The morning after a U.S. senator questioned commitment of federal transportation funds for pedestrian and cycling projects, bike advocates on Wednesday presented survey results that they said showed overwhelming public support for the spending.
Bicycle and pedestrian safety have been identified as a particular concern in the congested Washington region. At least nine cyclists have died on the roadways in the past year. In 2009, more than 20 percent of all traffic fatalities in Maryland and the District, and almost 10 percent in Virginia, involved the death of a pedestrian.
“The spate of cycling tragedies in one of the most bike-friendly areas in the country is a reminder that motorists and bicyclists can make an effort to reduce bicyclist injuries and fatalities on area roads,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “Cyclists and motorists should know the rules of the road and share the road with mutuality.”
The nationwide telephone poll found that 83 percent those surveyed support federal funding for sidewalks and bike lanes, and that 91 percent of those under the age of 30 backed the spending. It showed that people in urban areas were more supportive than those who live in the suburbs, and rural residents thought it less important.
The rural nature of his state might explain why Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Tuesday expressed concern about federally mandated enhancement programs, as bike and pedestrian projects are known. Oklahoma has 3.8 million people spread across almost 70,000 square miles. The District has more than 600,000 people living in 68 square miles.
Nationally, pedestrian deaths have increased slightly or stayed even during a period when overall traffic fatalities have sharply declined.
The question of mandated federal spending for the enhancement program has been a hot one on Capital Hill in recent months as both chambers sought to craft multibillion-dollar long-term transportation funding with the deficit casting a pall over the debate.
Inhofe revisited the issue Tuesday as a conference committee began negotiations over a $109 billion bill that would give state and local officials greater voice in selecting the bike and pedestrian programs that would receive federal funding. The bill would create a competitive grant program for those projects.
The federal enhancement program doled out $927.5 million in fiscal 2011, about 2 percent of the total $40.2 billion highway budget. Between the program’s inception in 1992 and 2010, states used $8.7 billion in enhancement funds, about 84 percent of the money made available.
Among the projects that have been funded in the Washington region were construction of a bike and pedestrian bridge over Veirs Mill Road at Aspen Hill Road; restoring locks and the adjacent towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal; restoring the buffalo sculptures on the Dumbarton Bridge and the lion sculptures on the Taft Bridge; transforming an abandoned rail line into the Capital Crescent Trail; and building bridges to carry the Bethesda Trolley Trail over Interstate 270 and Interstate 495.
The release of the national survey Wednesday was timed to put pressure on the conference committee to retain the enhancement program provisions. It was done for the advocacy coalition America Bikes by Princeton Survey Research Associates, which surveyed 1,003 people by telephone in March.
“Americans overwhelmingly support federal funding for sidewalks and bike ways, and any controversy over this is an inside-the-Beltway issue,” said Caron Whitaker of America Bikes.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who launched Portland’s highly regarded bike program before he was elected to Congress, said the poll showed “Americans want options.”
“I hope that this new data will remind my colleagues that communities large and small support fully funding sidewalks, bike lanes and other improvements to make biking and walking safer and more convenient,” said Blumenauer, a member of the Congressional Bike Caucus.