Alternative Transportation Under Fire

A war is raging in the halls of Congress at the moment over preserving a block of federal funding for Transportation Enhancements, or TE in the lingo of the public policy cognoscenti.  As explained on a Department of Transportation website, “The transportation enhancements program provides for the implementation of a variety of non-traditional projects, with examples ranging from the restoration of historic transportation facilities, to bike and pedestrian facilities, to landscaping and scenic beautification, and to the mitigation of water pollution from highway runoff.”

That’s right, certain political forces want to cut funding for bikeways, pedestrian paths, traffic calming measures, green spaces, and projects to reduce pollution. And given the contentious nature of our federal deficit discussions, those cuts could easily come to pass. With other sacred cows on the chopping block, less committed supporters of alternative transportation could easily be persuaded to abandon their support in order to save pet projects they hold more dear.

Earlier this week, in response to hyperbolic claims of TE opponents chronicled in a Washington Post article, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Portland, OR, attempted to set the record straight in an impassioned speech to his congressional colleagues.

While cyclists and pedestrians in major urban centers may feel secure about government commitment to green development, there are indications that not all parts of the country are on board. Earlier this month, the town of Hull, WI unveiled a draft ordinance to RESTRICT pedestrian and bicycle activity on some of its roads. As explained in a recent story in the Wausau Daily Herald, the ordinance would require pedestrian, cycling and running groups to “register their travel plans” with the town and, in some instances, ban such activities altogether. Town leaders cited “anecdotal evidence” that cyclists and walkers are inconveniencing motorists as justification for the ordinance, despite statistics that show only 5 pedestrian/auto collisions in the past 10 years.

Significant advances have been made in the past decade, both in the U.S. and other countries, that make alternative modes of transportation safer, more pleasant, and more convenient. The Transportation Enhancements have fueled much of that success. In lean times, politicians typically opt for a meat and potatoes fiscal diet — highways, defense and commerce — while pushing more nourishing vegetables off to the side. If Americans expect to overcome the ills of climate change, obesity, pollution and congestion, they have to invest in a profound change. Continuing the existing Transportation Enhancement funding is like putting fresh fruits and vegetables in your shopping cart, a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. Without that commitment, other important strategies like Complete Streets and Green Cities have little chance of success.

Let your friends and social networks know about TE. Forward the links from this post. Ask everyone to let their city, state and federal legislators know that TE funding is essential. It’s not a nice to have; it’s a must have. Our quality of life depends on it.