Monday, March 14, 2011

News from the Bike Summit 2011

Eight hundred individuals from across the US descended upon Washington, D C to tell Congress stories about how funding for bicycling has changed their community, encouraged children to be physically active and solved problems in their communities. The National Bicycle Summit, organized by the League of American Bicyclists was in progress. The feeling was that sharing our positive stories would help to educate legislators about the positive effects in an effort to retain the present funding available from Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to Schools and the Recreational Trails Programs. These programs are the main funding sources that we have used over the past eleven years. With the present feeling being that cutting programs will help to balance the budget it is most important to help congress members to see that these programs are worth keeping.

Only 1.5 percent of federal transportation dollars currently support bicycling and walking, although these two modes represent 12 percent of all trips in the US and 14 percent of roadway fatalities are bicyclists or pedestrians. Small investments in improving roadway safety not only make our roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians but also make drivers feel more comfortable and reduce conflicts among all road users. These improvements are relatively inexpensive, and create significantly more jobs per dollar than road repair and upgrades for motor vehicles. They also boost local small businesses and increase real estate values. It is important in these difficult economic times that we use inexpensive ways to solve the many social problems that we have. Bicycling and walking are inexpensive ways to do just that.

In past years when we attend the Bicycle Summit we had many requests to ask members of Congress and for the most part we had very positive responses. We were feeling good and dreaming big. This year, however we knew that this was not the time to dream but the time to educate the new members of Congress, say thank you to those who have supported us in the past and find new allies. We felt that educating the Congress members and inviting them to visit the past funded sites would help them see for themselves how well the money was spend.

Many of the delegates attending the summit were bike shop owners and bike manufactures. One of the main focuses was that small businesses were driving the economy by providing jobs because of the improvements that have been made in communities that make it possible for people to walk and bike and the numbers of folks using these active modes of transportation is increasing. Most of us received positive responses as we told our stories however the optimism was cautious. We heard about the need to get spending under control and the difficulty in making decisions to cut the fat. But we also heard from individuals, like Senator Thomas Carper from Delaware who was so impressed with our positive spirit and Steven LaTourette, of Mentor, Ohio that he had changed his feelings and would co-sponsor a Complete Street bill when it comes around again. John Mica the Chair of the Transportation Committee was very positive about working to keep the bicycle and walking parts in the next Transportation Bill. To have both Republican and Democratic congress members show us support was very reassuring. There is much work to do to keep funding intact and many stories need to be told showing the economic impacts of improving active transportation.

We were inspired by US Dept of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood who again vowed to support active transportation to make sure that there are choices for transportation and talked about what bicycling has meant to his family. US Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar talked about how important leaders in the past have protected land through a variety of laws and programs and that it is our time to protect our communities and sacred lands today through active transportation initiatives. The Commissioner of the NY city Dept of Transportation, Janette Sadik-Kahn talked about the changes happening around the country and that communities are not waiting for Washington to make funding available but are transforming themselves by slowing down traffic and providing a safe place for active transportation. The changes that have been made in the city of New York have actually decreased traffic fatalities from 40 – 50%. They found that many individuals driving on their city streets were unaware of the actual speed limit and once they knew what the impact was and the safety features were in place the speeds reduced and there were huge economic improvements, as well.

There is a major crisis in the funding process because the Hwy Trust Fund is broken. As folks have reduced their driving and begun to drive more gas saving vehicles the gas tax revenues have dropped. Congress is not willing to increase the gas taxes. We have been spending more money than is being brought in and unless there are changes made it will not get any better. Some states are beginning to raise their own gas taxes to increase revenues. More public and private partnerships need to be fostered and local communities are going to have to find their own creative ways to make things happen. Local advocates need to put pressure on leaders to choose ways to prioritize what is important to them. We were given Gandhi’s words of wisdom to guide us in our work which were “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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