Last week Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic Congressman from Oregon, was railing about the "body blow" that minor budget cuts in the Republican budget resolution would deal to the nation with "devastating impact." This week he's making the media rounds in near ecstasy about the $875 million being thrown at bicycle and pedestrian programs in the apparently misnamed "Highway Bill," gushing that "this is probably going to be probably the best bicycle bill in history."
Likewise, three months ago Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank was fretting over "the price we have paid for the tax cuts in terms of federal budget deficits, greater social inequality due to growing tax inequity, and less revenue available for important public programs." This week Boston bicycling enthusiasts are trumpeting Frank's recent garnering of $750,000 in federal funding for the Emerald Necklace Greenway Bicycle Trail.
Such is the logic of Congressmen. Argue one day we're in a near-depression and read into the Constitution that providing for the general welfare somehow translates into funding bike paths the next. It's all in a day's work.
It could be that I just don't properly understand what's happening here. After all the esteemed Rep. Blumenauer is the head of the -- I'm not making this up -- Congressional Bike Caucus. I'm personally embarrassed as an American to report that 164 members of Congress (118 Democrats, 45 Republicans, one independent) are members of said caucus, which was formed after Blumenauer, in his own words, "learned over time that cyclists are some of the most determined, most dedicated, and most fun people around."
Woe to the squares who will miss out on the cash Congress gives out for being the "most fun people around." Well, it's probably easier to have fun when Congress has a caucus dedicated to your hobby and, further, is gleefully prepared to hand over a billion dollars to subsidize it. I wish I had known this sooner. I would have chosen a hobby more to the liking of my Congressional representatives. Then I could lobby Congress for cash instead of my wife.
Per usual, there is a higher purpose at work here, which is why Blumenauer and crew are seeking to "encourage Congressional leadership to complement the efforts of the millions of cyclists working for safer roads, more bikeways, convenient bike parking and increased recognition of the importance of cycling to our communities."
I always thought the point of federalism was that I wouldn't have to increase my recognition of anything a bunch of dirty hippies in Oregon want to do. If people want bike paths, can't they just follow the example of generations of Americans before them and have a bake sale or something?
Although the Highway Bill still has yet to pass the Senate, biking enthusiasts are already celebrating the Vermontization of America. Eric Struckhoff, chairman of the Lawrence-Douglas County Bicycle Advisory Board in Kansas, for example, told the Lawrence Journal that he was thrilled Congress was putting $500,000 towards a bike path in his neighborhood.
"I would commute to work on it every single day if I could," Struckhoff said. "I wish I lived 20 miles from work."
Sure, that statement seems a bit flaky but then, $500,000 should buy a pretty nice bit of bike path, right? I'm picturing something Romanesque with trees carved to look like great marble columns, all the squirrels in little valet outfits serving drinks. Actually, Struckhoff said, the path cannot be built for anything less than between $4 and $5 million. The $500,000 is just start-up money. Like all good federal projects there's also no construction timeline or even any proof that the, um, "concept" will work.
I suppose in the context of an utterly out of control, bloated $284 billion bill, the money spent on bike paths is small potatoes. Reagan may have vetoed a much less heinous Highway Bill in 1987, but we long ago learned we cannot count on Bush to unsheathe his veto pen and many of our beloved "limited government" Republicans are engorging themselves on the highway pork as gleefully as liberals. I have yet to hear Trent Lott complain about the $150,000 bike path taxpayers are funding for his hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Nevertheless, a bike path is as good a place as any to start an argument. Twenty-five years and hundreds of millions of dollars into what was supposed to be the bike commuting revolution, few have adopted bicycles as a daily transportation alternative and even fewer, one imagines, wish they had to bike 20 miles a day to work.
As for the Highway Bill and its supporters in general, they can be summed up in the words of American Public Transportation Association President William Millar, quoted by the Associated Press as reacting to the tens of billions of dollars about to be showered on transit projects thusly: "It's not enough, it's never enough."
Well that's certainly a fascinating theory. However, in my eyes, it's long since been enough. But then again, I fell off my bike a long time ago and never got back on. It's too bad. I could really use the money.
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