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A fifth of federal money meant for active transportation users reportedly went to drivers instead last year. Advocates reportedly say it’s critical to pass legislation that makes it harder for states to misuse funds intended for pedestrians and cyclists.
In its annual analysis of the Transportation Alternatives program, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reportedly found that $152 million of the $767 million that was apportioned for states and cities to improve walking and biking infrastructure had been reallocated to other programs. In theory, federal law allows communities to move their sidewalk and bike path dollars around to other agencies in order to do things like ease the purchase parkland for multi-use trails. But in practice, transportation leaders reportedly often give the money to programs that benefit automobile users.
As told to Streetsblog, Kevin Mills, vice president of policy for the group that conducted the analysis, used a cholesterol metaphor, how there’s good and bad types, to explain the problem. “The good kind is inter-agency transfers. But when you’re doing inter-program transfers that take money that was intended for a sidewalk and use it to build a road or a bridge, that’s a problem,” he reportedly said.
Since the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act passed in 2012, states have had the ability to shift as much as half the money from walkers and bikers to autocentric projects. And last year, despite slowdown on infrastructure projects that dulled the effect of the policy because of the pandemic, about six times as much money was still transferred — more than at any point before the rule.
Rails-to-Trails say that the massive loophole must be closed when Congress approves a new surface transportation reauthorization bill in Sep. The Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act would clamp down on iffy transfers while setting aside 10% of the Surface Transportation Block Grants program specifically for active transportation. If passed, this would raise the program’s funding by about 75% each year.
Expanding and securing funding for active transportation are critical to making car-free living viable — or at least help reduce our reliance on vehicles. “If we just keep funding [existing walking and rolling programs], we’re not going to be able to make the big leap forward to have people actually change their behavior,” Mills reportedly said. “We need to think bigger — and connectivity is the missing piece.”
“Because most cities have such a dearth of bike and walking infrastructure, Transportation Alternatives projects tend to be disconnected from each other, which can bolster the myth that multi-use paths are recreational amenities rather than essential elements of car-free transportation networks,” Streetsblog argued on their article.
Mills agreed. through the lens of, ‘how do you get from here to there if you’re on a bike or on your own feet?’” he reportedly said. “They say they want this to be about climate change and equity and jobs and safety, and we just don’t think we’re going to get there unless you think about this more comprehensively through the active transportation lens.”
This is why advocates want Congress to pass the Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act as part of a package that includes two other bills: the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act, which would create a $500 million grant program to plug the gaps in city and regional walk/bike/roll networks, and the Recreational Trails Full Funding Act, which would triple federal dollars for off-road infrastructure.