The newest Federal Transportation Bill (MAP-21) is not good for biking and walking, which was slashed by at least 35 percent. While there are some ancillary benefits to the new bill, it’s main change is the amount of latitude local and state governments now have over how the money is spent. This means advocates for biking and walking safety have to scramble to save the scraps there are left before the state uses Air Quality Mitigation dollars to widen highways or slashes the Safe Routes to School Program.
It’s the vulnerability of Safe Routes to School in Washington that has biking and walking advocate groups springing into action, calling on the Governor to preserve funding for the vital road safety program. Transportation for Washington has created a handy online tool for sending your thoughts to the governor, and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington has written a great post that goes into all the reasons why it makes both common and financial sense to fund the program.
To recap, the new federal bill, or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) as its authors call it, diminishes direct funding for walking and biking by a minimum of 35%. Unfortunately, those cuts could skyrocket to 70%, if Governor Gregoire chooses to divert federal funds to other transportation projects.
The funding stream most vulnerable to these cuts? Safe Routes to School.
Since the state began an innovative Safe Routes to School pilot project in 2004, Washington schools afforded these opportunities have seen a 34% increase in safe walking and biking to schools, better student compliance with safe crossing behaviors, more choices for healthy living, and no collisions occurring at completed project locations. In Washington, reducing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities just 5% per year over the next 10 years, consistent with our state’s adopted goal, will save us over $130 million.
If Governor Gregoire chooses to deplete Safe Routes to School investments by shifting previously allocated federal funds elsewhere, it would damage the state’s long-term commitment to walking and biking made at the start of her administration. Such a reversal could cut the state Safe Routes to School coordinator position, reduce the geographic equity in funding for this popular program, and would stymie the state legislature’s recent effort to grow Safe Routes to School funding in 2012.
It’s a bit depressing that we even need to defend such an obviously important and smart program like Safe Routes to School, but that’s where we find our nation and state’s transportation policy today.