Nothing But Flowers
In a recent post, I noted that politics matters when it comes to funding for alternative transportation. Amid the (admittedly important) news about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, few will notice that the GOP-led House eliminated dedicated funding for bike lanes and pedestrian safety enhancements from the federal transportation bill that passed yesterday.
In describing the elimination of funds for bicycling and pedestrian safety, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Republicans wanted to enact “significant reforms” that would:
“focus our highway dollars on fixing America’s highways, not planting more flowers around the country.”
Reform? Fixing America’s highways? What a joke. “Fixing” America’s highways would entail investment in multimodal commuting, Mr. Speaker. Now that would be real reform.
Let’s review some of the facts.
- The dedicated funding for “enhancements” like bike lanes, pedestrian safety, and the safe routes to school program not only saves lives, but made up only about 1 percent of highway spending, despite the fact that pedestrians and bicyclists make up 12-14 percent of highway fatalities.
- There is a high demand for bike/ped safety projects, and they are overwhelmingly popular with communities.
- The Safe Routes to School program was an especially effective way of promoting safe walking and biking to schools, reducing traffic congestion around schools and promoting exercise and a healthy lifestyle for young people.
- Infrastructure improvements for safe walking and bicycling are an efficient use of tax dollars. Not only does a bike lane cost far less than improvements for automobiles (especially if the improvement is done at the same time the road is being resurfaced), but they tend to last longer and need less upkeep, as bicycling and walking cause far less wear and tear on the infrastructure.
The 2012 transportation bill is not all bad news. It preserves funding for crucial improvements to L.A.’s mass transit system and doesn’t include the poison pill of funding for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. However, it is a sad reflection of the way in which many in Congress still refuse to recognize that road improvements like bike lanes not only save lives, improve public health, and decrease traffic congestion, they are, dollar-for-dollar, a more effective use of tax money than simply throwing more money at the automobile road monopoly. If we see the transportation system as a means of safe, healthy, and efficient mobility to jobs, school, recreation, and other human activities, rather than just a “highway system” for cars, we can see more clearly that this car-based transportation bill is a major failure of vision and leadership.
It is important for those of us who care about public safety, public health, alternative transportation, and the environment to continue to push for a modicum of dedicated funding for these projects, so we create a transportation system that doesn’t virtually require people to use an automobile for all their transportation needs. Sadly, for 2012, it appears we’re out of luck.