Rails-to-Trails: Final Transpo Bill “Bad News for America” [Updated]

Yesterday negotiators from the House and Senate finally reached an agreement on the transportation bill. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been — rumors were that all dedicated funding to make streets safer for biking and walking might have been sacrificed. The final deal let local agencies control half of that funding, while allowing states to opt out of spending the other half. In states with highway-obsessed DOTs, the news is especially bad for cities and towns that value safer streets — they will simply have fewer resources to improve conditions for active transportation.

The Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh, one of thousands of active transportation projects across America made possible by Transportation Enhancements since 1992. Image: Rails to Trails

Based on preliminary reports, the final transportation bill will be a step backwards for safer streets, writes Jake Lynch at the Rails to Trails Conservancy. Update: Jake emailed us to clarify that this post came out before RTC had seen the final text of the bill.

This is very bad news for the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School programs, which require less than two percent of federal surface transportation spending to make it safe and practical for 12% of trips to be taken on foot or by bicycle.

The House spin on the bill is expected to be that highway funds must be spent on high-priority infrastructure projects that support economic activity – rather than bike paths and beautification efforts.

This Congress is telling you that money spent on bike paths, sidewalks, bike lanes and trails is “wasted.” Clearly they are not paying attention to the fact that spending on trails and active transportation is the most cost-effective use of transportation funds to enable people to get around affordably and to improve health, safety and the environment. Clearly they are not paying attention to the 83 percent of Americans, and 1,300 mayors of our biggest cities, who have asked that funding for active transportation be maintained or increased.

Meanwhile, over at the Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog, writer Michael Lindenberger is feeling equally disappointed. “It’s as if our national leaders have run out of big ideas, or the country has lost its appetite for them,” he said of the two-year deal, which generally holds funding levels steady. “The rest of us are being told to like what we get.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Urbanophile shares data indicating it’s too soon to declare victory over sprawl. Bike Portland reports that Vancouver is considering bike helmet vending machines to pair with its upcoming bike-share system. And Streets.mn identifies Minneapolis’ “streeways,” or at-grade roads that are the width of highways.