Transportation Bill Anxiety and Bicycling's Need for Another Alternative

On days like today, I’m thankful for each and every bicycling advocacy organization in the US.

Cycling advocacy is more than getting the word out about the benefits of bicycling – it involves lobbying Congress and pouring through hundreds of pages of legislative reports to determine if and how funds can be secured to complete state and local infrastructure projects and programs.  I don’t envy any of the professional advocates who have to review today’s 599-page committee report on Map-21, the Federal transportation bill.

In hours, we should know how much funding has been cut and which programs remain intact in the legislation that will be voted on before the July 4th recess.

I want to thank these dedicated professionals for all of their efforts to inform cyclists of what was at stake in the committee negotiations and for making it easy for each of us to contact our representatives and let them know where we stand.

Despite their dedication, there really was no way for cyclists and pedestrians to exert proportional influence on legislation that was willing to sacrifice true transportation initiatives for unrelated provisions like student loan interest rates, flood insurance, the Keystone XL Pipeline and coal ash.  Washington politics is a full-on battle and the best we’ll ever be able to do is bring a book to a gun fight.

It’s time for bicycling advocates to consider adding a new tactic.

The US is suffering from an obesity epidemic.  Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, one-third is obese.  This is a national health crisis caused by poor diet, stress, and lack of physical activity.

Bicycling is a treatment for two out of three of obesity’s contributing factors.

Healthcare costs for treatment of chronic diseases (metabolic syndrome) are spiraling out of control as the number of Americans suffering from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and obesity-related ailments continue to rise (see HBO's Weight of the Nation).  Investing in infrastructure that will encourage individuals to walk, run, or bicycle for physical exercise and stress relief can pay for itself with a decrease in healthcare spending.  As advocates, we need to start pushing this meme.

There is no better time to embark on this tactic than right now.

There is a growing voice within the medical community emphasizing the role proper diet and lifestyle choices play in maintaining optimal health.  Health experts like Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Stephen Sinatra, and Dr. Robert Lustig are railing against the Standard American Diet (SAD) and Big Food and Big Agriculture have stepped up efforts to try to drown them out.  The last thing these industries need is individuals reconsidering the amount of sugar, salt, and fat they ingest on a daily basis.

These two industries have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and are willing to do anything short of admitting complicity or responsibility for their role in this epidemic.  I’m certain the many corporations directly and indirectly responsible for our food supply would prefer investing in healthy lifestyle infrastructure rather than accepting greater government regulation, increased taxes, or reduced subsidies.

Let’s help these companies mitigate their responsibility by letting them buy us multi-use paths and pay for our outreach efforts.

I know that this is an out-of-left-field suggestion by someone who cautions against the SAD and HFCS on a regular basis.  While I personally choose not to consume convenience foods for my own health and advise others against it, my voice – and hundreds of thousands more singing the same tune – are not going to cause these industry players to capitulate and voluntarily change their profitable business practices.  They will continue to spend millions advertising to children, promoting half-truths, and spreading misinformation through feel-good community activity sponsorships.

Nothing short of a surgeon general’s warning about high fructose corn syrup and a full-on, anti-tobacco-style campaign will bring about significant changes in food industry practices.  When we have elected officials who publicly apologize to BP for insinuating that they caused an oil spill, we can pretty much assume that there is little political will to reform Big Food...

We need bike lanes, bike paths, bridges, lane markings, bike boxes, crosswalks, traffic signals, and motorist education initiatives to make bicycling safer for all who choose bicycling as a form of transportation.  It's the classic Field of Dreams Dilemma - if we build it, they will come, but they won't come until we build it.

We need help in building our infrastructure and we can't solely rely on fighting Goliath in the hope that he'll continue to share a tiny sliver of his pie.  We have a viable PR solution for Big Food and Big Ag and we need to pursue this opportunity.

Whatever Map-21 holds for bicycling, our great advocates will continue to make the most of every dollar awarded.  From this point forward, we need to add emphasis to the health benefits of bicycling and seek out the strange bedfellows this nation's politics have dictated.

Keep riding and be safe!


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