Flipping through my Google Reader news bundles last night I came across a story on Bike Radar about the Skokie Valley Trail . It reminded me just how local the battle for Federal transportation funding really is.
"Word came in November that a federal grant request for $6.8 million was denied, and local community leaders can’t cover the costs. Transportation enhancements, which are the largest funding sources for bicycle trails in the United States, were also eliminated from the transportation-funding bill currently running through the House of Representatives."
The grant was being requested to fill a nearly 7-mile gap along the SVT's Cook County section that would connect the villages of Northbrook, Glencoe, Northfield, Wilmette, and Glenview to the North Shore Channel Trail to the south. It is already connected to the 9.8 mile SVT in Lake County to the north. Once completed, the bike trail network would connect Waukegan with the Lincoln Square neighborhood at roughly Lawrence and Western in Chicago.
As metro areas like Minneapolis have demonstrated, "if you build it, they will come." In this case "they" refers to bicycle commuters and "it" is cycling infrastructure. It is no coincidence that the extensive bike trail network throughout the Twin Cities metro area has contributed to one of the highest bike commuter rates in the nation- around 4% - despite its harsher weather. By comparison, Chicago hits the charts at 1%.
While $6.8 million seems like a lot of money for approximately 7 miles of bike trail - $1 million per mile - bike infrastructure is a bargain compared to the cost of building a new two-lane road ($4-5 million), four-lane road ($8-10 million), or 6-lane Interstate ($12 million). It is still cheaper than resurfacing a four-lane road or widening a two-lane road to four lanes. While bike paths do require periodic maintenance due to the impacts of the changing seasons on asphalt, these costs are a tiny fraction of road repair expenses.
In Minneapolis, spending 2% of Federal funding to generate 4% commuter participation indicates a 2:1 taxpayer benefit for bicycling infrastructure ROI. When you factor in the safe recreational opportunities bike trails provide for individual and family fitness, there is a huge potential for savings in the treatment of metabolic syndrome / chronic disease (diabetes, heart, stroke, obesity) that is nearly impossible to measure.
With the current transportation bill being broken into "passable pieces" by a divided Congress that is currently on hiatus, there is still time to express your support for transportation enhancements by contacting your own representative through the LAB's action page. It only takes a couple of minutes to stand up for cycling.
Another way you can support trails like the Skokie Valley Trail is to become a member of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. In addition to securing rights to abandoned rail corridors and securing funding for rail trail projects, the RTC provides information and maps for every rail trail in the US through its Trail Link site. You may not be aware that the bicycling maps featured on Google Maps are all provided by RTC. If you rely on these maps for your bike trips, consider paying for them with a donation to the RTC.
In the coming months I plan to feature several posts on the area's extensive, yet incomplete, network of rail trails. I look forward to warm weather rides through scenic landscapes courtesy of Federal transit funds, state taxes, Forest Preserve assessments, and grants from the RTC.
Keep riding and be safe!
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