WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—It might have only been the first stage of what could be a long race to finalize the next transportation bill, but Monday's unveiling of the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) was a promising start for the future of federal bike project funding.
Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced a bill to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit that proposes to spend $450 billion on transportation between October 2009 and September 2015. While Oberstar's dollar proposal is far from set in stone, it represents a more than 33 percent annual increase above current spending. While his bill includes almost no line-item financial details, it proposes a variety of elements that would benefit bicycling, such as:
-The creation of a new Office of Livability inside the Department of Transportation, which would likely have the staff, funding and focus to make sure that bicycling and walking (and other travel options aside from motor vehicles) are better supported.
-More money to city- and metropolitan-area governments for transportation enhancement projects--many of them bike-related;
-Strong support for a renewal (and most likely an expansion) of the federal Safe Routes to School program that began in 2005;
-A three-year extension of support for the four non-motorized transportation pilot programs that began in '05, with the possibility of providing new funding to promote bicycling and walking in additional cities after that;
-More money to support the gathering of statistics and research that evaluate the effectiveness of federal transportation investments and specifically the benefits of bicycling and walking;
-Language that helps legitimize bicycling as a mode of transportation that should be supported and funded;
-Language that encourages states and cities to build Complete Streets that safely accommodate all types of users (including bicyclists).
In sum, and as a reflection of the larger overall size of this multi-year bill, the federal investment in bicycling and walking could increase to more than $1 billion annually—still a very small percentage of overall government transportation spending.
Nearly all of the elements described above are part of the America Bikes coalition platform that was developed and presented to Congress in March. To read the platform, visit: http://americabikes.org/docs/Platform.pdf.
Oberstar's bill is co-sponsored by Republican leader John Mica of Florida, and two other U.S. Representatives. Full approval by the House of Representatives could come relatively quickly—perhaps as early as late July—just before Congress adjourns for summer recess.
That said, the U.S. Senate and the Obama Administration may move much more slowly to consider and add their approvals to this new transportation bill. Senate leader Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood have both said they favor postponing the next major transportation bill until early in 2011, when the economy will hopefully be stronger and the government may have more money to support the big increase in transportation funding that Mr. Oberstar's bill proposes.
Oberstar and a growing, bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives have said this type of delay is unacceptable, and that this bill should be finalized by the end of September, in part because it will be the largest creator of jobs that Congress will consider this year.
American Bikes (americabikes.org), the coalition of national bike advocacy groups that is funded by Bikes Belong, will provide regular updates on the progress of this bill. Bikes Belong (bikesbelong.org) will issue action alerts to bike industry suppliers and retailers when warranted.