A change in leadership in the House of Representatives coupled with a new, prevailing outlook on spending priorities could threaten key federally funded bicycling programs. Crucial decisions may be made by Congress in late February or early March that could affect bike funding for several years. Bikes Belong and our partners in the America Bikes Coalition are working on a multi-tiered strategy to preserve bike projects and programs.

Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, former chair of the House Transportation Infrastructure (TI) Committee, lost his bid for a 19th term in Congress and no longer brings his pro-bicycling perspective and influence to federal transportation policy decisions. He has been replaced by Rep. John Mica of Florida. Mica’s TI committee, like the entire House of Representatives, now features a Republican majority.

As of this writing, the new Congress and new committees have only been on the job for 10 days. But early indications from House leaders suggest they will attempt to cut federal transportation funding and refocus it on highway construction and repairs. Transit, bicycling and walking, and programs that reduce congestion and air pollution in cities could be cut, as could TIGER and Livability grant programs that were championed by the Department of Transportation. These budget decisions won’t be made solely by the House of Representatives: The U.S. Senate and the Obama Administration will also weigh in, and both have steadily supported modest investments in bike facilities and programs.

Federal funding for bicycling is provided primarily by multi-year transportation bills. The latest, titled SAFETEA-LU, was approved by Congress in July 2005. It expired in September 2009, but its funding levels and programs continue because Congress has approved a series of short-term extensions. The most recent renewal expires March 4, 2011.

SAFETEA-LU created the federal Safe Routes to School program and provided close to $600 million in funding for it. It also launched the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program, which dedicated $100 million to innovative bicycle and pedestrian initiatives in Minneapolis; Columbia (Missouri); Sheboygan County (Wisconsin) and Marin County (California).

Fiscal years 2009 and 2010 were record years for the federal investment in bicycling. In ’09, the total surpassed $1.2 billion, and ’10 finished just under $1 billion. These sums each represent about 1.5 percent of annual federal transportation spending.

Bikes Belong and our partner organizations in the America Bikes Coalition–a group that Bikes Belong funds–have been working swiftly to respond to this probable funding challenge. Meetings with key members of Congress are being arranged for January and February. These gatherings, which will take place in home Congressional districts, will emphasize bicycling’s benefits to the local economy and involve retailers and suppliers.

The America Bikes board has also conducted a series of emergency meetings to refine strategies and fine-tune our message that federal bike funding is productive, extremely cost-effective and popular.

Finally, the 180,000 supporters of our Peopleforbikes.org campaign will be asked this month to send short email messages to their members of Congress that affirm the importance of continuing (and ultimately expanding) the federal investment in bicycling infrastructure and programs.

Check back here or at peopleforbikes.org and americabikes.org for timely updates on federal funding decisions that affect bicycling.