Federal Bike-Ped Funding Sets New High, With Much More Room to Grow

ped_bik_funding.jpgGraph: FHWA [PDF]

Federal funding for pedestrian and bicycle projects reached a new high last year, according to a report released yesterday by the Federal Highway Administration. In terms of dollars, federal investment in walking and biking more than doubled compared to the previous high, set in 2007, thanks largely to an infusion of $400 million in stimulus funds.

The share of all federal transportation spending devoted to bike-ped projects also rose to an unprecedented level — all of two percent. Advocates for walking and biking applauded the trend while pointing out the potential for much greater federal commitment to active transportation.

"It continues to be an improvement, and it continues to be a tiny
fraction of the money that’s available to potentially be spent on
biking and walking," said Andy Clarke of the League of American
Bicyclists.

Subtracting the $400 million one-shot in stimulus funding, Clarke noted, yields a less impressive year-on-year increase. And part of the increase in reported bike-ped spending might also simply reflect better record keeping by state DOTs, as agencies document the construction of sidewalks and bike lanes as part of larger projects, according to Barbara McCann of the National Complete Streets Coalition.

The spending figures come from an update on the state of walking and biking that the feds release every five years. The original National Bicycling and Walking Study, released in 1994, set two major targets: to double walk and bike mode-share, from 7.9 percent of all trips to 15.8 percent; and to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities by 10 percent.

Today, walking and biking account for 11.9 percent of all trips in the country, according to data from the National Household Travel Survey cited in the FHWA report. The safety target, meanwhile, has already been met, with pedestrian deaths down 22 percent and cycling deaths down 13 percent between 1994 and 2008.

In a post on the U.S. DOT Secretary’s blog, Ray LaHood implied that the targets have to get more ambitious:

But, we are still talking about 4,378 pedestrians and 716 bicyclists
killed in 2008. No matter how we look at the data, that is just too
many.

One way to strengthen national goals for walking and biking, Clarke suggested, is to make them less open-ended and attach specific timeframes for achieving them. "That performance metric is essential," he said, noting that the original 1994 targets were weakened by the lack of a deadline. "One could argue that we could have achieved [the mode-share target] years ago. We would say, let’s recalibrate, so that by 2020 we need to reach 20 percent mode share for bike-walk."

The progress cited in today’s report, said Clarke, highlights the need for a robust federal commitment to walking and biking in the next federal transportation bill. "States wouldn’t have done this if left to their own devices," he said. "Without the federal leadership, without the funding and targets, we would not have seen movement voluntarily. We need that continued federal leadership in the next transportation bill moving forward. The states have not embraced it sufficiently for it to be left to chance."

  • Larry Littlefield

    Connect this issue with another one.

    The federal government is debating whether or not to extend unemployment insurance benefits, allowing those out of work long-term to remain on the dole. Some have claimed that the continued benefit discourages them from taking the lower-wage jobs that may be available to the, and encourages idleness. But the unemployment rate remains high, and many of the long-term unemployed are in sectors that have gone through a severe structural downturn that may have years to run.

    Such as construction.

    One alternative to further extending UI, if Congress decided that was no longer appropriate, is a WPA-type workfare program in exchange for benefits at the same level. Those who could get jobs would have an incentive to do so. Those who couldn’t wouldn’t be sitting around getting depressed.

    What can you think of that unemployed workers could do that could get started quickly, wouldn’t require lots of expensive design and engineering, and could finish quickly rather than be half-finished when the economy turns and regular jobs opened up? I’d bet a WPA-type program could produce all the pedestrian and bicycle improvements for the next two decades in just two years.

  • Larry Littlefield

    RE: a new WPA. Think of it as doing for urban and suburban American what the CCC did for rural America, with all those hiking trails and camping facilities.

  • The relationship between poverty and sustainable transport runs much deeper than simply providing construction jobs. How are people currently in poverty supposed to physically get to the jobs which have the potential to lift themselves into a better lifestyle? In many cities, the answer to that question involves purchasing a ten thousand dollar machine, and then paying thousands of dollars per year to insure, maintain, and fuel said machine. Kind of a tough load when you’re already struggling to feed and clothe your kids!

    Finally saved up enough money to enroll in those community college classes? Oops! Timing belt broke! That will be $800, please! Back into poverty you go!

  • Colin Bogart

    I can’t help but think of Eric Cantor’s recent effort to cut Federal Safe Routes to School funding when I look at the chart in this report. While bike/ped funding is now up, it’s still only 2% of the total Federal Transportation Budget? And SRTS is only a portion of that 2%? This is small change compared to the big picture. Cantor should focus on the other 98% if he really wants to save America some money. Either he’s ignorant or he’s going for easy targets and not really trying to focus on where the real money (and potential savings) is. And what about that 11.9% of all trips being taken on foot or by bicycle? How about the same percentage of the total Federal Transportation Budget for bicycle and pedestrian projects? Yes Mr. Cantor, I’m suggesting an INCREASE for biking and walking!

  • Felix

    Why didn’t anyone grab some of that money for a bike lane on the Verrazano Bridge?

  • Larry, while construction jobs have taken a disproportionate hit, many job losses have been in different industries. For example, state furloughs have impacted social workers and teachers.

    And bicycle/ped improvements run into diminishing returns really quickly. All transportation does, except highways. I for one can barely imagine a 20-year national public transit program that costs even half as much as how much the US will subsidize roads under business as usual, unless the budgets blow out of proportion. That would cost about $750 billion, and include subways, commuter rail tunnels, and other big-ticket items. Bike/ped improvements can’t cost this much. If the point is to spend money, transportation is the wrong place to look. Try social welfare, alternative energy installation, and education.

  • #1 Larry Littlefield, “I’d bet a WPA-type program could produce all the pedestrian and bicycle improvements for the next two decades in just two years.”

    Absolutely spot on!

    What would help a lot would be a “Joseph Stiglitz-class” broad socio-economic treatment of potential revenue sources and streams based on business models, employment opportunities, financials, externalities, cost-of-living and cost-of-infrastructure reductions; strategies to achieve buy-in by oil and other automobile industry special interest groups; perhaps something like:

    “The Three Trillion Dollar Solution.”

    There has to be some kind of vision or model for the transition to make it a lot easier for people to feel comfortable about the dramatic changes that will be required to address climate change driving the accelerating environmental crisis.

    Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute gives a certain general vision in the concept of “Reinventing Fire” where improvement must be dramatic say, 100 times or more (which bicycle and derivative technology provides) at

    http://www.rmi.org/rmi/ReinventingFire

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