On June 29th, Congress passed a new two-year transportation bill that is essentially a stopgap measure that is a step backward from current transportation policy and does nothing to address the needs of a changing America in the 21st century. It reverses years of progress on biking and walking policy and cuts by 60 to 70 percent funding for local safety projects such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.
For the past 20 years, a modest portion of federal transportation investments--less than 2 percent of all transportation funding--has been dedicated to biking and walking projects that makes streets more accessible for everybody, reduce preventable traffic fatalities, help boost local economic development and create construction jobs. But, despite an outpouring of support from mayors, county commissions and MPO boards, including Lee County's, and bicycle and pedestrian advocates, a deal was negotiated by a small number of Congress members behind closed doors that eliminates a substantial amount of this popular funding. The total funding authorized for the program went from $1.2 billion to $702 million a year.
Much of the hard work that the Senate had done to craft a forward-looking, bipartisan bill was eliminated in the final "compromise". The resulting transportation bill takes a major step backwards on accountability in how transportation funding is spent, essentially handing states a blank check without proper assurances that roads will get safer, traffic congestion will improve, people can get to work or bridges will get fixed.
BikeWalkLee wants to thank the local officials and advocates who weighed in repeatedly for provisions to improve programs for biking, walking, and transit and building a 21st century transportation system. We would also like to thank our national partners who fought valiantly for these programs. As bad as this bill is, it would have been worse without these efforts at both the national and local levels.
Complete streets and a balanced multi-modal transportation system is the goal of BikeWalkLee and we will continue to fight for integrating biking, walking, and transit into the way we design, construct, and operate our transportation system. With a complete streets approach, all the transportation funding resources are our focus, not just the small programs that have been dedicated to funding bicycle and pedestrian programs. We are confident that the Lee MPO will continue to give priority to the needs of all users as they make transportation funding decisions.
This new legislation does retain the Cardin-Cochran amendment provision that provides 50% of the Transportation Alternative Program funds to MPOs; however, on the remaining 50% states have almost total discretion in determining whether they use these funds for this program. BikeWalkLee will work with other advocates throughout Florida to press Governor Scott and the Florida DOT to ensure that these funds remain available for these bike/ped projects. Given that Florida is the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians and bicyclists, it is critical that these funds be used to make our state safer for all users.
To read more about the new law and the changes in the bicycle and pedestrian programs, click here for the excellent side-by-side analysis done by America Bikes. Click here for Transportation for America's statement on the transportation bill.
By Darla Letourneau