Bicyclists Take DC! MassBike Fights For Cycling And You Can Help!

This year's National Bike Summit marked a milestone. Not only was this the 10th summit, with over 700 advocates from around the country, but we saw an unprecedented level of commitment to bicycling from both Congress and the Administration. Senators and Representatives in Congress are actively supporting pro-bicycling legislation (see details below). Rather than the cordial but noncommittal reception we usually get in our Congressional meetings, we were greeted with enthusiasm and outright support (as evidenced by the number of MA co-sponsors on the legislation below). And to top it off, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood chose the occasion to announce sweeping changes to federal policy to support biking and walking.  (Oh, and Google unveiled their awesome new Google Maps Biking Directions!)

[caption id="attachment_1387" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="MA takes the Hill: (standing) David Watson, Dorothy Nichols, Don Podolski, John Siemiatkoski, Tom Henry, Mark Vautour, Jack Johnson, Andrew Conway, Lauren Hefferon; (kneeling) Richard Fries, Nancy Maier; (not pictured) Phil Goff, Andrew Prescott, Chris Zigmont"][/caption]

MassBike once again took the lead for Massachusetts at the Summit. In the weeks leading up to the Summit, we worked hard to set up meetings with all 12 Congressional offices (10 Representatives and 2 Senators), getting the last two nailed down after we were already on the ground in DC! MassBike has a reputation for being super-organized for our Capitol Hill meetings, and this year was no exception - we prepared materials specific to each Congressional district (read them here under the 2010 heading) and fine tuned our "sales pitch."

Not all the news was good, though. The big debate over transportation funding for the next six years is stalled, and the word on Capitol Hill is that it will not happen this year. Why is this a problem? Every six years, Congress decides how to fund all transportation projects for the next six years by passing a huge surface transportation authorization bill, to build things like roads, bridges, bike paths, rail trails, Complete Streets, and more. The previous authorization expired last fall, and Congress has passed a series of short extensions so that projects don't run out of money.

MassBike feels that we still need to build support for the programs we think are important, so that when the debate resumes, we've got Representatives and Senators on-board ready to fight to roll those programs into the transportation bill. Here are the programs we focused our lobbying on at this year's Summit:

  • H.R. 4722, The Active Community Transportation Act. Creates a competitive funding program for communities to build active transportation networks to get more people biking and walking. This means more bike paths and bike lanes that connect to each other and to the places people actually need to go. Bicycling champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon recently introduced this exciting new bill, joined by our own Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano (8th District) as an original sponsor. Your virtual lobbying for this bill on March 11th had a direct impact: Rep. Edward Markey (7th District) and Rep. James McGovern (3rd District) signed on as co-sponsors, making Massachusetts the state with the highest percentage of representatives supporting the bill!

  • H.R. 1443/S. 584, The Complete Streets Act. Requires state and local transportation agencies to adopt "Complete Streets" policies to ensure all road users are included in the design of transportation facilities funded with federal dollars. Massachusetts is already most of the way there, as our 1996 Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Law, 2006 Project Development and Design Guide, and 2009 Transportation Reform Act include many elements of Complete Streets. Rep. Niki Tsongas (5th District) is a co-sponsor.

  • S. 1156, The Safe Routes To School Program Reauthorization Act. Increases SRTS funding to $600 million annually (a 600% increase). SRTS has already funded biking and walking initiatives at hundreds of MA schools, including more than 35 schools and over 4000 kids who received MassBike's safety training, infrastructure assessments at 35 schools and actual infrastructure improvements for a few. In addition to a big increase in funding, this bill would extend the program to high schools. In the lower grades, we try to get more kids biking and walking to school, but high school is the first time when students can actually make their own transportation choices, choices that could stick with them as they enter adulthood.

  • H.R. 4021, The Safe Routes To High Schools Act. House version of bill to extend SRTS funding eligibility to high schools.

  • H.R. 3734, The Urban Revitalization And Livable Communities Act. Authorize $445 million annually for development and revitalization of urban parks and community recreation infrastructure. We usually approach bicycling from a transportation perspective, because that is traditionally where the money is.  Urban parks provide proven economic and health benefits. This exciting new bill would not only fund improvements for better biking and walking in parks, but would support building connections so that people can bike or walk from their neighborhoods to the park, and from one park to another, creating new opportunities to exercise and get around by bike. Our Massachusetts Representatives agree that this is a great idea: Rep. James McGovern (3rd District)l Rep. Niki Tsongas (5th District), Rep. Michael Capuano (8th District), and Rep. Stephen Lynch (9th District) are all co-sponsors of this bill!

  • S. 2747, The Land And Water Reauthorization Act. Dedicates $900 million annually to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is used for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities. The LWCF has been around since the 1960s, but has been fully funded only once in all that time. Despite chronic underfunding, the LWCF has provided more than $3.6 billion dollars to over 40,000 projects over the years.

And then came Secretary LaHood's big surprise, announced from atop a table at the closing reception of the Summit.

It is now official federal policy that bicycling and walking are equal to other forms of transportation. The key points of the new policy include:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.

  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.

  • Go beyond minimum design standards.

  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.

  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.

  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)

  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

We were in the room when Secretary LaHood made this historic announcement, and it capped off a really good day. Congress and the Obama Administration have opened the door wider than ever for bicycling, and MassBike is leading the charge to bring those federal dollars and policies home to Massachusetts.

You can help us do even more by making some calls to Congress:

1. If your Representative is already co-sponsoring one of the House ("H.R.") bills listed above, call their office and say "thanks". Don't forget to give the specific bill number and name.

2. If your Representative is not yet co-sponsoring all the House bills listed above, call their office and ask that they sponsor those bills. Again, be sure to give them the specific bill numbers and names.

3. Neither of our Senators are currently co-sponsoring any of the Senate ("S.") bills listed above, so please call both their offices and ask them to do so.

Not sure who your Congressional Representative is or need contact information? Click here and enter your address. Then click on their names for contact information.

There's one more way you can help to bring bicycling money to Massachusetts. Add your voice to the thousands of bicyclists already speaking up by joining MassBike today!

[caption id="attachment_1396" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Three-time U.S. National Cyclocross Champion (and Beverly resident) Tim Johnson reps MA!"][/caption]

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