Federal Transportation Bill A Step Backwards

The federal transportation bill, a focus of much analysis and anxiety (we’ve written most recently about it here and here), was finally passed through congress late last week. It’s not good news. This bill, which was largely based on the Senate’s legislation “MAP-21″, is being considered a “step backwards,” a “failure,” a “missed opportunity,” and “devastating.”

On our part, we kept in communication with the staff of Representative Ed Markey (Massachusetts Seventh District), a member of the committee that produced this legislation. Mr. Markey, who has consistently supported dedicated bike funding, wrote an excellent piece on why he declined to sign the Conference Committee Report for the legislation (found here). Despite strong bipartisan support for our cause from the entire Massachusetts delegation, this legislation cut bike and pedestrian funding by 33% (or more, depending what individual states do – more below).

The Analysis

Our national partners are still working through all of the details of the 1,676 page document, but basically it lumps the three federal programs which previously had dedicated bike/ped funding (Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails) into one “Transportation Alternatives” category. Whereas the three prior programs had a combined funding total of $1.2 billion in 2011, the new “Transportation Alternatives” has a total funding level of around $800 million per year.

Furthermore, states can opt out of up to half of that amount, instead funding highway maintenance, bridge repair, or any other transportation need. So, depending on how many states choose to opt out of that half of the funding, the real cuts could be as high as 66%.

Finally, there is a clause in the bill called a “Mandatory Sidepath Law.” This would require bicyclists riding on federally-owned roads (generally in national parks) to ride on a sidepath if the road doesn’t meet certain standards. This clause sets a dangerous national precedent for compromising our hard-won right to the road.

In short, this is not a good day for the biking/walking world. Read a thorough analysis of the bill by America Bikes here.

Next Steps

The question, then, is what does this mean for us in Massachusetts? We are fortunate to be in a state that has solid policies and initiatives in place to promote biking and walking, including GreenDOT (MassDOT’s sustainability policy) and the Healthy Transportation Compact.

Nonetheless, we must work even harder to ensure that biking and walking are priorities for our state agencies and policymakers. Because so much flexibility is now given to the state to spend bicycle funding on other things, groups like MassBike must work even harder to make the case that investing in biking is crucial to having a healthy, livable state. It is through continued efforts like Bay State Bike Week, the Bike/Walk Summit, and advocacy on major projects that we can maintain the state’s support. And, importantly, collaborative efforts like Transportation for Massachusetts will be key to creating a united voice for our cause.

If you have time, please contact your U.S. Representative and Senators to let them know that you appreciate their support. (Don’t know who they are? Find out here.)

Also, consider joining or donating to MassBike. We are supported primarily through our members, and so truly could not do it without you.

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