Rails-to-Trails Guest Post: Federal Transportation Bill

If you’ve been reading almost any cycling site recently, or following the conversation through social media, you’ve probably heard about the ongoing transportation bill debate in Washington, D.C. The multi-year U.S. transportation bill has been moving along rapidly in Congress, and there are many in Congress who wish to remove any dedicated federal-level funding for bike and pedestrian focused projects. We wanted to learn more about this issue, just like you, so we asked our friends with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, who know the ins and outs of this transportation bill, to to be our guest here on the Performance Bicycle Blog today. Jake Lynch, Rails-to-Trails‘ Communications Manager, wrote this post about what the proposed changes to the transportation bill could mean, why this funding is important, and what you can do if you’d like to help influence the debate.

Right now, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are attempting to pass their own versions of our nation’s next multiyear surface transportation bill. These bills will dictate America’s direction for many years, and not only in terms of our transportation infrastructure; they will have far-reaching impacts on the nation’s health, environment and economic vitality.

The bad news for everyone who believes our government should help provide safe and convenient places to ride a bike or walk is that both the House and Senate bills would harm programs that fund trails, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and even transit. Transportation Enhancements (TE), the top source of funding for trails and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, would effectively be eliminated. TE is the lifeblood for active transportation projects in communities of every size all across the country (Ed. we’ve included photos from a few projects below).

TE funded Hot Metal Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

There is strong evidence that trails and bicycling and pedestrian projects are cost-efficient job creators, crucial to our nation’s public health goals, and keys to America becoming more environmentally and economically sustainable. Unsurprisingly, the bill was unpopular across the spectrum and provoked a backlash from constituents and transportation advocates like you. The good news is that your voice has been heard, as a vote on the proposed House bill (H.R. 7) has been delayed until at least the end of this month, an indication that there are not enough votes to pass this bill in its current form.

TE funded Capital Crescent Trail, Montgomery County, MD

But there is still work to be done. The Senate bill, as it was passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, would also be bad news for bicycling and walking projects – but it is not beyond repair. We are seeking passage of two bipartisan amendments that would restore the integrity of the programs that provide dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, including TE, Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) have introduced an amendment (#1549) that would ensure communities a fair shot at dedicating funding for trails, walking and bicycling. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) have filed another amendment (S. Amdt. 1661) that would restore the Recreational Trails Program. By mitigating some of the oversights of the Senate bill through appropriate amendments, we can help the Senate craft a positive alternative to the House bill.

TE funded Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail, Salt Lake City, UT

We here at  Rails-to-Trails, along with many other cycling and walking advocacy organizations, are urging all our friends to support these two amendments to the Senate bill. As passionate riders and bicycle advocates, you can help by spreading this message, and by taking just a few moments to complete this automated email form that lets your senators know that trails, walking and biking are important to you.

We understand that often it is hard to get motivated by a legislative process that can seem distant and unproductive. But if a transportation bill becomes law with the current provisions of either of these bills, we will all suffer as our roadways become less safe, obesity continues to climb, and we fail to maximize our communities’ economic development and job creation potential. Please, join this effort to keep America’s transportation network moving forward. You can keep up to date with the latest legislative news by signing up for RTC Online, or on the Rails-to-Trails Trail Blog.

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