Some $900 million, or 2 percent of the federal transportation budget, goes to build trails and lanes for bicyclists, sidewalks and other amenities for pedestrians. That’s not much — but still too much for conservatives like Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have sponsored legislation in the last two months to de-fund these so-called “transportation enhancements.” The money should be used instead to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, they say.
There’s no denying that many of our nation’s roads and bridges are in bad shape. But the conservatives are offering no new plan, no extra money, to fix them — in fact, they have proposed less. They refuse to consider raising taxes, including the federal gas tax, which has been stuck at 18.4 cents since 1993, its value being eroded by inflation.
For them, it appears, this is not really about economics. Somehow biking and walking, which more and more Americans are doing for recreation and transportation (thanks to the safety and convenience of those new paths and sidewalks), have become an ideological issue, like NPR and Planned Parenthood. The conservatives seem to view cyclists and pedestrians as do-gooder environmentalists and global warming alarmists.
The giveaway is the language they use in dismissing projects that give people more transportation options, make them healthier and safer, decrease traffic congestion, lessen the need for imported oil, save wear and tear on roads and bridges, promote smart growth, spur local economies and help the environment. Coburn calls them “silly priorities,” Paul calls them “craziness.” Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes said recently that Denver’s bike-sharing program — there are now similar programs in Washington, New York City, Chicago and a growing number of cities — was a “well-disguised” effort to turn the city into a “United Nations community.” Just so much socialist silliness, in other words.
Actually, there’s a conservative case to be made for bicycling and walking — including conservation, efficiency and freedom. They deserve at least a small piece of the federal transportation pie.