House Republicans Ramp Up War On Safe Biking And Walking

by Jesse Prentice-Dunn, via The Sierra Club

If some House Republican negotiators get their way, safe biking and walking could be increasingly hard to find. More and more, Americans are biking and walking to work, on errands, and for fun. Just last year, cyclists saved $4.6 billion by biking instead of driving. Nationwide, biking and walking account for almost 12% of all trips, yet biking and walking infrastructure receives less than 2% of all federal transportation funding.

What we aren’t paying for in safe biking and walking infrastructure, we are paying for in lives. According to a recent study by Transportation for America, from 2000-2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed and another 688,000 were injured. However, seeing how biking and walking can make communities more vibrant and strengthen local economies, cities and towns are increasingly investing in sidewalks, crosswalks and bike paths.

But as Senate and House negotiators enter the final three weeks of negotiations over a transportation bill, House Republicans are demanding that the Senate drop provisions that will make biking and walking safer across the country.

For some context, with a broad bipartisan majority, the Senate passed a bill that would fund our nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems at current levels through 2013. This comprehensive bill would preserve 1.9 million jobs throughout the country and create another one million jobs through innovative financing.

Unable to pass a comprehensive transportation bill, the House of Representatives instead passed a three-month extension of current law and then tacked on three anti-environmental poison pills – automatically permitting the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, preempting EPA from requiring the safe disposal of toxic coal ash, and gutting our nation’s environmental review process which ensures the public has a say in large transportation projects. Notably, the House of Representatives passed absolutely nothing relating to biking and walking. Now negotiators for the House and Senate are exchanging proposals in order to pass a bill before current law expires on June 30.

One particularly egregious demand from House Republican negotiators is that the Senate eliminate the Safe Routes to School program. Established by the 2005 transportation bill, this program provides grants to programs that help children around the country safely walk to school. Talk about a case of throwing our nation’s school kids under the bus .

Another program under fire, formerly known as the Transportation Enhancements program, has historically provided states and cities with the majority of their funding for safe biking and walking infrastructure. In the Senate bill, this program was combined with the Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to School program into a new “Additional Activities” program. Concerned that local governments would have a hard time competing for these funds, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), brokered a bipartisan compromise which would allow states to opt out of the program, but sets aside a portion of funds that cities, towns and rural areas could compete for.

House Republicans initially demanded that funding the “Additional Activities” program be eliminated entirely, but were rebuffed by the Senate.  After all, a new survey shows that 83% of Americans support maintaining or increasing funding for biking and walking, including 80% of Republicans. Now, House Republican negotiators are demanding that states be able to opt out of the Additional Activities program, essentially denying cities and towns the ability to compete for funds that could improve safe biking and walking in their communities.

As pressure mounts for Congress to pass a transportation bill before the current law expires on June 30, it is critical that you call and email your Representative and tell them that you support funding for safe biking and walking.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign. This piece was originally published at The Sierra Club and was reprinted with permission.

9 Responses to House Republicans Ramp Up War On Safe Biking And Walking

  1. Leif says:

    “Just last year, cyclists saved $4.6 billion by biking instead of driving.”

    There is the reason the GOP are against biking. That is $4.6 billion not filtering through Fossil Fuel Fingers. Much more of that and you will be talking real money. Profits even.

  2. Chris says:

    Last year I moved to a new job and bought a bike. I don’t have a car. The bike and accessories cost about $700. In the past year I didn’t have to pay for a car, car insurance, gasoline, maintenance (fix a flat tire cost $4!) and I went from 210 to 160 lbs. Dropped 50 lbs. I don’t know how much money I saved but it has to be in the thousands.

  3. fj says:

    Climate pragmatism does not work. Neither does transportation pragmatism. They are both failed policies that are tightly linked yet advocates continue to use them.

    Net zero mobility solutions will be real game changers just like cell phone technology.

  4. fj says:

    Fundamental safety is greatly improved by simply designing for existing net zero mobility where safe roads for cyclists and pedestrians cut all road accidents and increase the safety of those who travel in cars where road accidents kill about 40,000 per year.

  5. Leif says:

    Net Zero will help the small stores as well in that transportation costs now spent by the consumer traveling to the nearest big box store is not insignificant. Often a couple of gallons of fuel each way. With the current price of fuel those purchases will rarely make up for the fuel costs as is.

  6. fj says:

    The secret to net-zero travel is to scale our vehicles as close as possible to what can be easily moved by human power.

    Try some case studies for 100-pound vehicles and the infrastructure these 100-pound vehicles require and you’ll probably find that the savings are astronomical.

  7. Michelle M says:

    And look how much money didn’t go to doctors and oil companies! Much more profitable to keep you fat, unhealthy and wasting gasoline.

  8. Leif says:

    There are so many jobs that short range durable vehicle can do that would take the pressure off the “family” car. All those jobs that a fit biker can accomplish and much more. We just need to displace 50% of the trips to make a huge difference and buy some development time.

  9. fj says:

    I believe this close to already existing in places in both the developed and developing world — 1/2 billion cyclists in China — and that there is significant room and potential for large-scale and dramatic improvements.