From Energy & Environment Daily(03/12/2009)
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Cycling advocates and their allies in Congress are fighting to ensure that provisions for biking projects will be included in the next federal transportation authorization bill.
Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), a longtime supporter of bicyclists, has pledged to carve out provisions in the bill to provide more vehicle-free alternatives for bikers and pedestrians. The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to introduce legislation he hopes will see action on the House floor by the end of May.
“Bicycling is going to be available everywhere,” Oberstar said Tuesday at a dinner during the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. “We have to make bicycling a mode of transport by law.”
Oberstar was instrumental in getting the Safe Routes to School program into the $244.1 billion transportation bill in 2005. The program has spent $370 million on programs that encourage and enable primary and secondary school children to walk or bike to school.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU, is set to expire in September. Some biking advocates are worried the economic recession will cause non-motorized transportation programs to be swept aside when the new bill is considered. Oberstar promised that biking and pedestrian initiatives will not be left out, but will be enhanced.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday that beginning this spring his department will be looking into “best practices” in Europe for ideas on how to better integrate bikers into the U.S. transportation system. In cities like Copenhagen, where bike lanes are snowplowed before vehicle lanes, about 36 percent of the population commutes to school and work by bike.
“I’m sure you’re eager to learn what the next transportation plan holds for cyclists,” LaHood said. “You’ll have a full partner at DOT to accomplish many of the things you want to do.”
DOT will be in charge of deploying any pedestrian and bicycling provisions included in the next transportation authorization package.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who rides 2.5 miles to his office on Capitol Hill, said biking advocates will have strong allies in Oberstar and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who chairs the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, when a new transportation bill is considered.
“We’ve got a highway trust fund that is moving into a deficit for the first time in our nation’s history,” Blumenauer told the summit yesterday morning. “Jim Oberstar, our übercyclist, is committed to not just reauthorization, but rewriting that legislation.”
Blumenauer, who was successful in getting the Bike Commuter Tax Credit into the bailout package passed by President George W. Bush in October, recently introduced CLEAN-TEA, a bill that would set aside 10 percent of the funds generated from the auction of carbon allowances from any future climate bill to fund a Low Greenhouse Gas Transportation Fund. Eligible projects would include transit, passenger and freight rail, biking and pedestrian.