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June 12, 2012

House Republicans Ramp Up War on Safe Biking and Walking

Bike laneIf some House Republican negotiators get their way, safe biking and walking could be increasingly hard to find. More and more, Americans are biking and walking to work, on errands, and for fun. Just last year, cyclists saved $4.6 billion by biking instead of driving. Nationwide, biking and walking account for almost 12% of all trips, yet biking and walking infrastructure receives less than 2% of all federal transportation funding.

What we aren't paying for in safe biking and walking infrastructure, we are paying for in lives. According to a recent study by Transportation for America, from 2000-2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed and another 688,000 were injured. However, seeing how biking and walking can make communities more vibrant and strengthen local economies, cities and towns are increasingly investing in sidewalks, crosswalks and bike paths.

But as Senate and House negotiators enter the final three weeks of negotiations over a transportation bill, House Republicans are demanding that the Senate drop provisions that will make biking and walking safer across the country.

For some context, with a broad bipartisan majority, the Senate passed a bill that would fund our nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems at current levels through 2013. This comprehensive bill would preserve 1.9 million jobs throughout the country and create another one million jobs through innovative financing.

Unable to pass a comprehensive transportation bill, the House of Representatives instead passed a three-month extension of current law and then tacked on three anti-environmental poison pills - automatically permitting the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, preempting EPA from requiring the safe disposal of toxic coal ash, and gutting our nation's environmental review process which ensures the public has a say in large transportation projects.

Notably, the House of Representatives passed absolutely nothing relating to biking and walking. Now negotiators for the House and Senate are exchanging proposals in order to pass a bill before current law expires on June 30.

One particularly egregious demand from House Republican negotiators is that the Senate eliminate the Safe Routes to School program. Established by the 2005 transportation bill, this program provides grants to programs that help children around the country safely walk to school. Talk about a case of throwing our nation's school kids under the bus .

Another program under fire, formerly known as the Transportation Enhancements program, has historically provided states and cities with the majority of their funding for safe biking and walking infrastructure. In the Senate bill, this program was combined with the Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to School program into a new "Additional Activities" program. Concerned that local governments would have a hard time competing for these funds, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), brokered a bipartisan compromise which would allow states to opt out of the program, but sets aside a portion of funds that cities, towns and rural areas could compete for. 

House Republicans initially demanded that funding the "Additional Activities" program be eliminated entirely, but were rebuffed by the Senate.  After all, a new survey shows that 83% of Americans support maintaining or increasing funding for biking and walking, including 80% of Republicans. Now, House Republican negotiators are demanding that states be able to opt out of the Additional Activities program, essentially denying cities and towns the ability to compete for funds that could improve safe biking and walking in their communities.

As pressure mounts for Congress to pass a transportation bill before the current law expires on June 30, it is critical that you call and email your Representative and tell them that you support funding for safe biking and walking.

-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign


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