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Investing in a Better Future

Two very different approaches to investing in better communities have been on display this week.

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.

Peter June 28, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Mr. Blacknell, please stop attacking people for wanting basic services for their taxes before extravagances are funded. In fact, Portland bicyclists are extremely unhappy about streetcars and streetcar tracks. There are hundreds of accidents in Portland involving each year involving bicyclists, streetcars and streetcar tracks. Your 'don't worry, be happy' approach is irresponsible. Same thing we heard from you about speed limits on bicycle trails. We are tired of 'free range bicyclists'. We don't need our already overworked fire, police, and EMS having to respond to hundreds of streetcar-related accidents every year. Thanks in advance for being responsible. Lets save a few lives and many injuries from occurring. I and others look for a Patch feature about streetcars and accidents in other Patch communities. How about it Jason?
Mark Blacknell June 28, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Jim, I'm not attacking you over funding priorities. I'm attacking your fundamentally dishonest approach to public conversation via multiple sockpuppets. You could make all of your points about pavement and street cars under one name, but you create multiple accounts to drive these points into the ground. You have a blog. Anyone who wants to see you chatting with yourself can get their fill of it there.
Allie June 28, 2012 at 11:24 PM
My name is Allie. Mark Blacknell (a Chris Zimmerman puppet) is totally dishonest for signing on to a streetcar system that will kill and injure hundreds of his fellow bicyclists every year if it's installed on the Pike. In return for supporting the trolley folly Zimmerman and the County Board give the bicycle organizations millions every year to promote bicycling over some of the region's worst streets in Arlington County.. Anyone out there want to see who's responsible and who's irresponsible, just Google "streetcar accidents" and starting reading.
A.B. June 29, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Speaking of streets, this afternoon at the CIP Work Session the C.B. gave the Arlington's Water/Sewer/Streets Bureau Chief a working over because he wants to make all of Arlington's street paving excellent over the next 10 years, at a cost of an additional $4 million per year. Where were Mark and Bike Arlington?
CSG June 29, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Arlington's bicyclist community should demand the County Board apologize for trashing Water/Streets/Sewers Bureau Chief Harry Wang yesterday at the CIP working meeting because he wants the County to spend a few million more every year bringing Arlington's street paving from fair to good. County Board heard proposals for spending over $1 billion for Metro projects without making a comment.


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