in building trails and the epicenter of the nations ‘s bicycle industry, it is critical that we not lose ground to other states if we are going to continue to reap the huge returns on our relatively tiny annual investment of $1.5 million in bicycling. Remember, cycling pumps in more than $1.5 billion into our state economy each year and provides more than 13,000 jobs in the cities, towns and villages across the state.
Bicycling means more tourism dollars added to the economies of our small towns at a time when every penny counts. Bicycling provides jobs at bike retail stores located on main streets across the state. Those employees then spend their money at nearby, keeping local dollars in the local economies. Great bicycling makes it easier for our growing bicycle industry and other large businesses to attract and retain a talented workers and keep family supporting jobs for engineers, designers, sales associates, welders, etc. here in Wisconsin.
Chris Fortune, president of Saris Cycling Group and chair of the Governor’s Bicycle Coordinating Council has this perspective about our downward slide:
“Our research shows that 60% of our population is interested in riding bicycles more often, but they don’t because they are concerned for their safety. This is really all about providing safe, attractive places for people to ride.
Look at the value proposition bicycling provides in improvements to quality of life, in the increased mobility for our children and our seniors, the improved ability of employers to attract the best employees. I look at the other states and cities we compete against making big investments in bicycling, and I think we have so many great things going in Wisconsin, we just can’t afford to lose our momentum and reputation as a great place for bicycling.”
Despite the disappointing drop to #6, the staff at the Bike Fed feels Wisconsin is still a great place to ride a bike, live, visit and do business. The Wisconsin Bike Fed remains as committed as ever to work cooperatively with our elected officials, with our members and with our bicycle industry to keep Wisconsin moving forward.
For an overview of how Wisconsin pays for bicycle facilities read this here. For more blog posts on federal and state funding for bicycling, select the “Bicycle Funding” category to the right.
Please consider joining as a member or making a $35 donation today to help us protect your bicycling rights and to build an even more bicycle-friendly Wisconsin. Through member dues and donations, we are able to fund our work with Wisconsin’s political leaders to increase bicycling funding and pass critical legislation like a Vulnerable Users’ law. Only together, will we make Wisconsin #1!
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