Yesterday I heard a local elected official describe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and transit improvements as “fluff” that would be impossible to fund in an increasingly difficult economic environment. He suggested it would be a struggle just to keep the grass mowed in the medians. That was important, he said, because motorists need clear lines of sight. Otherwise they might crash into each other.
In tough times, he seemed to be saying, we must concentrate on the important things. Like cars. Public transit and infrastructure for non-motorized vehicles? Not so much.
Yet there are those who say funding projects that get people out of their cars and into more sustainable modes of transportation is exactly what we should be doing when the financial chips are down. Transportation for America’s “Build for America” campaign suggests a five pronged approach to moving people and improving the economy:
- Build rail and transit networks that are competitive with those in China and Europe, reducing oil dependence and connecting metro regions.
- Invest in “the cleanest forms of transportation — modern public transit, walking and biking.”
- Adopt a “fix-it-first” policy to repair crumbling roads and bridges rather than building new ones.
- Stop wasteful spending and re-evaluate projects that have already been approved.
- Save Americans money” by providing them with cost-efficient, sustainable transportation options where they live and work.
Viewed through this lens, transit, pedestrian and bicycle improvements should be moving to the top of the priority list, not the bottom.