Congress has put off its fight over surface transportation funding until early next year, and for that we all can breathe a sigh of relief. Still, conservatives like Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have made it clear that unresolved issues remain for lawmakers when they start discussing transportation policy in earnest. Coburn objected to the "transportation enhancement" funding in the stopgap funding extension as "an indefensible threat against public safety that forces states to prioritize bike paths over bridge repair," according to his spokesman. Coburn removed his objection after Democrats promised an opt-out provision. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., also has criticized bike paths or walkway improvements as unnecessary recipients of federal dollars.
Bike paths are a perennial whipping boy in the transportation funding debates. Conservatives don't like setting aside money for bike paths or other enhancements because they feel those funds should go to roads. With tight budgets, roads and bridges should be top priority, critics say. At the very least, they say, the states should make the decisions about where the money goes. Bike defenders, like Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., point to the health, environmental, and safety benefits in promoting cycling and walking. Bike paths and walkways might also lead to jobs. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that bike paths and pedestrian trails generate more jobs than road work. For each $1 million spent for cycling projects, 11.4 jobs were created, the study found. Road-only projects, by contrast, created only 7.8 jobs per $1 million.
Should the federal government include bike paths and walkways in its national transportation scheme? Are states or cities more appropriate places to create and maintain alternatives to driving? How should government at any level regard cyclists and pedestrians? Are cycling/walking enthusiasts equipped to advocate to policymakers in Washington? How do such alternative forms of transport impact in the larger transportation debate?