The new federal transportation bill: What it means for bicycling

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MAP-21, the new two-year federal transportation bill that takes effect on October 1, is likely to reduce the federal investment in bicycling and walking. To take full advantage of the new law, Bikes Belong and the bike industry will work closely with our state and local partners to maximize federal funds to build and improve bicycling and walking infrastructure.

Four questions loom:

1. How much funding will be cut?
2. How will these cuts affect bicycling and all types of transportation?
3. Why did this happen…and what are the lessons?
4. What can supporters of a cost-effective federal investment in bicycling do to minimize the cuts and rebuild a beneficial long-term federal program?

During the next two fiscal years, states will no longer be required to dedicate a percentage of federal transportation dollars to bike infrastructure and related programs. Programs that used to receive guaranteed funding—Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails—have been revised, consolidated, or weakened. While bicycling projects traditionally funded by these programs remain eligible for support, they must compete with a variety of other projects—some of them new, and many of them costly.

The overall effect of these changes is difficult to estimate and may not be noticeable at first. Several hundred million dollars remain in the pipeline from the previous federal legislation, SAFETEA-LU—much of it for projects that have been approved but not yet built. We need to make sure states spend all remaining funds for these worthy projects from the Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs.

The new transportation bill also creates a promising new way for cities and metropolitan areas to draw on federal funds for bike/ped projects through a new program called Transportation Alternatives (TA). The good news here is that cities and counties generally see great value and multiple benefits in bike projects and are likely to take full advantage of TA. We have momentum on our side.

The bad news is that MAP-21 gives states unprecedented flexibility to reallocate (or completely opt-out of spending) money that was previously dedicated to make bicycling and walking safer, more appealing and more convenient. In the states where highway construction is seen as the only priority, funding for bike projects will likely be cut. The damage will be compounded by the fact that the overall pool of money available for bike-ped projects in MAP-21 is less than the previous bill.

Moving Forward

The annual federal bike/ped investment has hovered around $800 million in each of the last four years. We expect the sum to be roughly the same for the fiscal year that ends September 30, 2012. What happens in the next two fiscal years will depend, in part, on how effective bike advocates and the bike industry are in influencing state and local decisions. Bikes Belong and our key advocacy group partners will provide steady advice in the coming months on achieving this important strategic goal.

Why was Bike/ped the one category to take a big hit? Cutting or eliminating dedicated transportation funding for bicycling was a top 2012 goal for some Members of Congress. They see it as a low-priority—even wasteful—investment for the federal government. Our response? Bicycling infrastructure investments rank among the best of all: they’re low-cost, quick-to-implement, increasingly popular, and beneficial not only in moving people efficiently, but also in reducing road congestion, obesity, and air pollution. Bike riding saves individuals and government money. We have learned that we must build a stronger grassroots network to help convey this message to lawmakers.

The battle to preserve critical federal funding for biking now moves to the states and local communities. While the Transportation Alternatives program is smaller than its predecessors, TA and the larger, core transportation and safety programs still present significant opportunities for federal funding for biking. Bikes Belong is working with our advocacy partners to ensure that states and local governments use every opportunity in the new law to make bicycling safer and more convenient.

The continuation of a modest, results-oriented federal investment in bike infrastructure is essential to making bicycling better for all Americans. It is important to the bike business and our economy. As better bikeway networks become available, Americans will bike more and our nation will benefit. Stay tuned to learn how you can help.