Congressman Billy Long weighs in on Safe Routes to School

Jim Blaine, a family physician from Springfield, recently visited Washington, DC, to talk with our members of Congress about the importance of the Safe Routes to School program.

Yesterday the Springfield News-Leader covered Blaine's visit to Washington--and also the reaction of Congressman Long (District 7th--Southwest Missouri) to the Safe Routes to School program.  As the article points out, Safe Routes to School is having a real, positive benefit in schools and communities across Missouri and across the nation:

“What we’re seeing with this, first and foremost, are safety benefits,” she said, noting that 11,000 schools across the country — including some in Springfield — have received funding through the program.

“When you put in a sidewalk, it reduces the risk that a pedestrian will be struck by half,” she said. “These are real safety improvements that have real benefits for kids.”

As walking to school has become easier, some schools have been able to cut back on bus service, she said.

House Republicans nixed the program, however, as part of an effort to shave the bill’s price tag and shrink the federal government’s footprint on local decisions. . . .

Congressman Billy Long
Congressman Billy Long

Congressman Long's reaction is very interesting:

Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, who sits on the House transportation panel and met with Blaine last week, said he was still looking at the details of the program before deciding whether to support restoring money for it. Specifically, he said he’s concerned about how much it would cost and where Congress would find the money to pay for it.

Asked if he thought it was needed in Springfield, Long noted that there’s “a lack of sidewalks in a lot of areas,” which discourages kids from walking to school. Then again, he said, “the society we live in, letting your kids walk to school even on sidewalks could be questionable ... It’s not like it was when I was growing up, when I’d ride my bike to school or walk to school and your mom or dad never gave it a second thought.”

Congressman Long was elected to office in 2010 and is still very new in office.  As you can tell from his comments above, he still knows relatively little about many federal programs like Safe Routes to School, why they are needed in local communities, and how strong the support for programs like this is, among his constituents.

Those of us with experience with these programs need to spend some time educating Congressman Long and his staff about why the programs are important and how they benefit Missourians.

Contacting Congressman Long to educate him about Safe Routes to School

If you call Congressman Long's office, your message might be something like this:

I'm calling today to let you know that I strongly support the Safe Routes to School program.  Safe Routes to School costs a very, very small percentage of the federal transportation budget, helps communities save money on busing, improves childrens' health, and helps communities small and large build safe facilities that they could never build on their own.

If you'd like to write Congressman Long a more detailed response, more infomation about the need for the Safe Routes to School program is here.

Some points you might make when you contact Congressman Long:

  • The needs for better facilities and better safety for children walking and bicycling to school is very clear.  Hundreds of thousands of students walk to school daily in Misosuri--and millions of children across the U.S. We need to provide better safety for our children.
  • The need for better safety is high right in Congressman Long's own district: "The dangers are clear. According to the Safe Routes to School partnership, more than 23,000 children, ages 5 to 15, were injured and 250 were killed by cars while walking or biking in 2009. In Springfield, one student was killed and seven others have been injured in traffic accidents in school zones since 2004, according to the partnership." (source)
  • There is tremendous demand for Safe Routes to School funding in Congressman Long's district.Since 2007 (when SRTS was established), 22 cities and/or school districts in District 7 have received funding for projects totalling $730,000--the most of any Congressional District in Missouri.  In Missouri, only 20% of project applications receive funding--meaning that only the very best, most needed projects are funded and there are many, many more good, much-needed projects in Congressman Long's district that still need funding.
  • The idea that the federal transportation bill should only fund automobile travel is an idea that we tried for 60 years--and that failed miserably. The "automobile-only" thinking is what got us into the situation we are today in Missouri--where hundreds of schools across the state lack basic, safe sidewalk and crosswalk access.  
  • Congressman Long is very concerned about the expense of the Safe Routes to School program, but in fact the program is very inexpensive and delivers tremendous bang for the buck in the form of community livability, health, and safety benefits.  All bicycle and pedestrian programs together make up only 0.028% of the federal budget--and the Safe Routes to School program is only one small part of that 0.028%.
  • More context: Safe Routes to School makes up about 0.1% of MoDOT's budget. Surely we can spend 1 dollar out of every thousand we spend on transportation, on help making our schools, neighborhoods, and communities safer for kids who bicycle and walk.
  • Context: Nationwide, bicycling and walking make up 12% of trips and 14% of fatalities but receive only 1.6% of funding. (source)
  • Context: In Missouri, bicycling and walking make up 7% of trips, 7.9% of fatalities, 14% of traffic injuries, but receive only 1.83% of federal transportation funds. (source)
    Federal Gasoline Tax
    Federal Gasoline Tax
  • Whenever any government spends money on transportation, they must spend a fair share on bicycling and walking--and as the figures above show, the federal government today spends far less on bicycling and walking than our fair share.  At a time when automobile use is flatlining and the amount of bicycling and walking is exploding, we should be increasing the share of funding for bicycling and walking, not decreasing it.

How to Contact Congressman Long:

Washington :
(p) 202.225.6536
(f) 202.225.5604
(p) 417.889.1800
(f) 417.889.4915
(p) 417.781.1041
(f) 417.781.2832

Gasoline tax graphs source: Free by 50, History of Federal Gasoline Tax Rate