Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Thoughts on Recreation and Transportation Cycling
While I was out pedaling, enjoying this February sunshine, my thoughts wrestled with the current lack of federal encouragement for pedestrian and cycling in this country. And it seems to be getting worse.
For years support for cycling and pedestrian safety has been viewed by congress as discretionary spending, much like music programs in city schools. As parents we plead and prod and vote on a school budget each year. It is often a gut wrenching decision to cut programs, or vote NO, but we speak through our wallets. Sometimes a second language class is cut, sometimes the arts. Some people do not view these programs as necessary curriculum. Much like congress cannot automatically fund bike and walking infrastructure as a requirement when there are roads to maintain, wars to fight, social security, and unemployment programs to fund.
It's a sad reality that just as cycling for transportation is growing, it's still a widely-held view that bicycles are strictly for recreation. I think that's the crux of this issue. Sure, we all love bike paths. They were pushed through and funded by partial federal dollars, but promoted for health and recreation. And now many Americans are beginning to ride to work and for short errands, using these paths. The cycling as transportation movement is expanding. Look around.
Yet, year after year we are approached by Adventure Cycling, Rails-to-Trails, and League of American Bicyclists (not to mention our local advocates) to write letters and e-mail our representatives to support the current rehash of the transportation bill. In light of this year's politics, it feels like an uphill battle. And frankly, I'm growing tired of all the contact from these groups. Would it make an impact if our congressional representatives were required to pedal to their office?
I don't have a solution nor am I politically savvy to this particular bill. I am a pedestrian and cyclist trying to make my way with less impact on the planet. But it strikes me as odd the way walk and bike advocates have to fight for what should be an inherent part of the transportation budget. And clearly, this bill has come at a time when every program in this country will be highly debated to cut "unnecessary" waste. With our country's debt at an all-time high and ever-shifting world-wide crises, I believe there will eventually be a new norm for Americans. The middle class is struggling. There is less money, period, for us all. Will the future include a pared down existence with more bikes and buses? Maybe. We can only hope.