By Karen Brooks, photos by Chris Eichler, captions courtesy of Carolyn Szczepanski
One week ago, more than 800 enthusiastic bicycling advocates met in Washington, D.C., to network, learn strategy, and above all, remind Congress that bicyclists are an important part of the national transportation network. This was an exciting, if confusing, time to attend the National Bike Summit. Finally, it looks like a brand new transportation bill will make its way through Congress after years of the old bill, SAFETEA-LU, being extended again and again. Now signs are promising that dedicated funding for cycling-related projects will be preserved. For another boost, we received more news on a proposed unification between three of the nation’s largest advocacy organizations.
Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) (center- red tie) met with a large delegation from Wisconsin — and was presented with a League Leadership Award for his strong support of bicycling in Congress.
Not long before the Summit, a horrible version of the transportation bill was put forward by the House of Representatives, called, ironically, the American Infrastructure and Energy Jobs Act. This bill would have axed all dedicated funding for biking and walking enhancements. Some Representatives had come together to vote for a bipartisan amendment to preserve funding, known as the Petri amendment, but it lost by two votes in committee. However, it seems that the voices of a horde of bike-friendly voters were heard, not to mention those of pedestrian and public transit advocates and plenty of other factions who were unhappy with the bill, and support to get it passed has been hard to come by.
Now, a comprehensive transportation bill, called MAP-21, has passed the Senate. This bill has a provision to replace programs that help us most – Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails – with optional “additional activities” funding. But a bipartisan amendment, the Cardin-Cochran amendment, would increase local control over how this money is spent, so that it doesn’t end up languishing in state Departments of Transportation coffers, or being spent on more highway projects.
At the time of this writing, at the very least, the old transportation bill has been extended for 90 days with funding levels preserved. But the lack of a long-term bill creates uncertainty for many projects currently in the works, and the extension gives House Representatives time to try to build support for their own bill, rather than simply accepting a version of the Senate's bill.
The mood on the Hill was definitely better than at last year’s Summit, with lawmakers of both parties seemingly more willing to come together to fund bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Our main argument was (and is) that this funding is by no means pork-barrel wastefulness—it gives a lot of bang for the buck. Just 1.5 percent of Federal transportation funds goes to support the 12 percent of trips made by walking and bicycle nationwide. Not to mention that non-motorized travel is clean, healthy, energy-efficient, and economical. Hearing from constituents makes all the difference to your representatives in Congress. Go to the League of American Bicyclists’ website today and find out how to join the chorus.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) chatted with constituents from her district in the back of a pedicab.
Unified advocacy organizations
Among all this talk of lawmaking was the excited buzz over a proposed unification of three of the most powerful advocacy organizations in the country. Leadership from the League of American Bicyclists (representing individual cyclists), the Alliance for Biking and Walking (a coalition of local and state bike/ped organizations), and Bikes Belong (the bike industry’s advocacy arm) met last February and tentatively agreed to merge the three into one large and powerful organization. This move has the potential to be huge—giving one strong voice to cyclists across the U.S. Right now, the goal is to finalize the decision on whether to proceed with this unification by the end of September, and to launch this new organization in January of 2013.
From left: Jeff Miller (Alliance for Biking & Walking), Andy Clarke (League of American Bicyclists), and Tim Blumenthal (Bikes Belong) announced the potential unification of the nation's three largest bicycle advocacy organizations.