A pending congressional re-write of transportation policy would cut bicycle funding by as much as 50 percent just as a new report documents that between 1986 and 1995 an average of 840 cyclists were killed and another 75,000 injured annually by motor vehicles while bicycling. Children are twice as likely as adults to be killed by a car while biking. Almost half--47 percent--of all bicycle fatalities involved children under the age of 18. But in communities where bike lanes, paths and other facilities have been built traffic related bike crashes have declined sharply encouraging more riding.
Share the Road, a study released by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Bicycle Federation of America (BFA), also reports that a vast majority of Americans support spending transportation tax dollars on bicycle facilities to make biking safer. The report ranks the 10 metro areas with the highest and lowest fatality rates.
Bicycling is growing in popularity. More than 100 million Americans ride bikes, an increase of 10 percent since passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in 1991. ISTEA for the first time dedicated funding to a diverse assortment of transportation projects including bicycle programs.
The government reported new findings over the weekend that suggest investments in bike safety are paying off. A preliminary analysis issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that bicycle fatalities fell by 12% and injuries by 5% in 1996, suggesting that ISTEA-increased investments in better provisions for bicycling are working.
"Now is not the time to cut funding for a government program that is saving lives," said Brian Cohen, EWG analyst and principal author of the report.
"What the report highlights is that we still have a long way to go before we can think about cutting the modest amount of money dedicated to providing bicycle access and safety," said Bill Wilkinson, executive director of the Bicycle Federation of America. "We need to accommodate transportation choices. Not everybody uses a car to get where they are going.
Five million Americans will bike to work this year, for example, and many more would if they could. They deserve to be as safe as the guy in his Ford. We need good roads, more trails, better drivers and better bicyclists. And an improved transportation law can help us get there."
Share the Road also found that more than two-thirds of all bicyclists are killed by cars on neighborhood streets and local roads, the places we believe are safest to bike. The states with the highest fatality rates were Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, South Carolina and North Carolina. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida is the metro area with the highest fatality rate at 9.3 cyclists per million. Other large metropolitan areas with bicycle fatality rates more than twice the national average included Miami-Hialeah, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood- Pompano Beach and Orlando.
One reason streets are unfriendly for cyclists is that the bulk of transportation dollars go to accommodate travel by car. So for example, wider roads without a paved shoulder for cyclists would allow cars to travel faster without adequate accommodation for bikes. This is true even in some communities where the bike is considered a significant mode of transportation, according to bike experts.
Bike opponents--or the highway lobby--are gearing up to attack any spending on transportation choices including bicycling and walking. A proposal by Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA.), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would allow states to divert 50 percent of funds from ISTEA's Enhancements and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) programs to other highway programs. The Enhancements program is the main source of funding for bicycles.
"Before 1991, nearly all transportation spending went to build roads. Under ISTEA we are given real transportation choices--walking, transit, biking. Proposals like Congressman Shuster's would throw our nation's transportation policy into reverse and prevent us from stopping hundreds of unnecessary deaths each year," said Hank Dittmar, executive director of STPP.
In addition, STARS-2000, introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), would reshape ISTEA to reduce funding for bike-safe streets. So would Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) STEP 21 which would gut the ISTEA law and turn the entire program into a block grant eliminating dedicated funding for bikes.
The $155 billion ISTEA is being re-authorized by Congress this year. Since ISTEA was passed in 1991, more than $1 billion has been spent to increase bicycle safety and access. Annual spending for bike safety under ISTEA is 100 times greater than pre-ISTEA spending. Pre-ISTEA, virtually no federal money was spent to improve conditions for bicyclists.
Some communities like Seattle, WA., Portland and Corvallis, OR have reduced bike fatalities by implementing ISTEA-funded improvements. Davis, California which has built many miles of bike trails and lanes began its bike safety campaign on a shoestring pre-ISTEA and greatly enhanced it under ISTEA. Davis, consequently, has had no bike fatalities in the last 10 years. Over 20 percent of trips in Davis are made by bike and there are many miles of bike trails and lanes.
"Slowly but surely, federal transportation policy is increasing opportunities for bicycling, and making bicycling safer," said Cohen.