Newest GOP Hostages: Bicyclists and Pedestrians
You might wonder why on earth cyclists would be on the Pacific Coast Highway. The reason is a simple one. That's where cyclists are supposed to be. These women were riding in a bike lane on a highway where trucks and cars are merging, the speed limit is 55 miles per hour, and where there is no other option. At least, there has been no option until recently, when a separate two-lane bike path was approved as part of a wider plan for highway improvement in that area. In this case, funding for the project was paid for by transportation bonds approved in California, with funding assistance for bike lanes coming via Federal transportation funds for bike lane improvements. Thanks to the Recovery Act, cities everywhere are adding bicycle paths (PDF) like the one pictured above.
The Obama administration has made bicycle lanes and safe streets a priority. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood is an avid cyclist who understands the benefits of safe pathways. As one who has nearly been run down by distracted drivers who inadvertently swerve into very narrow bike lanes, every improvement made is one that I view as a lifesaver somewhere to someone.
Enter Rep. John Mica, our new Republican transportation appropriations overlord. Yes, our tea party Congress has proposed killing all guaranteed funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. Back in July, when the House was busily carving out all sorts of little green projects from the budget, Mica and his crew decided bicycle paths and walkways for pedestrians were just extras we don't need. Luckily, the Senate had our backs and passed a clean funding extension, but the two bills have not been reconciled yet.
Now we have President Obama's jobs bill, which includes funding for infrastructure improvements. This, of course, will give these crazypants wingnuts another bite at the slap-the-cyclist apple. Via BikeLeague.org:
This evening, the President talks to the nation about jobs and infrastructure, and he’ll likely repeat his plea for Congress to pass a “clean” extension to the Federal transportation program. The House Republican response includes an explicit demand that funding for bicycling and walking infrastructure be stripped out of the program.
Here's the actual text of that explicit demand:
For example, it is our understanding that you may propose an infrastructure initiative as part of your jobs plan. We are not opposed to initiatives to repair and improve infrastructure, and believe there are reforms that can be implemented that would improve their effectiveness in a manner that supports economic growth. Current law requires that states set-aside 10 percent of their surface transportation funds for transportation enhancements, which must be used for items such as establishment of transportation museums, education activities for pedestrians and bicyclists, acquisition of scenic easements, historic preservation, operation of historic transportation facilities, etc. While many of the initiatives funded by this mandatory set-aside may be worthy projects, eliminating this required set-aside would allow states to devote more money to the types of infrastructure programs you are advocating without adding to the deficit. We believe such a reform would be consistent with your statement last week that we should “reform the way transportation money is invested, to eliminate waste, to give states more control over the projects that are right for them.”
Ignore the snarky part about education activities for pedestrians and bicyclists. That's nonsense. The 10 percent set-asides in surface transportation funds are to build bike lanes like the one that is being built along the Mussel Shoals corridor to protect cyclists from being rear-ended by trucks going 45 miles per hour. Those 10 percent set-asides are used to build bicycle paths in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Those 10 percent set-asides enable people like me to continue NOT to own a car and rely on my bike and public transportation to get from point A to point B.
Senator Coburn (OK) has said he won’t agree to an extension unless funding for bike projects is stripped out. Representatives Boehner and Cantor have basically said the same thing in the House. Yes, folks, they are willing to hold the entire transportation program hostage – infrastructure spending and millions of real jobs – to get rid of bike projects.
Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved theirextension bill. It’s clean. Most likely, Coburn will try to force a vote on the floor of the Senate next week to strip out the popular transportation enhancements program…which funds the lion’s share of bike and pedestrian projects around the country. So, if you’ve ridden on a bike trail or bike lanes, or used a bike rack on the front of a bus in the last few years…the chances are you’ve seen the program in action. And if Coburn, Cantor and Boehner succeed, we’ll see a dramatic drop-off in bicycling safety improvements.
We will not only see a dramatic drop-off in bicycling safety improvements, we will likely see more images like these:
That is a ghost bike, left in memory of a rider killed by a car. Read more at ghostbikes.org.
I'm still not clear on exactly why it is that Republicans think it's a good idea to strip funding for bicycling and pedestrian projects. Do they actually think cyclists all vote for Democratic candidates or something? Whatever the reason, it's clear their newest hostages are those of us who might not be able to afford a car and rely on bicycles or our feet to get where we have to go. Oh, wait. There's your answer as to why. Just another way to keep poorer people poor. Or dead.