Federal Funding 101: How does federal funding help bicycling?
We all like to ride bikes. Whether it is on paths, or trails, or roads, or at BMX parks -- we like to ride, and that's why we signed the Peopleforbikes.org pledge in support of better bicycling. But, how do those bike facilities come to exist? Where does the money come from that is needed to build them? In large part, the answer is that it comes from the federal level through decisions made by Congress.
That is why a key goal of the Peopleforbikes.org campaign is making the most of the increasingly unified and powerful voice of our group to speak clearly and directly to elected officials. In particular, we need to be sure that members of Congress know that the federal investment in bike infrastructure and programs is important, cost-effective and beneficial in all 50 states. We need federal leaders to appreciate that millions of Americans care about safe and appealing bicycling conditions.
Congress is a focal point for PFB because their decisions will continue to shape the future of bicycling in the United States. Federal money is far and away the number one source of funding for bikeways, bike lanes, trails, underpasses, bridges and programs like Safe Routes to School that make bicycling and walking safer and better.
Since the early 1990s, the federal government has recognized that modest, cost-effective investments in bicycling infrastructure and programs provide a variety of important benefits to our nation. Bicycling has been supported primarily through a variety of programs that are part of federal transportation funding legislation that has traditionally been reassessed, revamped, and reauthorized every five or six years.
Widespread support has boosted bike funding
Federal funding for bike and pedestrian programs has grown dramatically, from $23 million in 1992 to $1.2 billion in 2009. This increased investment reflects bipartisan support from Congress, the Administration, governors, city leaders and the public. It also reflects a widespread recognition of the ways that bicycling can address many of the biggest challenges that face our society, including adult and child obesity, road congestion, air pollution, and the high costs of road and parking infrastructure.
Federal bike money is determined primarily by what is known informally as the federal transportation bill. Four of the bill’s key components for bicycling are: Surface Transportation (primarily through its Transportation Enhancements category), Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality, Safe Routes to School (since 2005) and Recreational Trails. During the last two fiscal years, additional funding has been provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Children’s bicycling has been one of the key beneficiaries of recent federal bike funding. The federal Safe Routes to School program, which began in 2005, is a crucial effort to improve the conditions for walking and bicycling between homes and schools all across the nation. Safe Routes to School encourages children to become physically active and reverse a three-decade trend towards increasing child obesity and inactivity. Safe Routes also helps with morning and afternoon traffic: in some U.S. cities, more than 20 percent of morning rush hour road congestion can be attributed to one parent driving one child a short distance to school.
Federal money has been combined with state, county and local money to build bike infrastructure that is highly popular and heavily used. A variety of statistics and studies support this. Here’s one: bike commuting in the 70 largest U.S. cities has increased by 62 percent since 2000.
Rolling into the future
The latest federal transportation bill became law in 2005. It authorized spending of $286 billion for roadways, railways, transit, and bicycling and walking projects and programs. Roughly 1.5 percent of this multi-year sum has been designated for biking and walking projects. (Meanwhile, bicycling and walking account for more than 12 percent of all trips that Americans make.)
The 2005 bill expired at the end of September 2009. Since then Congress has approved a series of short-term extensions that keep transportation funding and project support moving—albeit with less certainty that another multi-year authorization would provide.
The most-recent extension expires at the end of 2010. To keep our transportation system on track, Congress will most likely approve another extension before then. After that, no one knows for sure what will happen. What will be the level of overall funding? What will the mix of roadway/transit/bike-ped programs look like? Where will the money to pay for it all come from?
It is likely that the new Congress that convenes in January—like just about every Congress that came before it--will have to make important decisions about the future of transportation funding. They will deliberate on investments in highways, transit, and bicycling and walking facilities. While transportation spending accounts for less than three percent of annual federal expenditures, it is a category that directly affects the lives of nearly all Americans. It is also a category that directly affects all aspects of bicycling—on pavement, dirt, paths and everything in between.
If you’re interested in reviewing a summary of all Federal Department of Transportation bicycling and spending investments since 1992, go to this webpage.
Peopleforbikes.org will continue to track federal investments in transportation—particularly those that support bicycling. Stay tuned!
blog comments powered by Disqus