OUR OPINION: Don't put brakes on bike trail constructionIf valley residents like the recreation and convenience that bike trails offer, now is the time to speak up. That's because the funding source that has built most of the modern bike trails in America is at risk.
By: Tom Dennis for the Herald, Grand Forks Herald
With the sun on your shoulders, the wind in your face and the Red River's languid curves soothing your eyes, it's easy for a Grand Cities bicyclist to take the Greenway trails for granted.
It's also a mistake. Those trails weren't built by accident. They were built by policy: conscious decisions made by local, state and federal officials, not without controversy and not without critics of the trails and their use.
That use has surpassed all expectations; and on a beautiful day like Sunday, the Greenway can be appreciated for what it is, one of the region's best-used and most valuable attractions.
But the controversy about bike trails in general continues. So, if valley residents like the recreation and convenience that bike trails offer, now is the time to speak up. That's because the funding source that has built most of the modern bike trails in America is at risk.
"Transferring funds reserved for bikeways and walkways to highways is not an April Fools' Day leftover, but a move under consideration by Congress," writes Amitai Etzioni, a George Washington University professor and sociologist.
"The 20-year-old Transportation Enhancements program currently mandates that a small fraction, about 2 percent, of federal transportation funding be reserved for building bike lanes and pedestrian walkways. But critics of the program argue that scarce resources should go toward funding highways and bridges for vehicles."
As a result, in a measure that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called the "worst transportation bill" he'd ever seen, House Republicans proposed eliminating all funding for bike lanes as well as programs such as Safe Routes to School. The "Safe Routes" program helps communities build better road crossings and other improvements that encourage children to walk or bike to school.
The House and Senate are entering into negotiations on a long-term transportation bill. Negotiations are expected to last through the summer; and "House leaders have indicated they will use H.R. 7, which repeals Safe Routes to School and eliminates funding for transportation enhancements, as their base of negotiations in conversations with the Senate," a Safe Routes spokesperson wrote last week.
Why do bike trails deserve support?
Because they're popular resources that add tremendously to a community's quality of life, as every Greenway visitor knows.
And that effect shows up in measurable ways. A study in Cincinnati looked at the houses along 12 miles of the Little Miami Scenic Trail. The results "found that home buyers were willing to pay a premium of $9,000 to be within 1,000 feet of access to the trail," thereby boosting property values and property-tax revenues for the city, one summary notes.
Then there is the study published in the March 2012 issue of Transportation, a trade journal. It showed that as bike lanes and bike paths open up, commuters start putting them to use: "Cities with a greater supply of bike paths and lanes have significantly higher bike commute rates," the study concluded.
"We find that the supply of bikeways per capita is a statistically significant predictor of bike commuting." And that's true even in snowy cities like Minneapolis, No. 2 among major cities in its percentage of people who use bicycles to commute.
Bike trails work, and the public policies that build them work, too. Congress should get that message and keep the trail-building going strong.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald