Senate Transportation Bill Threatens Biking

A lot of you have heard about the draft transportation bill released by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, and may have also heard that a lot of bike advocates are unhappy about the funding outlook. We’ve waited to post on this because there has been a lot of action on this legislation, and things keep changing. While action isn’t needed right now, it may be urgently needed in the future – read below for more details, and stay tuned for future posts on this issue.

The bill actually does some really good things, like consolidating seven “core” and 13+ other programs into just five new “core” programs (see graphic below). Most transportation advocates are especially happy to see the National Highway Performance Program, which will create measures to maximize the effectiveness of our infrastructure investments. The legislation also eliminates earmarked projects, which most people seem happy about.

What concerns people in the bike community is that the three main sources of federal bike funding are consolidated into the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. This is potentially bad on three fronts:

  • There could be a 20-30% reduction in overall bike/ped funding under this legislation, even though it supposedly “maintains current funding levels.”
  • There could be more eligible uses for bike/ped funding, including things like vegetation management and wetland mitigation. This would mean more competition for less money.
  • Since bike/ped funding is no longer in a separate program, it might be easier for DOTs to redirect the funding to other roadway uses, though right now it is unclear what other uses would be eligible. Senator Boxer (D-CA) has already reduced the number of eligible road uses (a major step forward), but the language of the bill is still in flux.

Another issue bicyclists have taken issue with is the “mandatory side path rule” included in the bill. This clause states that on federally owned roads, bicyclists must use a side path if one is present. Especially for those who feel more comfortable traveling on the road, this is a major problem, and the League of American Bicyclists has started a petition for people to sign against this clause. But we need to emphasize that while the side path rule is bad, the overall reduction in funding is a much bigger problem, with ramifications in every community in the United States.

We do have strong allies trying to improve the situation, but their success is uncertain. Senator Merkley (D-OR) has introduced an amendment that would dedicate a 2% minimum of surface transportation funding to biking and walking, and Senator Cardiff (D-MD) introduced and amendment that would strip all road programs from other eligible uses of bike/ped funding. While neither has been adopted, they are part of a larger conversation going on before the bill hits the senate floor for a vote.

We have already called on you to defend bike funding twice over the past several weeks (here and here), and both times the anti-bike amendments were unsuccessful. We may be calling on you yet again to help us defend bike funding, but we’re not quite there yet. We are working with our partners to develop a national strategy for defending bike funding, and will let you know just as soon as possible what you can do to help.

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3 Responses to Senate Transportation Bill Threatens Biking

  1. trevor December 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    I disagree that the decrease in funding is a bigger issue than loss of bicyclist right to use our roads. A federal mandatory sidepath law is a complete blocking issue for bicycling.

    I don’t oppose extra facilities for novices, but I do care if I am required to use them. The safe place to ride is with other traffic, on well-maintained surfaces, and with the mobility to change roadway position before crossing conflicts present a danger.

    • Price December 9, 2011 at 9:47 am #

      Trevor, thanks much for the comment. I agree wholeheartedly that the sidepath rule needs to go. However, this rule would only impact a relatively small number of roads, generally in national parks. The reduction in funding, on the other hand, would impact every road in every town and city in the country. That’s why we at MassBike want to keep attention primarily on the funding picture.

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  1. ACTION ALERT: Support Safer Biking On Roads And Bridges @ MassBike - December 13, 2011

    [...] previously wrote about the bill under consideration, and our biggest concern is that it could mean up to a 30% cut in federal bike [...]