Concern builds about possible opposition to bicycle & pedestrian funding in the federal transportation budget

Yesterday we reported that the U.S. House is preparing the to introduce large cuts to the proposed federal budget and an attempt could be made to dramatically cut or even eliminate funding for bicycle and pedestrian transportation in the federal budget.

Why the concern?

Missouri Delegation in Washington, DCThe short answer is that some members of Congress have declared that cutting these programs is among their priorities--and after the recent elections, some of those members are now in key leadership positions.

Proposals by Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader
Eric Cantor, now House Majority Leader, has been particularly vocal in demanding cuts in bicycle and pedestrian related programs. A budget proposal posted at ericcantor.com includes these paragraphs:

Terminate Safe Routes to Schools Program (Saves $915 Million over five years)
The Federal “Safe Routes to Schools Program,” started in 2005, finances infrastructure and non- infrastructure projects to assist children who walk or bike to school. This program fulfills what has traditionally been viewed as a local responsibility. Placing this task back in the hands of state and local officials would save $183 million a year or $915 million over five years.
Terminate Federal Transportation Funding For “Non-Motorized” Transportation
Projects (Saves $125 Million over 5 years)
Taxpayers are currently spending $25 million on four “Non- motorized Transportation Pilot” programs designed to encourage residents to walk or bike instead of taking a car. Federal resources should be focused on transportation projects with legitimate federal connections. Terminating this program saves taxpayers $125 million over five years.
 
Eliminate Federal Transportation Funding for Landscaping, Museums, And Other
Transportation “Enhancements” (Saves $4.1 billion over 5 years)
The Federal government spends most transportation fund on interstate highways and mass transit. However, $833 million is allocated to “transportation enhancement” projects including establishment of transportation museums, historic preservation, and pedestrian and bike facilities. Putting these “enhancement” projects back in the hands of state and local governments by terminating federal funding saves taxpayers $4.1 billion over five years.
  
Terminate the House of Representative Wheels for Wellness Bike Sharing Program
(Indeterminate)
The Chief Administrative Officer introduced a program that leases 30 bikes, at the taxpayer’s expense, for free use by all House staff during the workday for purposes of exercise and running errands. In the year that the program has operated, the bikes have been checked out less than 300 times, totaling about $73 per ride, as the full cost of leasing the bikes was $22,000. The Wheels for Wellness Program should be terminated so that the savings can be used for deficit reduction.
In fact, Cantor spends about 8% of the space in the document talking about the bicycle and pedestrian programs, even though they represent less than 2% of the cuts proposed--and exactly 0.029% of the overall federal budget.
Congressman Cantor
 
All indications are the Cantor really intends to pursue these cuts--in a Fox News article, Cantor is quoted as saying that these are cuts "that really are doable".  
 
A Politico article summarizes his direction: 
Cantor also said Republicans would focus on spending, ending the automatic federal pay raise and the building of bike paths, which he considers "nice, but certainly shouldn't be the priority."
In a comment on LA Streetsblog, Cantor's press secretary summarized the Congressman's feelings on this issue--making it clear that the proposals to eliminate bicycle and pedestrian funding are still on Cantor's agenda:
[T]he grassroots enthusiasm surrounding the proposal was overwhelmingly in favor of cutting the funds spent on duplicative programs (bike paths in this instance) to save taxpayer dollars . . . The proposal to cut taxpayer funding for duplicative bike paths did not receive the most votes this week (a proposal to sell excess federal lands did), but it still generated a groundswell of public support and will certainly be considered in future YouCut votes.
Congressman Paul Broun's 2010 proposal to eliminate Transportation Enhancements
There are a handful of Members of Congress who still want to strip every funding program for bikes out of the budget – this time Congressman Broun of Congressman Paul Broun, GeorgiaGeorgia tried to introduce an amendment to prevent ANY funds in the bill going to bike paths; that proposal wasn’t even considered in bounds, so we didn’t have to go through the fire drill of getting folks wound up to defend bike funding. (Don’t worry, though, it seems inevitable it will come up again…!)
This year, the House is operating under new rules--with far fewer restrictions on floor amendments like the one Congressman Broun proposed in 2010, and designed to make it easier to cut the budget.  
 
It is all too easy to envision such a proposal actually coming to a vote in 2011.
 
Previous attempts to eliminate bicycle and pedestrian funding
Various members of the House and Senate have proposed to eliminate various sources of bicycle and pedestrian funding since these sources were created--mainly starting in 1991 with ISTEA and the creation of the Transportation Enhancements program.
 
So far, all of the attempts to reduce or eliminate bicycle and pedestrian funding have been defeated soundly.
 
However, they have only been defeated because supporters of bicycle and pedestrian transportation have remained alert and vigilant, working together to make sure members of Congress know why these programs and important to our national welfare and that they have broad community support across the U.S.
 
Here details about some of the historical attempts to remove bicycle and pedestrian funding:
 
Why this is important
We know that bicycling and walking in America reached historic lows over the past 40 years. One big reason for that is federal transportation funding in this period--which is a huge proportion of the total amount of transportation funding in the U.S.--was completely focused on roads and highways.
 
Many of those roads and highways run through or adjacent to our communities, and those are the locations where business, development, and other travel generators like schools, government buildings, parks, and recreation cluster.
 
The result was communities that lacked essential infrastructure, like sidewalks on main roads and in business districts, crosswalks, pedestrian signals at main intersections, bicycle routes and lanes, and other facilities that promote and encourage bicycling and walking.
 
In 1991, an new federal transportation policy was introduced.  A big part of that was the introduction of Transportation Enhancements--money specifically set aside to address the weaknesses of previous federal transportation funding, including a complete lack of support for bicycling and walking.
 
The funding and policies were designed to prevent future problems by including bicycle and pedestrian facilities in future projects, but also to address past problems by including funding to add bicycle and pedestrian connectivity in areas where it had been omitted in the previous 75 years of transportation planning.
 
The result has been transformative--bicycling and walking is become mainstream again, more people are bicycling and walking, and the results for our national health and our communities have been huge.
 
It took a long time to destroy America's bicycling and walking infrastructure, and it is taking a long time to rebuild it. 
 
The last thing we want to do is stop all forward momentum just as we are starting to make real progress.
 
What you can do
 
Several groups across Missouri are planning to meet with their member of Congress or congressional staff about this issue.  Materials and background information about those meetings is here.  If you would like to attend the meeting in your part of the state, please contact director [at] mobikefed.org.
 
Photo of Congressman Eric Cantor courtesy TalkMediaNews, FlickR
Photo of congressman Paul Broun courtesy RepublicanConference, FlickR