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New Federal Transpo Bill slashes bike/walk safety, will use air quality funds to widen highways

The news out of Washington DC is grim. The drastically underfunded biking and walking budget has been slashed as much at 60 – 70 percent, and biking and walking advocacy groups appear resigned to accept it.

I’ll let the Bicycle Alliance of Washington fill you in on what this means for our state, but first I want to point you to Bike Portland’s coverage, specifically this horrendous turd:

Another crucial program for funding bike-related projects, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program, has suffered key changes. Congress has stripped the provision that used to prohibit the use of CMAQ funds to construct single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) lanes and additional turn lanes on highways. This means CMAQ funds could go toward widening highways, leaving less money for non-motorized projects.

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You read that right. The number one cause of all our air quality issues—from global climate change to the disproportionate rates of asthma among inner-city youth—will now get extra funding from no other than the air quality mitigation budget.

I have no words. Here’s the Bicycle Alliance:

Lost in today’s historic news of the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act ruling is the fact that last night at the eleventh hour, conferees from the US House and Senate came to an agreement on a two-year federal transportation bill. On Friday, Congress will vote on this new transportation bill that reverses years of progress on biking and walking policy and cuts by up to 60 to 70 percent funding for local safety projects such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.

The Bicycle Alliance, along with partners nationally are very concerned at the bill’s cuts to funding for popular programs nationwide for Safe Routes to School programs, new sidewalks, and bikeways. At best, programs that previously funded walking and biking will see reduced funding from $1.2 billion per year to only $700 million. Unfortunately, because the new umbrella program called Transportation Alternatives now includes options for states and local governments to use these monies on road projects, and because individual states have the option to opt-out of funding for half of each state’s allocation, the number for walking and biking could dip as low to as $350 million annually.

“This bill means less money for walking and biking and more competition for that money from roads and regulatory projects,” said Bicycle Alliance of Washington statewide policy director Blake Trask. “Not only that, but states can opt-out for up to half of the money. Despite this news, we are optimistic that our leaders from Washington state will continue to invest in these important roadway safety and school programs,” said Trask.

The bill’s 60-70 percent cut in overall funding could mean that only 1% of the transportation budget goes to walking and biking. Given that 14% of all traffic fatalities occur to those on foot and bike, the latest federal funding package will lead to an even larger disparity in the need for safer streets for all roadway users.

“In Washington state, we are lucky that the state has chosen to fund walking and biking more than most states,” said Barbara Culp, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. She added, “we look forward to working with elected leaders and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to ensure that the state government chooses to opt-in for its allotment of walking and biking monies in the coming years. The Bicycle Alliance will continue to advocate for increased funding and we will continue to collaborate with school districts across the state on the wildly successful and dramatically underfunded Safe Routes to School programs.”

Currently 4 out of every 5 school applicants in Washington state do not receive Safe Routes to School program support due to a lack of funding.

To sum up, the transportation bill:

  • Cuts available walking and biking monies by up to two-thirds
  • Eliminates dedicated Safe Routes to School funding
  • Weakens local control by allowing states to opt-out for half of available walking and biking dollars
  • Makes  biking and walking compete with new expensive programs for roads and environmental mitigation in the now conflated Transportation Alternatives program


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15 responses to “New Federal Transpo Bill slashes bike/walk safety, will use air quality funds to widen highways”

  1. Joel S.

    It’s going to take steady rising oil prices year over year, and indisputable evidence of humans causing global warming to get real change – the kind of evidence that hits average people in the pocketbook. Unfortunately, it is guaranteed that we will experience the chaos this will cause in the future before the masses begin to realize that we should have been changing things years ago.

    But, like World War II, maybe we will rise to the occasion before it’s too late.

    It’s either that or a deus ex machina.

  2. Clark in Vancouver

    This brings up another issue that really needs to be dealt with someday. The influence that corporations have on U.S. politics to go against the will of the people.

  3. Todd

    Welcome to the United States of America. If you think this is going to change anytime soon, you’re live in fantasy land. But I feel your pain.

  4. Gary

    It could have been a lot worse, the Republicans wanted to cut all the Federal fuel taxes and leave it solely to the states. That would have made populous states like CA with more money and poor’er states with less. (rich get richer…)

    Still bicycling is on the rise and with each connected route more people ride.

    1. So maybe CA would have been more likely to maintain gas taxes than other states, but that’s because of CA’s political leanings, not their large population, and mostly not their wealth.

      Consumption-based taxes are a pretty lousy way to raise money anyhow. We should have taxes on environmental damage (including carbon emissions) at far higher levels than any place in the world charges. But they should be revenue-neutral. Divide the take from such a tax equally among all the people and, like magic, you have a non-regressive pigouvian tax.

      1. Gary

        Consumption taxes are designed to spread the cost across those who use the facility. That’s why motorists hate us bicyclists for not having to pay them.

        And yes a carbon emissions tax on gas would help cover the extrannlites for the damage it does.

  5. Todd

    Yeah, it’s getting better isn’t it? Within the last year there have been some tremendous improvements — many started years ago. Hate to see money get slashed but it’s a dim reality. Bikers aren’t the only ones feeling this pain.

  6. Gary

    The other thing we can count on is that in the long run energy prices will continue to rise which will make Bicycling seem like a financially attractive to driving everywhere. Not that people won’t still drive but where they can ride they will.

  7. Todd

    Gary, maybe I’m just a little different than most people on this blog — I don’t know — but I just have no grand ideas about converting people to become bike riders or even trying to get more ridership, or simply to drive social change. I love it and feel lucky to be a part of it — but feel it should be an attraction thing. So in that sense, I am all up or building new avenues to make biking more safer for all. But bikers have been preaching the good life for years and I could have cared-a-less about them and now only marginally embrace them. I stumbled into this on my own and now consider myself a proud member of the biking community — but could care-a-less about such things as bike sharing programs. What I do believe in is providing alternatives to a motor vehicle — which basically means to me bike paths, bike lanes, repavement projects, and better intersection travel/markings. In short, I am not a promoter or a driver for biking social change — never will be — but if my bike trips and commutes inspire others on mediums such as Facebook, so be it. Again, it’s an attraction thing.

    1. Here’s why cyclists should want fewer people driving and more people biking:

      Safety. As cycling rates in a city rise cycling becomes safer.
      Design. The more people drive the more places are built to be exclusively accessible to drivers or nearly so; and then the fewer people can bike.
      Distance. The more people drive the more the city (when I say “city” I am talking about the economic unit of the city with no regard to political boundaries) sprawls, and the distances you have to travel to get around on bike increase.
      Politics. The more people bike the more political support there is for bike projects.
      Spite. I have had it up to here with irresponsible drivers endangering my skin. If they want me to support anything other than the demolition of urban freeways they’d better start treating me with more respect.

      The idea of using air quality funds for highway widening is Orwellian. Want to improve air quality over any term longer than a few weeks? Demolish urban freeways.

      1. Todd

        Uninspiring. Although +1 for your spite comment.

    2. Gary

      I find that being a vocal advocate but a reasonable one about bicycling is well worth it. I’ve converted a large number of people into at least trying it as an alternative and many of them have stuck with it for all the joyous reasons you’ve put forth.

      1. Andres

        Being positive about biking makes people in your social circle want to take up biking. Conversations like “$#!%# driver just nearly hit me!” and “This bike lane sucks” makes bicycling sound completely unappealing. On the other hand, conversations along the lines of, “oh man, blasting down $hill was such a rush!” and “Rain? Yeah, but biking in it was really refreshing in this heat” make people jealous of your chosen mode of transport.

  8. meanie

    Hilarious outrage from a page that just heralded the coming of AAA coverage for bikes….

    What does AAA support? Roads….

  9. […] 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 […]

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