Trains, Buses and Bikes, Oh My!

Bill Scher

Last week, Isaiah reported on the 7% increase in mass transit ridership, and also how limited that increase is. Because the Bush administration did nothing to make mass transit more convenient and accessible, many Americans who want to quit paying for high-priced oil don’t have that choice.

It’s not just mass transit. It’s bikes too.

Today, my local paper headlined “Bike Sales Rise With Gas Prices. In fact, local outlets across the country are reporting the same spike with bikes. And interest seems to be growing beyond the stereotypical hippie bike messenger. From the Associated Press:

Mark Krenz, 48, is giving it a try. The Bismarck [North Dakota] auto-parts store manager recently spent $750 on the 24-speed bike and is building up his mileage to prepare for his hilly commute.

“In this business, everybody is constantly talking about how to save gas,” Krenz said. “I bought a bike because I figure it’s a good way to save money, get in shape and save wear and tear on my pickup.”

But just like with mass transit, smart policy is needed so people will have safe and convenient bike routes that allow people have a choice in their commute. And again, the Bush administration conservative policies failed.

After the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Bush’s Secretary of Transportation tried to shift blame by saying too much money was being spent on things like “bike paths … as opposed to our infrastructure.”

Of course, bridges and bike paths are both part of our nation’s infrastructure. There’s no need to choose between them. As Salon reported last September:

…only about 1.5 percent of federal transportation dollars go to fund bike paths and walking trails. In the meantime, 10 percent of all U.S. trips to work, school and the store occur on bike or foot, and bicyclists and pedestrians account for about 12 percent of annual traffic fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration. “We represent a disproportionate share of the injuries, and we get a minuscule share of the funds,” says Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bike Coalition in the San Francisco Bay Area, who calls the Peters’ comments “outrageous.” Plus, he notes, with problems like global warming, the obesity epidemic and energy independence, shouldn’t the U.S. secretary of transportation be praising biking, not complaining about it?

It’s hard to argue that walking paths and bike trails are robbing federal coffers when states can’t even spend all the federal money they’ve received to repair bridges in the first place. In 2006, state departments of transportation sent back $1 billion in unspent bridge funds to the federal government, according to the Federal Highway Administration. “The fact that there is a billion dollars of bridge repair money sloshing around in the system not being spent suggests that it’s not the fault of bike trails,” says [Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists].

Congressional Democrats agree. “It’s a red herring to point to bike paths and even imply that if we didn’t build another bike path we’d have all the money we need to fix our highways and bridges,” says Jim Berard, communications director for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “You can’t build very many bridges with the amount of money that you would save if you didn’t build any bike paths.”

Last week, the House actually passed a non-binding resolution calling for a national bicycle strategy. Perhaps the most compelling argument mentioned in the preamble was:

Whereas bicycle commuters annually save on average $1,825 in auto-related costs, reduce their carbon emissions by 128 pounds, conserve 145 gallons of gasoline, and avoid 50 hours of gridlock traffic;

Of course, not everyone wants to ride a bike on their daily commute. But we all want choices. And right now, we largely have no choice but to use massive amounts of expensive oil.

Having access to renewable energy, fuel-efficient vehicles, mass transit and bike routes would allow us to choose something else besides oil.

We do have one choice: between a clean energy strategy, or more failed conservatism.

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