If you liked the '50s through '70s - which saw an increase in air pollution, traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, plus traffic fatalities for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists - you'll love Congress’ new transportation bills.
On the other hand, if you like the trends of increased bicycling, walking and more mass transit, I suggest you get involved.
Two versions of what may potentially become new transportation law are making their way through Congress. The House bill is currently known as “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act,” or HR 7. The Senate’s version is “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act”, or MAP-21. I know what you’re thinking at this point: “Where are they coming up with these crazy names?” “What cool acronyms they make!” But it’s here where things begin heading south for anyone interested in bicycling, walking and even mass transit.
Let’s focus on bicycle growth in the U.S. and Indiana, so we know why we want the Senate or House bills to fail. First, you’ve probably noticed an increase in bicycling locally and nationally. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, commuting to work via bicycle increased 64% from 1990 to 2009 and in Indiana for the same time period the growth was 96% (6,150 to 12,059).
If we look at all trips, which the Census doesn’t measure, we would see an even larger increase. All one has to do is examine the number of bicycles parked at the Pedal & Park corrals in Central Indiana. Tom McCain, Pedal & Park program director, reported 5,029 bikes parked in 2011, up from 3,924 in 2010. If local trends match national trends, this increase can be attributed to safer and connected bicycle specific infrastructure that’s been funded through various transportation programs.
Now let’s get back to why MAP-21 & HR 7 may well spell disaster for non-motorized transportation and mass transit.
HR 7 would eliminate programs such as Safe Routes to School, which funds infrastructure (e.g. crosswalks, bike lanes, etc.) and non-infrastructure programs (safety programs, etc.) near and at schools; and Transportation Enhancement (TE) programs which help fund similar infrastructure and much more (the Monon was paid for in large part by TE funds).
In addition, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program would be altered considerably. This program can be used to fund non-motorized transportation in cities with unhealthy air quality — if the project can be shown to decrease air pollution.
Under the new program, reducing congestion would be prioritized over the reduction of air pollution.
While this may not appear horrible on the surface (i.e. automobiles moving at a consistent speed produce less pollutants than automobiles in stop and go traffic), it inevitably signals to traffic engineers to speed up traffic at the expense of other road users.
Indianapolis already doesn’t currently meet EPA standards for healthy air. Think more asthma and other associated lung disease and increased traffic fatalities for bicyclists, pedestrians and even drivers themselves.
The Senate’s bill, MAP-21, which will be brought to the floor next week, is not much better.
Walking and bicycling programs, while not completely eliminated, suffer disproportionate cuts in funding and increased competition from other transportation programs (e.g. road construction).
Take a minute to let your Senator and Congressman know how you feel by calling and then writing them a letter or email.
Kevin Whited is Executive Director of INDYCOG.