Wednesday, February 1, 2012

$260 Billion Dollars of Highways

By now you may have heard about the new U.S. House transportation bill. It spends $260 billion in under 5 years, cuts Amtrak funding, eliminates funding for the state bicycle and pedestrian coordinator position, reduces transit funding, and changes performance measures to make bicycle and pedestrian project (or project components) less competitive.

Some lawmakers oppose funding bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure because they see it as some sort of elitist, anti-suburban threat to their way of life. Because, you know, it would be un-American to give people a choice about the type of community to live in or the way to travel around it. Other lawmakers are less punitive, but do not recognize the contribution of walking and bicycling to national mobility.

Looking at the numbers, of course, we can get an idea of the importance of these travel modes - 12% of all trips, up to 20% or more of trips to work in central urban areas, additional trips to access transit, and a primary method of mobility for many of our poor, elderly, and disabled citizens. What would happen if these trips could not be made?

Can the national economy survive if, say, an additional 5% of the population became unemployed because they couldn't get to work?

Could we absorb those extra 12% of trips as car trips on our streets and highways, when we can't even afford to maintain or expand our current system? Even if we could, would we want more traffic?

How much would our national economy suffer from the effects of lost productivity due to higher fuel expenditures, extra congestion, lost vitality in urban hubs, lost tourism, and additional sedentary behavior?

Are we willing to pay the costs - in death, disability, and an estimated $300 billion a year in economic impacts - of increased car crashes? 

Finally, federally-funded transportation projects always have a local match funding portion, which is derived from sales taxes, property taxes, general funds comprising income taxes and fees, as well as some state fuel taxes. Most of those taxes are paid by everyone, whether they can drive or not. Is it unjust to spend their taxes without any planning or coordination for their mobility, access, or safety?

We could make all our roads look like this!

Here's a copy of the comments that I sent to my representative through the League of American Bicyclists website:

"As your constituent I am contacting you today to urge you to vote YES on the Petri amendment to preserve dedicated funding for biking and walking in the American Energy and Infrastructure Act that will appear before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) this week. If you are not on the committee, please urge your colleagues to vote for the Petri amendment.

We have a responsibility to coordinate bicycle and pedestrian accommodations in federal transportation funding:

• At least 12% of trips made in the US are made by walking or bicycling, including trips to work.
• Nearly one-third of Americans cannot drive, including children, many senior citizens, people with disabilities, and the working poor. The average senior citizen will outlive their ability to drive by at least seven years.
• However, they all contribute to transportation funding through the local match portion of transportation projects, which often comes from sales, income, and property taxes.
• Federally funding transportation projects without guaranteeing that they will include bicycle or pedestrian accommodations where needed is just another form of taxation without representation.

The current version of the American Energy and Infrastructure Act would reverse twenty years of fair funding:

• It would destroy Transportation Enhancements which many states use to fund essential bicycle or pedestrian investments
• It would repeal the Safe Routes to School program, which has been reducing school traffic and school transportation costs
• It would allow states to make major investments, such as bridges, without planning safe access for pedestrians and bicycles - potentially triggering an expensive retrofit or else contributing to loss of life
• It would eliminate bicycle and pedestrian coordinators in state DOTs
• It would eliminate language that insures that new safety features do not create additional hazards for road users

If you are not on the (T&I) committee, please urge your colleagues to vote for the Petri amendment.

Programs such as Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School give communities in our district access to resources to build facilities that keep people safe on our streets.  They provide local governments with the certainty that there will be funds available for projects important to their cities and towns.  It is essential that the T&I Committee vote to save funding for biking and walking projects.

Biking and walking are critical for keeping our communities mobile with healthy and affordable transportation options, for preventing deaths and disability, and for keeping our economic centers functioning.

Please support the vote to preserve funding for biking and walking in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday. I look forward to hearing back from you about your position and actions. Thank you for standing up for me on this important issue."