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CHICAGO — Even though a recent survey found that 83 percent of Americans support maintaining or increasing federal funding for walking and bicycling facilities, a congressional committee yesterday recommended a federal transportation bill that would cut dedicated federal funding for biking and walking between 40 and 100 percent. The actual amount will vary depending on how each state uses the money. The bill maintains funding for transit projects but fails to restore pre-tax transit benefits to levels that expired last year.
The Active Transportation Alliance opposes the bill and urges Congress to restore dedicated funding for walking and biking.
“We are concerned that people who choose to walk and bike will get the short end of the stick as a result of large and disproportionate cuts in the proposed bill,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “With gas prices and roadway congestion increasing, and with more and more people wanting communities that are friendly to walking and biking, this bill is a step in the wrong direction.”
Affected programs include the Transportation Enhancements program, which has funded many trail projects in the Chicago region like the Prairie Path, Lakefront Trail, DuPage River Trail, North Shore Channel Trail, Salt Creek Greenway, Burnham Greenway, and more. Also affected are the Safe Routes to Schools program and Recreational Trails grants.
The pool of federal money available for walking and biking will shrink at least 40 percent and could be reduced even more because state departments of transportations (DOTs) are allowed to divert half of these funds to other projects, most likely roads. Before passage of the 1991 federal transportation bill, state DOTs had similar flexibility and almost always chose to spend federal funds on roads instead of biking and walking.
“Many walking and biking projects will become road kill under this bill,” said Burke. “We need the Illinois DOT to minimize the damage and pledge not to divert bike and pedestrian funds to other projects.”
In addition, the bike and pedestrian funds must now compete with other projects within a “Transportation Alternatives” program, such as environmental mitigation. This will make it more difficult for local communities to secure funding for local biking and walking projects.
Nationally, biking and walking account for 12 percent of all trips and 14 percent of all traffic fatalities, but only 1.5 percent of federal spending. That funding percentage will decrease significantly under the proposed bill. The new bill is touted for job creation, but bicycling and walking projects create more jobs per dollar than highways.
The Active Transportation Alliance is a non-profit, member-based advocacy organization that works to make bicycling, walking and public transit so safe, convenient and fun that we will achieve a significant shift from environmentally harmful, sedentary travel to clean, active travel. The organization builds a movement around active transportation, encourages physical activity, increases safety and builds a world-class transportation network. Formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, the Active Transportation Alliance is North America’s largest transportation advocacy organization, supported by more than 6,000 members, 1,000 volunteers and 35 full-time staff. For more information on the Active Transportation Alliance, visit www.activetrans.org or call 312.427.3325.