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What a Week in Washington

Last week in Washington started on a high – and not just the sugar high generated by Halloween candy. We opened registration for the 2012 National Bike Summit. The Summit is a huge deal for us; a lot of work to pull together, but incredibly rewarding to see the growing impact it has each year on our issues and our movement. Clearly, the 2012 edition is going to be as critical as any previous events coming as it does just eight days before the current transportation bill expires.

Our excitement is obviously shared: folks in Arkansas and Oklahoma were proudly telling me later in the week that they had signed up already and even knew what number registrant they were!

Tuesday was a face-to-face America Bikes board meeting…and of course it was also the day of the remarkable Senate vote on Rand Paul’s amendment to strip the transportation enhancements program of all its funding and divert those dollars to bridge repair. Thanks to a massive outpouring of e-mails and calls from tens of thousands of supporters, the amendment was voted down by 60 to 38. We learned the result during the America Bikes board meeting, and it was an exciting moment. Sixty votes in the Senate is actually a pretty big deal. That’s a veto-proof majority and not many issues have garnered that kind of bi-partisan support in this most divided Congress.  Yes, Republicans, Democrats and Independents voted together to unequivocally support the continuation of the TE program.

The following day, as if more validation were needed, a huge report was released by the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Researchers found that:

Cutting out short auto trips and replacing them with mass transit and active transport would yield major health benefits, according to a study just published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The biggest health benefit was due to replacing half of the short trips with bicycle trips during the warmest six months of the year, saving about $3.8 billion per year from avoided mortality and reduced health care costs for conditions like obesity and heart disease.

Wow, that’s just what the enhancements and safe routes to schools programs could help make happen, right?  You betcha. So, thank you, Senators, for having the wisdom to maintain funding for such a valuable program with long-term financial benefits to individuals, communities and the nation. Remember, the total amount of Federal funding going to bicycling and walking projects in FY2011 was around $750 million…so $3.8 billion annually in returns is a pretty good investment by anyone’s standards!

Thursday morning I was traveling and picked up a copy of USA Today. The cover story was a new AAA research report on the phenomenal cost of motor vehicle crashes – $6m for every one of the more than 35,000 fatalities in 2009. Two interesting things beyond the staggering overall costs involved: first, the cost and impacts of crashes far outweigh those caused by congestion, which suggests safety should be higher priority than congestion relief for highway departments. Second, the study compared the relative costs of crashes per capita in different sized cities and showed low and high ranges. Lo and behold, all of the low-end communities – where crashes were the lowest – were Bicycle Friendly Communities of note:  San Francisco (gold), Colorado Springs (silver) and Boulder (platinum).  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

There is tremendous bi-partisan support for encouraging bicycling and walking as part of Federal transportation program. There are incredible health and environmental benefits to be had from such an investment. And in those places that are investing in making non-motorized transportation work, every resident is benefitting in terms of safety and quality of life, whether they bicycle or not.

Could the week possibly get any better? 

Well, late on Friday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released their 600-page draft of the next Federal transportation bill. For now, you can look at the bill yourself (enjoy…it is only 600 pages after all), and review this side-by-side analysis of the critical funding sections for bicycling and walking programs and decide for yourself what impact this might have on funding for those activities. We’ll provide more commentary on Tuesday, ahead of the Committee mark-up on Wednesday – then you’ll discover whether the high’s of the week continued, or the scary part of Halloween came to the fore

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