Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wisconsin bikes take two pedals forward, one back

I've been trying to suss out what, exactly, happened with funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects in the recently passed state budget (nebulously referred to as the "Surface Transportation Grant Program"). It's not all that easy to figure out the details, but the basics are that Governor Doyle included, for the first time ever, a specific line item for their funding. That's the good news. The bad news is that of the $19.1 million set aside for biking and pedestrian projects by the Legislature, only $2.7 million of that made it past the governor's veto pen.

This leaves Wisconsin languishing near the bottom when it comes to how much in the way of federal transportation dollars states use for bike and ped projects. It seems like an especially petty slap in the face for a state that prides itself on being not only bike friendly, but downright bike obsessed. In addition to the thousands (if not more) of riders in the state, we're also home to numerous bike or bike related companies, including Trek, Planet Bike, Saris and Pacific Cycle.

For all the lip-service our public officials seem to pay to our bike and pedestrian friendly culture, more often it would appear that regular citizens are the ones who do the most to promote and sustain the culture.

What I'm confused about, and would love if someone could help sort out for me, is what's being done with the money that was supposed to go to surface transportation. Before Doyle got to it, the budget originally allocated $14.6 million from "federal transportation sources historically spent on bicycle and pedestrian projects, plus an additional $1.8 million." But Doyle vetoed the extra $1.8 million and put the other $14.6 million back into the regular transportation budget. What gives? What confuses me further is the total amount of money allocated to Wisconsin by the federal government for surface transportation: $130,226,463 according to this document.

That last bit is from the budget for 2007, so it's likely to have changed for the coming fiscal year. Still, what am I missing here? Where is that money going? Are we getting it in the first place? Am I misreading everything?

There is one thing I'm sure of, however, and it's that we owe it to ourselves to far better fund bicycle and pedestrian projects in this state. Improved and increased trails, bike lanes, secure parking spots, education and incentives are all things we should be focused on providing. There are so many benefits to bicycling and walking and so few down sides that it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to ignore them. But then, I suppose we have to remember where the big money is and who it speaks for, and we've only to look at the funding for highway and freeway maintenance to find it.

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