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LaHood gets it, others do not

As reported in the Courthouse News Service article “Republicans Ridicule Bike Lanes,” Republican Congressmen derided Republican Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for his call for a “sea change” in the Department of Transportation to treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes. At a Congressional hearing, Ohio Republican Steven LaTourette asked, “What job is going to be created by having a bike lane?” Tom Latham, the Representative from Iowa, said that a cyclist is one fewer person paying into the transportation trust fund. He claimed that other transportation needs are being “swept aside.” Representative LaTourette even got a personal dig in, asking, “Is there still mandatory drug-testing at the department?”

There are a few issues. First, the Secretary wants to provide more transportation choices for the millions of Americans who want healthy, safe, efficient, environmentally sustainable, and enjoyable ways to get around. Second, investing in bicycling and walking creates jobs and is good for the economy. Third, the problems with the transportation trust fund have little to nothing to do with bicycling.

Supporting the freedom of Americans to choose from a range of transportation options shouldn’t be partisan issue. Providing non-motorized transportation options benefits health, the environment, and the economy. Walking and bicycling are also the only options for many young, old, and low-income citizens.

Investing in bicycling and walking infrastructure creates jobs. That’s why state Departments of Transportation have committed $734 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to stimulate the economy with ready-to-go, job-creating bicycle and pedestrian projects. Building better biking and walking infrastructure requires people to pour concrete, lay asphalt, and drive bulldozers – and in fact because these projects tend to be small, labor intensive and quick to get off the drawing board, they are actually estimated to generate more jobs per million dollars spent than massive highway and bridge reconstruction projects. On top of that, the Secretary is also making the critical observation that it doesn’t cost anything more to restripe many roads with a bike lane – you are just putting the lane stripes down in a different place!

 Once bicycle and pedestrian projects are completed, they boost the local economy by attracting visitors and improving shopping districts. The Outdoor Industry Foundation estimates that the bicycling industry supports 1.1 million jobs and generates $17.7 billion in tax revenue each year.

 The argument that bicyclists don’t contribute to road costs doesn’t hold water. Just over half of the cost of transportation at all levels of government is paid for by fuel and vehicle taxes and tolls. The rest comes from property taxes, general fund allocations, bond issues, and transit fares. Non-drivers are already helping to pay. In addition, the majority of the 57 million American adults who bicycle also drive and so pay into the trust fund anyway. The bike riders that don’t drive reduce costly congestion and road wear.

The Congressmen should have commended the Secretary for recognizing the myriad benefits of bicycling and walking and the central part it plays in many people’s lives. We encourage all members of Congress to join the Congressional Bike Caucus and support the following legislation:

1. Active Community Transportation Act of 2010

2. Complete Streets Act of 2009

3. Safe Routes to School Program

4. Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act

5. Land and Water Reauthorization and Funding Act

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