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Need to create jobs? Invest in bicycling and walking projects.

If you were given $26.5 billion worth of transportation funds and tasked with spending it as quickly as possible to create as many jobs as possible, what would you do with it?

This may be a thought experiment for you and me, but for state Departments of Transportation last year it was a real question. They answered it. America Bikes has analyzed the Federal Highway Administration’s Fiscal Management Information System (FMIS) to see what share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds were committed to bicycle and pedestrian projects.

According to the analysis, $734 million were obligated for bicycle and pedestrian projects – 3 percent of all ARRA transportation spending. (During a normal year, only about 1.5 percent goes to bicycle and pedestrian projects.) Most came from Transportation Enhancements (TE) set-asides. Of the dozen different activities that qualify for TE money, more than half (58 percent, $456 million) of the TE spending went to the three bicycle and pedestrian projects categories. States prioritize bicycling and walking over the other eligible TE activities.

In an additional sign that state DOTs recognized the job-creation benefits of bicycle and pedestrian projects, $125 million went to bicycle and pedestrian projects in areas with large populations (over 200,000) from flexible funds. Another $109 million came from flexible statewide funds. When states could spend the money on anything they chose, they spent more than $200 million on bicycle and pedestrian projects – that’s in addition to TE money.

This means that states recognized the job-creating benefits of bicycle and pedestrian projects: they generally require less concrete and materials, so a higher share of cost goes to salaries; they tend to be relatively small and quick to get going; the small size means there is a high cost benefit for the public who uses the facilities; there are a lot of worthy projects to choose from.

To make sure the ARRA were injected into the economy quickly, the law required states to commit $800 million dollars in TE funds by March 2, 2010. By the deadline, 98 percent had been committed. The stimulus experience shows that bicycle and pedestrian projects and other TE projects can be initiated quickly, perhaps more quickly than many other types of projects. This same dedication to TE needs to continue during the course of normal operating procedure.

Finally, America Bikes’ analysis uncovered, once again, the enormous problems with getting reliable information from FMIS – only national source of transportation spending. State DOTs very often fail to code projects correctly as bicycle or pedestrian projects. As a result, the federal government under estimates spending on non-motorized projects. During an earlier analysis, America Bikes identified more $50 million in trail, sidewalk, and bike lane projects that were miscoded by spot checking just a few states. Some of the specific errors have since been corrected. However, this is systematic problem of neglect that still exists. We support the secretary’s call for better data collection on bicycle ridership. Tracking bicycle and pedestrian spending should also be a priority.

See how much of your state’s Transportation Enhancements funds were obligated, how much went to bike and pedestrian projects and how much of the flexible funding went to bike/ped in your state: READ THE AMERICA BIKES ANALYSIS and other America Bikes resources.

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