Progress In DC, But Battle Continues: Virtual Lobby Day Thursday!

Join us on Thursday for a Virtual Lobby Day: While we are visiting Congress in person, we need you to call and email your support for bicycling! Our first two Virtual Lobby Days in 2010 and 2011 were great successes, flooding our Congressional offices with calls and emails.  Stay tuned for more details….

If you’ve been following activity in DC, then you probably already know that there has been a lot of activity around the transportation legislation that only a few weeks ago was an all-out crisis. Thanks to the tens of thousands of emails, telephone calls and letters bombarding Congress, we have some great news out of the Senate.

The Cardin-Cochran amendment, which we asked you to contact our Senators to support, was adopted by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works at the beginning of March. Our own Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry led the way by co-sponsoring the amendment. The amendment works like this:

  • Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails are consolidated into a new program called Additional Activities.
  • State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) will make their Additional Activities funding available to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and local governments. Here’s how they’ll allocate the funds:
    • The state DOT will allocate 50% of the Additional Activities, based on population, to MPOs and rural areas. MPOs will then distribute the funds through a competitive grant program for projects in their communities.
    • For the remaining 50% of Additional Activities, the state DOT would host its own competitive grant process for projects. Local governments, school districts, and others would be eligible to compete for this funding.

Even more exciting is that last week the Senate passed the two-year transportation bill, complete with Cardin-Cochran, by a vote of 74 – 22. Bipartisanship is especially important given the fact that the Senate is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Because of the hard work of our national and Massachusetts partner organizations, and, of course, our members and supporters, bike funding and strengthened local control are a part of this legislation.

On the House Side

In other news, the transportation legislation produced by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (H.R. 7) has ground to a halt. Their bill, as you may recall, was generally reviled by anyone concerned with biking, walking, transit, air quality, or economic development. The failure of this bill is especially striking given the strong majority held by Republicans in the House. As Transportation for America puts it, “All of these numbers make the inability for the House’s proposal to even come close to 50 percent approval ever more glaring. According to sources on the Hill, H.R. 7 was getting 180 votes or fewer in the “whip counts” by leadership to gauge support — far below even the minimum 218 that would represent a simple majority at just over 50 percent.”

The collapse of H.R. 7 has revealed discord among House leadership. As a result, Chairman Mica was removed as the driving force behind this legislation (you can read more about this big change here). Instead, Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA), a junior member of the committee,  has been tapped by Speaker of the House John Boehner to lead the process.

Only two weeks remain before the expiration of the current extension of the previous transportation bill, so the House must move quickly to do something to avoid a complete freeze on federal transportation funding. This may take the form of a revised H.R. 7, or something closer to the Senate bill, or simply another extension of current funding levels. With little time to build support in the House for a new bill, an extension is the most likely outcome, but then the question is “for how long?” A short extension would mean the House believes it can work out a new bill soon, while a longer extension would indicate deeper divisions without a resolution in sight.

Executive Director David Watson and I are taking the fight to DC this week, leading our delegation to the National Bike Summit to press Congress to solve this problem in a way that strongly supports biking. We’ll be thanking all of our Senators and Representatives for their unfailing support for biking, and asking them to do all they can to persuade their colleagues to “ride” with us!

Even though we have been successful so far, we aren’t out of the woods yet. As Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff warned, “And since the House has yet to bring forward any concrete alternatives, it presents ‘an incredibly fluid and dangerous situation, especially since our highway trust fund programs are scheduled to expire in three weeks.’” We depend on your support to advocate on Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, and in communities around the state. Please consider supporting MassBike today so that we can keep on giving a voice to support better biking in Massachusetts!

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2 Responses to Progress In DC, But Battle Continues: Virtual Lobby Day Thursday!

  1. John S. Allen March 22, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    The Senate bill includes a draconian mandatory sidepath provsion, applicable on Federal lands, that would overturn the laws of every state and does not even require the path to be useable. There is information about this on the League of American Bicyclists Web site. Why is Massbike not asking us to lobby against this provision?

    • Price March 26, 2012 at 10:00 am #

      John, that’s a great question. You’re right that this rule would set bicycling back in a big way, and I don’t know of any group in the bike world that isn’t vehemently opposed to this clause. Our national partners, including America Bikes, the League of American Bicyclists, and the Alliance for Biking and Walking, have indicated to us that the timing hasn’t been right to send out an action alert on the side path provision. As it stands right now the Senate has already passed it, but the provision does not exist in the House version – assuming the House version gets passed without the clause, we’ll likely be sending something out once the two versions go into conference to work out the differences. We’ll be sending out an action alert just as soon as the timing makes sense. Stay tuned!