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Opening Salvo in Highway Funding Fight

Kicking bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users out of federal transportation programs is the solution to an insolvent Highway Trust Fund — according to a coalition of 50 traditionally conservative think-tanks and policy groups.

In a sign-on letter issued yesterday, this influential and well-connected group proposed eliminating funding for all non-motorized and transit projects and programs rather than raising the gas tax to bail out the chronically insolvent Highway Trust Fund — the mechanism by which funding is collected and distributed for transportation investments as prescribed by the transportation bill Congress is supposed to pass every now and then.

This scorched-earth proposal would eliminate the ability of local transportation agencies to invest in their own transportation priorities and lock us all into a 1950’s–style highway- and car-only mentality that flies in the face of common sense — not to mention economics and what the free market and simple demographics have been telling us for years.

People want choice, and bicycling, walking and transit are critical elements of a balanced transportation system that is in the best interests of the nation.

We have the opportunity to deliver our message, loud and clear, at the National Bike Summit, March 10-12. It’s more than just an opportunity to speak up — it’s our responsibility.

A gas tax increase is presented by these groups as a regressive and ineffective tax on lower- and middle-class Americans. Are there equity issues in raising the gas tax? Of course, especially given the fact that those 1950’s policies have locked so many people in so many communities into a costly, car-dependent lifestyle that forces many families to spend more of their household income on owning and operating a car than they spend spend on food or housing.

However, the reality is that an increase of 8 cents per gallon in the gas tax would burden individuals with an average of just $25 per year — $42 a year for families — while potentially helping to fund an investment in decently maintained roads that might prevent some or all of the $370 per year American families spend on pothole-induced car repairs! That increase also pales in comparison with the 50 cents per trip increase in transit fares that have been common across the board in communities across the country.

The groups behind this sign-on letter are influential, especially with the new Republican-controlled Congress that is already debating and holding hearings on the next transportation bill that requires action before the end of May. Investing in a transportation system and basic infrastructure that’s relevant to the needs of the 21st Century economy should not be a partisan issue, clouded by counter-productive dogma, or disingenuously argued on the back of struggling working class Americans who are already paying over the odds for basic transportation needs as a result of 50 years of short-sighted investment decisions.

What all Americans deserve is a well-maintained transportation system in their community with choices and options relevant to their daily travel needs, their health, their environment, and their pocket book. That means increasing investment in maintaining the existing infrastructure and continuing to invest in the full range of transportation option including bicycling, walking and transit.

We have the opportunity to deliver that message, loud and clear, together with our friends in the transit, walking and local government communities at the National Bike Summit, March 10-12. Because honestly, it’s more than just an opportunity to speak up — it’s our responsibility.

So, if you were wondering whether coming to Washington D.C. matters any more, take a moment to think about a future where there are no more trails, sidewalks or bike lanes — green or otherwise — in our communities. Where the issue isn’t “is there a bike rack on my bus” but “is there a bus.” Where bicycling and walking are deliberately left out of street designs even though we know that will make those roads more dangerous.

If proposals to kick bicycling, walking and transit out of the federal transportation program go unanswered and unchallenged, that’s the future we will suffer.

Register for the Summit today — early registration rates end January 31.