People for Bikes, Advocacy Advance and other groups are drumming up support for an important piece of the federal budget that will help bicyclists and this country move away from dependence on oil and cars and open the way for alternatives.
That legislation is aptly called the Transportation Alternatives program (TAP) and is part of the Department of Transportation MAP 21 highway funding bill.
Like any item in the federal budget, this expenditure has its supporters and its detractors.
There is no question the country’s highway system needs repairs. Bridges need to be refurbished, highways expanded, etc.
But the purpose behind the Transportation Alternatives program is to fund projects that move people around that are not just automobile oriented.
In case anybody has noticed, this country certainly has plenty of automobiles. According to People for Bikes statistics, there are FIVE vehicles in the US for every FOUR drivers.
With America’s banking system, it is very easy to get into a car. Some car manufacturers offer leasing rates for $150 a month or less.
Owning a car is a great resource for citizens who now have access to more options for employment and education.
Congested highways are extremely wasteful
Unfortunately, all those cars also create gridlock on American highways. In 2001, the average American spent 64 minutes daily in a vehicle.
According to People for Bikes, in 2009, congested highways wasted nearly FIVE billion hours of productive time, burning nearly FOUR billion gallons of fuel. Talk about inefficiency.
What causes that congestion? Consider this – 76% of workers drive to work alone. That means there is a massive number of huge metal boxes, mostly empty, filling American highways every day.
So, some advocates for the highway bill say all of that money should be spent on repairing and expanding highways.
And they say those Transportation Alternatives program funds for bike and pedestrian infrastructure should be cut. Allocate those funds to build more roads.
It is motorists – truckers and commuters, who pay the transportation taxes anyway, they claim.
But here’s the big catch. If you expand the highways, with all the car owners in America, you are just going to create bigger traffic jams. There will just be more people sitting alone in their Fords and Toyotas, filling up the roads. This time instead of six congested lanes, there will be seven or eight.
Transportation Alternatives program offers other solutions that work
That is why there is a thing such as the Transportation Alternatives program – to seek strategies to replace this motorized madness.
Think about all the congestion that can be reduced by adding more bike lanes to cities. Build it and they will come. Ask most people if they would rather pedal a bike to work than sit in a car crawling in traffic, and they will choose the bicycle.
Europe gets this notion. In some major cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam (photo above), as much as 50% of the working population rides a bike to work. Imagine if you put all of those people into a car. What would happen in those cities? Actually, not much would be happening, because all those people would be spending countless hours stuck in gridlock.
In 1990, the average urban American drove nearly THREE times as much as a European living in or near a city.
Yes, Americans have a love affair with their automobiles. Every other commercial on television is for a car. But that love is getting to be overwhelming.
Many people don’t want to hear the climate aspects of automobile use. In a nation with low activity rates, there’s also a huge health benefit to bicycling as well. Let’s set aside those points for now. Consider the economic benefits of bikes versus cars.
One mile of a road costs approximately 1,300 times more than the construction of one mile of a protected bike lane.
You can also imagine what it costs to build one mile of a rail or subway line.
Why not try a different approach? Saturate major cities with protected or adequate bike lanes, safety features at intersections, and plenty of bicycle parking racks. See what that does to reduce traffic and congestion.
What will an extra lane of a highway do? Waste gas. Create more gridlock. Keep consumers stuck in cars instead of working or spending money at local restaurants and shops.
What’s included in the Transportation Alternatives program benefits bicyclists
Here are some of the types of programs that are funded by the Transportation Alternatives program. The key here is that these projects are decided at the state level with matching funds. Local citizens have input in determining the best use of those funds.
For pedestrians and bicyclists, the money can be applied for sidewalks, walkways, curb ramps, bike lane striping, wider paved shoulders, bicycle parking racks, bus racks, bike and pedestrian bridges, new or reconstructed off-road trails, etc.
There are many success stories. For example, in Miami, Fla., a bicycle and pedestrian path connected Dadeland South with Dadeland North to Metrorail stations. The project involved the construction of a trail, bridge, lighting, signage and fencing that helped facilitate the rail’s bike and ride program.
That project spurs more use of mass transit and less reliance on motorized transportation. This results in fewer cars on already crowded Miami streets. That’s certainly a win and a smart use of those funds.
Imagine if there were parking lots located outside major cities connected to bikeways leading downtown? Commuters could park their cars (or ride a bus) to these locations. Then they could rent a bike from a bike sharing program or take their own bike and pedal a mile or two into town. Think how that would alleviate downtown congestion and make a city more walkable….and enjoyable.
Transportation Alternatives program funds can also be used to convert abandoned railroad lines to trails, the popular rail-to-trail projects that are gaining popularity across the US. (Think about it, the land is already available. It’s not used. Easily converts to a bike trail).
Opponents of TAP complain of dollars spent on bike paths running through meadows, etc.
They are missing the point.
Bike tourism is becoming bigger along with the growth of the bicycling culture. Build a very cool bike path and people will come. Towns can promote this amenity to attract tourists. Opening up bike attractions also attracts locals who will spend their money at businesses nearby – restaurants, shops or bike repair stores. These bike paths, which just replace rail lines, are relatively inexpensive to build and last forever. What a great way to spur economic activity (and healthy activity).
For example, the 25-mile High Trestle Trail in Iowa is a huge rails-to-trails success story.
Transportation Alternatives program dollars are not only available to local governments, but also to regional transportation authorities, transit agencies, public land agencies, tribal governments and school districts.
Research shows fewer kids today ride their bikes to schools. Think how schools can use this money to encourage more youngsters to hop on a bike. Maybe create a new protected bike path. Or install some cool-looking custom bike racks shaped like dinosaurs or school mascots, whatever.
This would certainly help with the inactivity/obesity problem facing young people today AND with all the congestion caused by moms dropping off and picking up their kids.
Several groups are pushing hard to generate support for the Transportation Alternatives program. The challenge for bicyclists and pedestrians is that they don’t have the same lobbying muscle as say the construction or auto industry. So it’s a struggle to keep that allocation intact.
You can download a tool kit from Advocacy Advance with details about the Transportation Alternatives program and how to persuade your fellow citizens to support it.
People for Bikes put together a very simple form you can fill out, complete with a ready-made letter than can be sent to your representative. You can find that here. Takes seconds. Could be the easiest way to help the bicycle movement in a big way.
Europe has gone bicycle and mass transit and that system works.
If America was really smart, the order for funds in the transportation bill would be reversed, with the billions going for bike and pedestrian infrastructure and less for highways.
There’s a gigantic resurgence of bicycling in this country. More and more effective expenditures for moving people around such as the Miami bike trail to the Metrorail are coming to the forefront.
Get your fellow bicyclists to contact their congressman to secure these Transportation Alternatives program funds and continue advocating different modes of transportation for our jammed cities and towns.
Success will help pedal the way to more success.