Transit groups, along with pedestrian and cycling advocates, are hopping mad about a portion of the House surface transportation bill that removes mass transit funding from the highway trust fund and eliminates dedicated funding for cycling and walking programs. The proposal also cuts one of the most popular parts of the current surface transportation scheme--the $200 million Safe Routes to School program that accommodates children who get to school by walking or biking. The funding proposal, approved earlier this month by the House Ways and Means Committee, will be combined with a larger highway bill on the House floor this week.
House Speaker John Boehner is proud that the bill is streamlined, noting that it eliminates or consolidates 70 government programs. It also has no earmarks, which has soured Boehner on transportation bills in the past. The fiscal conservative thinking in Boehner's reasoning can't help but put at risk federal funding for the bike paths and walking safety programs. There just isn't room for those things in the federal budget when you're trying to shrink government. (Policymakers bearing this viewpoint are quick to point out that states and local governments are welcome to sponsor such programs on their own.)
How important are mass transit and other non-car traveling modes in the debate over the highway bill? Is it appropriate to ask states and cities to take care of their own subways, trains, bike paths, and pedestrian safety programs? How should policymakers treat transit? How should they treat alternate transportation modes like bicycles? Where does safety factor in to this conversation?