Transportation bill would have been worse without bicyclists’ voices
The feeling most associated with the new federal transportation, MAP-21, is disappointment – and with good reason. It is a highway-focused bill. Dedicated funding to bicycling and walking projects was cut and it will be a fight to get what’s left spent in states across the country.
But this disappointment overshadows another truth: it could have been much worse.
In fact, we bicyclists won a number of impressive victories in the long struggle for a new transportation bill. Like every other stakeholder in the federal bill — except, perhaps, highway safety people —we were playing defense throughout the entirety of the policy debate. Those who responded to action alerts (THANK YOU!) know that we dodged several bullets aimed directly at bicycling and walking funding.
When Senators Coburn, McCain and Paul introduced an amendment to restrict Transportation Enhancements last fall, we beat back the attack. When the House proposed a disastrous transportation bill that completely eliminated biking and walking programs, we successfully protested it. When the House’s initial counteroffer to the Senate eliminated all local control over biking and walking funds, our voices helped protect the Cardin-Cochran agreement. Chapters and books could be written about the challenges we overcame.
And yet, with the outspoken support of people who walk and ride bikes all over the country, we stood strong. Here’s one example: HR 7, the bill that came out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, completely eliminated SRTS and cut all funding to Transportation Enhancements along with federal funding for transit. Despite being a priority of House leadership the bill never even got a vote on the House floor thanks to the “Kill the Bill” campaign supported by biking, walking and transit supporters.
Nobody has been much in the mood to celebrate this, but the fact that “Transportation Alternatives” exists in the bill is a massive accomplishment. This is not to say this is a good bill for people on bikes. This is not a thank you to Congress. It’s just a fact: because League members, members of our America Bikes coalition partners, the bicycling industry, health partners, mayors and community leaders, and countless bicyclists spoke up, bicycling and walking projects still have a chance to compete for federal transportation dollars.
Bicyclists convinced the Senate to include a bi-partisan amendment known as Cardin-Cochran into their bill. People on the Hill told us that they had never seen such a powerful grassroots push for a relatively obscure amendment before. It is one thing to push for a law, but you all made your voices heard on a small but important amendment that makes it more likely that communities will building bicycling facilities. We’ll talk more about the particulars of this feature of the law – and the ways it changed in the final law – in the coming days and weeks.
We also had some important saves at the very last minute. We had been hearing pessimistic rumors about what was in the final bill, written behind closed doors. The right for metro areas to make funding decisions (“sub-allocation”) was gone. New, expensive activities like carpools and van pool were eligible for Transportation Alternatives funds, the language authorizing Safe Routes to School (section 1404) was eliminated. We had good reason to take this seriously, and we asked Barbara Boxer to stand up for people on bikes. We didn’t get everything we wanted. Far from it. But we successfully petitioned to remove a number of terrible policies from the final bill. That’s the power of bicyclists.
If some people in Congress had their way, bicycling and walking projects would not even be eligible for federal transportation funds. Thanks to everything that bicyclists have done over the past three years, we don’t live in a country without biking and walking funds.