New federal funding source for Active Transportation?

Speaking about Detroit non-motorized issues with Congressman is reporting on new legislation being introduced in Congress next week.

U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) plans to introduce a new bill to Congress next week that would create a $2 billion grant program that would hasten investment in biking, walking, and other “active transportation” options.

Blumenauer’s office sent out a one pager and a PDF of the bill today, saying that the proposed legislation has already been vetted with national organizations and leaders. The bill would look to increase mode share for biking and walking through “concentrated funding for active transportation networks”. “It is time for the federal government to support communities’infrastructure investment,” the statement says.

This sounds much like the Active Transportation funding program Rails-to-Trails tried getting in to federal transportation bill. They were unsuccessful apparently because “it looked too much like earmarks.” The city of Detroit had submitted a $50 million request under this proposed program. That funding would have built 400-miles of bike lanes and countless miles of greenways.

This new legislation from Blumenauer’s office would be different in that it’s a competitive grant program (with a two-year application cycle). The grants would range from $5 to $15 million for five years.

Conveniently enough, $15 million was the estimated cost (in 2006) of adding 400 miles of bikes lanes across Detroit.

Next Tuesday is a Brookings/ National Association of City Transportation Officials bicycling event in Washington DC. Congressman Blumenauer is a guest speaker and may likely discuss this new funding opportunity. (Yes, David Bryne will be there as well. I’ll invite him to ride in Detroit again.)

Fortunately I was able to attend this event both as the Detroit Greenways Coordinator for the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance and a media representative from this web site.

Learning about the event after registration had closed, I successfully made the following pitch:

Whether I can attend or not, I would suggest that bringing a Detroit perspective to the discussion would be invaluable. Detroit is not Portland or Chicago or New York. The city of Detroit has gained its high level of bike friendliness as residents (and their vehicles) have left. We are at our pre-WWI population levels with a post-WWII street infrastructure. Our 40 square miles of vacant/abandoned land provides unique challenges and tremendous opportunities for non-motorized transportation growth and designs.

Perhaps this New York Times op-ed provides a window into what we have in Detroit and in other Rust Belt communities.

But while the infrastructure is accommodating, the Motor City culture in many ways is not. Though it’s beginning to change, many still see bicycles as a last choice mode of transportation. We are exploring ways to turn that around.

Certainly, getting the funding to build 400 miles of bike lanes would be great, but how where would the money come from to maintain (e.g. repaint) them? It seems it will be all the more critical that we advocate for changes to SEMCOG’s Congrestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding formulas so make sustainable funding dollars available for any bicycle facilities we build.

Look for a follow up report after Tuesday.

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