What do pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders all have in common?
If your first guess was "a smaller carbon footprint", that sound you hear is GOP Congressmen laughing at you all the way back in Washington, DC.
If your next guess was going to be "we help relieve traffic congestion", those same Representatives continue to chuckle at your expense. You are just so naive. The only true way to relieve congestion is to build wider roads.
Do you give up? That's precisely what your elected officials are hoping that you'll do - give up!
Congress has decided that it's time for transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians to give up their share of Federal Transportation Funding. And when I say share, I use that term generously as it has never been proportional to actual transportation mode usage. Take pedestrian and bicycling funding, for example. While trips on foot or by bike account for 12% of all trips, only 1.5% of Federal dollars go toward transportation enhancement spending.
But as much as I personally advocate for active transportation alternatives, I must point out that mass transit riders would bare the brunt of this proposed sacrifice. Mass transit systems across the country would lose their share of dollars from the Federal fuel tax fund - the mandated source of transit funding since President Reagan. Without a dedicated revenue source, there is no guarantee of funding to cities on a year to year basis. Translation; no certainty of fares or continuity of service.
How can the House of Representatives expect you to just give up funding?
Sheer numbers. With only 20% of America served by mass transit and 5% of all workers utilizing it, your transportation needs mean very little to elected officials beyond our region. Does a GOP Congressman from Rural America care that 1/3 of all transit users live in New York City? No. He only cares that he can take 21 cents of every dollar contributed by New York state residents and 27% of our tax dollars to redistribute to his constituents.
Congress is also counting on our apathy.
I was proud to be one of over 18,000 cyclists who contacted his or her representative through the League of American Bicyclists' action page last week. Unfortunately, we represented just 1/2 of 1/100 of a percent of the US population. Printing out our protest would take less than four cartons of copy paper.
If you contrast our impact with that of SOPA protesters on January 18th, their 14 million responses would require 2800 cartons of paper. Ten million of those protesters were found to be registered voters and that was enough to scare all elected officials to pull their support for the seriously flawed bill within 24 hours. To put this in perspective, SOPA protesters amounted to less than ten percent of all voters who participated in the 2008 presidential election, yet they still managed to be effective.
To restate the obvious, Congress does not believe that we have a voice and is willing to accept our silence as tacit approval of their defunding scheme.
As we head into next week, both the House and the Senate will open their respective floors to debate on each version of the transportation bill. They need to hear from us if we want to salvage funding for mass transit, bicycling, and walking. Those of us who stand - on our feet, on our pedals, on the L - need to make a stand for preserving our fair share of funding.
The League of American Bicyclists has put together an action page. In less than three minutes, you can contact your Representative and both your Senators with pre-written emails that voice your support for both active transportation and mass transit funding. Three minutes.
If you want to spread the news and encourage your friends to get involved, you can send up to six emails from the League's action page and easily share their Facebook status.
Make no mistake - public transportation is under attack. Bicycling is under attack. Walking is under attack. Safe Routes to Schools are under attack. Complete streets are under attack. Cities and the people who inhabit them are under attack. Clean air is under attack.
If we don't take a stand now, we have nobody but ourselves to blame when our vibrant cities become less liveable than they are today.
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