LAS VEGAS, NV (BRAIN)—The industry is mobilizing to oppose an amendment introduced Wednesday by a U.S. senator that would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for bicycle infrastructure projects. (Click on title to download PDF of Show Daily #2).
“This right now is the most serious threat that we’ve faced to continuing funding,” said Tim Blumenthal, president of Bikes Belong.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, is seeking to repeal a mandate in a highway funding bill that requires states to spend 10 percent of highway funding on so-called “Transportation Enhancement” projects.
Blumenthal said Coburn’s amendment jeopardizes at least $200 million in cycling infrastructure projects, including bike lanes and paths, bridges and underpasses.
Fortunately for the industry, Coburn introduced his amendment on the first day of Interbike, when everyone is gathered in one place.
Bikes Belong sent out 300,000 e-mails Wednesday morning asking cycling advocates to contact their U.S. senators and support bicycle funding.
The advocacy organization also set up a phone bank at its booth, L28, and is encouraging Interbike attendees to make free calls to their U.S. senators. Bikes Belong includes a script that callers can follow.
“This is the biggest mobilization that U.S. bike advocates have ever done,” Blumenthal said.
At issue is a bill that would continue current funding levels for highway and transportation projects for six months. Congress has passed seven such extensions because it has been unable to reach agreement on a new six-year funding measure.
The House easily passed the extension last week. The Senate must act before Sept. 30, when the current funding authorization expires.
Coburn says the Transportation Enhancement program “forces states to spend … funds on niceties rather than transportation needs” and diverts funds from needed repairs of dangerous roads and bridges.
He cites such projects as bicycle museums, wildlife crossings, murals, and building renovations as unnecessary spending that is allowed under the Transportation Enhancement program.
While Blumenthal said he understands some of the criticisms, but said bicycle infrastructure projects are too important to lose.
In a statement reported by The Hill, Coburn spokesman John Hart criticized the transportation enhancement measure, calling it an “indefensible threat against public safety that forces states to prioritize bike paths over bridge repair.”
“We’re going to make sure that he loses,” Blumenthal said. “Not only do we want the amendment to be defeated, but we want it to be defeated soundly, because that means that members of Congress and the public will demonstrate that bicycling is important.”
Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said the failure of Congress to approve long-term funding for bicycle projects is disappointing.
“At the local level, our issue is going gangbusters,” Clarke said. “Mayor after mayor is committing to a more bike-friendly future. It seems like at the local level, mayors and elected officials really get it. But at the federal level, a few of these guys seem intent on stopping progress in this area—for no apparent reason.”
Coburn’s office did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.