Transportation. Budgets. I’ve already lost half my readers, I expect. And really, I can’t blame them. It can be mind-numbingly dull stuff. Yet transportation budgets affect your everyday life greatly. The ways we commute to work, get dinner with friends or head out to the gym – all happen on streets, public transportation and paths that resulted from choices made in transportation budgeting.
While budget decisions are made at every level of government, the federal transportation budget plays the biggest role of all. Unfortunately, the process for setting the next federal transportation budget has become more about scoring cheap political points than facilitating the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.
Sure, petty politics have always been involved in the federal transportation budget, but this round has taken it to an extreme. A primary sticking point is the elimination of “Transportation Enhancements” (TE) from the budget. TE funding is what’s used to pay the federal share of Arlington projects like the Route 110 trail improvement and a new connection between Potomac Yard and the Four Mile Run trail.
The Tea Party wing of the House, however, wants to eliminate funding for such projects. They believe the transportation budget should focus exclusively on serving motor vehicles, and that pedestrians and cyclists can just fend for themselves. Given that bike and pedestrian projects are nothing more than a tiny sliver of the overall transportation budget in the first place, this attack on safer streets for all appears to be a strange new front in the culture wars.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has repeatedly targeted small-dollar cycling and pedestrian programs like Safe Routes to Schools and bikeshare programs. While those efforts have been successfully repelled before, they’re being repeated this week behind closed doors against the looming deadline of this Sunday, when the current transportation budget expires.
Huge decisions affecting the safety and livability of our communities, decided by people more concerned with immediate political messaging than the long-term impact it has on their communities back home? That’s just nuts.
In a markedly different approach, this week the Arlington County Board held a public hearing on its proposed 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). In contrast to the operating budgets that the County develops annually, the CIP sets out the long term budget plan for big projects. While the annual budget process and bond referenda remain important to these projects, the 10-year range of the CIP helps establish Arlington’s long term priorities and funding sources.
Projects proposed for funding under the CIP include the Columbia Pike streetcars, several bridge renovations and the repaving of roads and trails. In keeping with the County’s “Complete Streets” policy, every street rehabilitation project proposed includes funding for bicycle and pedestrian enhancements.
To be sure, there will be disagreements in the priorities, and some will be unsatisfied with the result. But Arlington’s development of the CIP is a forward-looking process that reflects an understanding that intelligent investments now will yield a better community tomorrow.
I quite prefer the Arlington way over the current federal clown show.
There's still time to participate in the CIP process.
Speaking of clown shows, WashCycle continues to patiently take apart Reason.tv's silly attack on Capital Bikeshare.
How about we put some of these in the summer budget?
Mark Blacknell is chairman of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.