No doubt the past year has been tough for bicycle advocates at the federal level. Time and again a small but vocal cadre of Congress members have pushed to eliminate important and popular programs, like Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School. But, every time funding for biking and walking have come under fire the push back has been so intense that policymakers have backed off.
And that signals an exciting political shift.
As journalist (and bike advocate) Jay Walljasper writes in his latest piece that promises to viral across the internet: “The Bicycling Community Is Becoming a Political Force to Be Reckoned With — And That’s Great News”
“The political forces that want to steer policies back to the 1950s — when cars and highways were seen as the only way to go — have consistently failed to muster enough votes to shift federal transportation funding into reverse,” Jay writes. “There are several reason for this, but one of the most surprising is the emergence of bicycle advocates — and to a lesser extent pedestrian advocates — as a persuasive political lobby.”
League President Andy Clarke made that precise point in our release about the National Bike Summit last month. “Two months ago, the Senate bill would have gutted critical funding for local bicycle projects, eliminated programs like Safe Routes to School and eroded the rights of all American cyclists,” Andy said. “But tens of thousands of people called and wrote their members of Congress and their voices were heard. Now more than ever, cyclists have become a powerful, organized constituency that is redefining our streets as safe, public spaces for people, not just speeding automobiles.”
And, as Jay points out, that’s not just good for cyclists — it’s good for everyone.
Even if you will never ride a bike in your life, you still see benefits from increased levels of biking. More bicyclists mean less congestion in the streets and less need for expensive road projects that divert government money from other important problems. Off-road paths, bike lanes, sidwalks and other bike and ped improvements cost a fraction of what it takes to widen streets and highways. It’s proven that bicycling and walking increases people’s health and reduces obesity, which will translate into huge cost savings for government and a boost for our economy.
Policies that are good for bicyclists actually benefit everyone on the streets. Good conditions for bicycling also create good conditions for pedestrians. And what makes the streets safer for bikes, also makes them safer for motorists.
Higher gas prices (which have topped four bucks for the third time in four years) means more Americans are looking for other ways to get around. Bikes offer people more choices in transportation. This is especially true for people whose communities are not well served by mass transportation or where distances are too far to walk to work or shopping.
Bike advocates are also working hard to dispel the stereotype that all bicyclists are young, white, urban, male ultra athletes in lycra racing jerseys. Increased investment in safer, more comfortable bike facilities means that more women, children, families, middle-aged and senior citizens, minorities, immigrants, low-income, suburban and rural people will ride bikes.
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Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.