March 24, 2012

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Bicycling and Walking are Important to our Nation's Future
by Brent Hugh

(March 17, 2012) Last week the Senate passed its version of the federal transportation bill, MAP-21. Now it's the House's turn to take up the legislation.

Federal transportation policy — that sounds like something that so boring and far-off. But these are the policies that build — or destroy — our communities and our neighborhoods.

That's why I am joining a delegation of Missourians in Washington, DC, this week to talk to our members of Congress about the transportation bill. We come from all parts of the state and represent many different organizations. But we all have a passion for making our communities vibrant, healthy, and more livable by making them more walkable and bikable

Walkable and bikable? You say. What has that got to do with the federal transportation bill?

Let me explain:

Bicycling and Walking: The Challenge of the 21st Century

The challenge of the 20th century was building a complete, connected network of paved roads for automobiles. It cost trillions of dollars and took decades, but that job is now complete.

The challenge of the 21st century is making a complete, connected transportation network that works on the human scale again. That means biking, walking, trails and mass transit. It means retrofitting our entire paved road system to be accessible to people.

It is a huge job, but we can do it — and the federal transportation bill has a large part to play.

Fair Share for Bicycling and Walking

Nationwide, bicycling and walking make up 12% of trips and 14% of fatalities but receive only 1.6% of funding.

In Missouri, bicycling and walking make up 7% of trips, 7.9% of fatalities, and 14% of traffic injuries, but receive only 1.83% of federal transportation funds.

So right now, the federal government — and most city and state governments — spend far less on bicycling and walking than our fair share. That is not fair to those of us who walk and bicycle — the vast majority of Americans — and it is not the right approach for health or for safety.

Bicycling and Walking are Inexpensive and Cost-Effective

Building for bicycle and pedestrian transportation is very inexpensive and delivers tremendous bang for the buck in the form of community livability, health, and safety benefits. All bicycle and pedestrian programs together make up only 0.029% of the federal budget — and have huge positive impact in our communities' health, livability, and economy.

For the price of one freeway interchange, we can put bicycle routes around an entire city, or build hundreds of miles of much-needed sidewalks and crosswalks.

Bicycling and Walking are a 21st Century Megatrend

After a century of continuous, uninterrupted growth, the amount of vehicle miles driven in the U.S. has leveled off over the past decade.

By contrast, the number of bicycle commuters in Missouri dwindled and stagnated throughout the 20th century — but has nearly tripled since the turn of the 21st century.

The amount of walking in Missouri is also increasing. And all this is part of a nationwide trend, with bicycling and walking increasing steadily nationwide, while the amount of driving remains level.

We're Preparing for our Own Future

The American population is aging and in our older years, Americans drive less while walking and bicycling far more. The average American lives ten years longer than he or she can drive so building communities that are accessible and safe for bicycling and walking is one way we can keep our future selves active, healthy, and living independently.

We thank U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill for having the vision to support bicycling and walking in MAP-21. The bill's support for bicycling and walking grew as it went through the Senate's process, and both Senators and their staff members listened well as thousands of Missourians weighed in to support bicycling and walking in the final bill.

Now we urge Missouri's House members to listen as well. Let's work together to create healthy and vibrant communities that are open, accessible, and have real transportation choice for all.

Brent Hugh, Raytown, has served as executive director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation since 2005.

The Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation is a statewide coalition of bicyclists, walkers, runners, trail organizations and related businesses which represents over 30,000 Missourians and advocates on behalf of the state's two million ardent bicyclists and six million walkers. For more information, visit http://mobikefed.org.