In the immediate, panicked moments after the MAP-21 conference report was released, I missed some of the nuances of just how bad a deal this bill is for bike policy.
Three things stand out:
- States can use their Transportation Alternatives (TA) money on anything they want.
- Bike/ped programs are facing anywhere from a 33 percent cut in funding to a 66 percent cut, depending how each state reacts.
- The mandatory sidepath law was included.
Let’s start with Number Three. The law states that if there’s a paved bike path within 100 yards of a federally owned road, cyclists have to use it — given the speed limit on the road is at least 30 miles per hour. When this was first included in the Senate bill last fall, bike advocates called it “paternalistic” and said it ignores cyclists’ fundamental right to the road.
“If the path is any good, you shouldn’t have to force anyone to use it; they will use it voluntarily because it works,” wrote Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. Unfortunately, he said, many paths are “dangerous, slow, and out of the way” – and cyclists would still be forced to use them under this law.
The concerns were partially addressed between this provision’s appearance in the Senate bill and the final conference report. It now states explicitly that cyclists are prohibited from using the road unless “the bicycle level of service on that roadway is rated B or higher.” So, if the road is more bikeable than the sidepath, in some instances, the cyclist can choose the road.
However, there’s no uniform way of measuring how bike-friendly a roadway is. The FHWA has developed a measurement for “bicycle level of service” but it’s not universally utilized. Besides, I wouldn’t count on every cyclist knowing the rating of every roadway they ride on.
Advocates’ concern about being forced off of streets and onto shoddy paths remains.
Three Ways States Can Filch Bike/Ped Money
On to the funding “transferability” in the Transportation Alternatives section, which now includes bike and pedestrian funding. If you’ll recall, half of TA money gets distributed, proportionally to population, to metropolitan planning agencies or local governments. The other half is supposed to capitalize a grant program in each state, to be overseen by their DOTs, allowing municipalities to apply for the funds.