Federal bike funding cut, but not gone

After years of extensions to the previous 2005 federal transportation bill, and seemingly endless debate and partisan gridlock, our elected leaders in Washington finally approved a transportation bill called MAP 21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century). We have now had a month to read and dissect the $105 billion two-year bill to see how it will impact funding for bicycle and pedestrian facilities at the state level.

If you are like me, over the last four months or so, you probably got dozens of action alert emails from the Bike Fed and various national bicycle organizations while congress was drafting that bill. The emails warned federal funding for bicycle facilities and programs was threatened and asked you to call or email your representatives in Washington and ask them to save bicycling. The good news is that many of you did just that and funding for bicycling remains in the bill. The bad news is that the amount of funding for bikes was cut and states can now choose to use the money set aside for bicycle projects and spend it on highways instead if they want.

Here are the basics of the bill as it relies to bicycle funding:

  • MAP-21 replaces SAFETEA-LU
  • MAP-21 is a 27 month reauthorization of Surface Transportation – September 2014, whereas SAFETEA-LU was a 6 year authorization.
  • Total funding is on par with SAFETEA-LU, but funding for bicycling and walking is cut between 25% and 66% depending on how the state chooses to spend our federal allocation.
  • Bicycle funding programs (Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, Recreational Trails Program) have been consolidated into one program: Transportation Alternatives
  • State can transfer up to 50% of Transportation Alternatives Program funding to any other use without explanation. In a state of emergency, the state can transfer 100% of Transportation Alternatives Program funding to rebuild damanged highway infrastructure.
  • The Governor may also opt out of Recreational Trails Funding EACH YEAR
  • Dedicated SRTS funding no longer exists but remains eligible under TA
  • Safety and education activities are no longer eligible under this program but may be eligible under the new “safe routes for non-drivers”
  • State-wide SRTS coordinator is no longer required
  • Mandatory sidepath law introduced for federal lands
  • Required bike/ped coordinator but no dedicated funding for this position

Below is a flow chart that breaks down the TA program in greater detail.  You can see that more money goes directly to local governments or MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations).

The chart below illustrates which programs were cut

So even though the funds were cut, bicycling is still funded at the federal level. From the Bike Fed’s perspective, that is a victory since there were serious attempts to completely remove funding for bicycling and walking from early drafts of the federal transportation bill. There were efforts by the Tea Party members of the House to limit the transportation bill to the amount of money brought in by the gas tax, but that effort was shot down by a huge majority since it would mean our transportation budget was effectively cut in half.


You can see that our transportation system is now subsidized to the tune of nearly 50% by the general fund and bonding

Remember that 50% of the Highway Trust Fund comes from general taxes, not the gas tax.  As long as you pay in (whether you drive a car or not) and since bicycling and walking account for about 12% of all trips, it makes sense that bicycle and pedestrian facilities should be federally funded.

The bottom line and biggest take-away from all this is that by allowing states to opt out of funding bicycle projects, it is even more important for you to let your state elected officials know that as long as you pay in, you want money to go to bike projects.

So what is the Bike Fed doing to ensure bicycling remains fully funded in Wisconsin? Of course we will let you know via email and this blog when key votes are on the horizon so you can tell your elected officials that when we make Wisconsin a better place to bike, we also make it more attractive to visitors and better place for all of us to live, work and do business.  Until that we call on you, be assured that the Bike Fed staff and our lobbyists will meeting with our elected leaders in the State Capitol and senior officials at the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation to remind them that these relatively small investments in bicycling provide a nearly $2 billion dollar annual return in Wisconsin.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

4 thoughts on “Federal bike funding cut, but not gone

  1. Shouldn’t we know who the state legislators are who are friendly to bicycling and walking so we can ask them to develop legislation requiring the governor and DOT to devote all Transportation Alternatives funding to bicycling and walking facilities and prohibit them from opting-out or transferring any portion of TA funds to no-bike, non-walking programs?

  2. To whom it may concrn,
    There is more than “one way of looking at this” bikes riders need to pay something to the state if “proper
    funding is to continue”. Yes, I do ride a bike however what is more important a freeway bridge being
    maintained so it is safe to use and keeping water sanitary? Or a bike trail? Since business people and
    tourists drive and normaly do not ride bikes to work the bridges are more essential. If you were to drive
    on a freeway bridge or any road and the bridge broke or the road fell apart when you were driving on it.
    So yes, bike trails are good and it would be nice if the people that used them would help to maintain them.
    It would never hurt to have bike riders fix some of the trails so that everyone would be safe. ( It is very
    easy to ride and complain however when I see people actually signing up to maintain the trails then I
    might be more interested in the “news the transportation funds for bike riders”) If you do not have
    sanitary water or sanitary food (this also means what is being dumped in to rivers and lakes) nothing
    else will matter. Because if people get sick from the food or water then ………………………………………..

    Joseph Schlaefer

  3. MAP-21 is pushing us to be more aggressive in seeking funding for bike facilities. We need to find a way to be at the table in helping the the DOT and the governor choose to devote all TA funds to bike, ped and SRTS programs. I think the first comment, above, makes sense. It seems we need a statewide campaign to make this an important issue.
    As noted in Dave’s article, motorist user fees (the gas tax and registration) only covers about 50% of road costs. The rest comes out of general taxes. So no one can say we do not pay into the system. Roads and bike facilities are shared resources and should be planned to work as a cohesive system so individuals may use the sort of conveyance that make the most sense to each, whether for transportation or recreation. Bike facilities, pedestrian courses and public transit all function to relieve the roadway system of traffic and do so for fairly low comparative cost, according to the publications I have seen. We need to find the best value for our tax dollars and bike facilities seem to be a great bargain. We need to separate these facts from the ideological concerns so they are judged on the basis of their benefit.

    • A key point regrading MAP-21 is the MPOs now distribute most of these funds. So the advocacy has to be two-pronged: at the state level so we don’t lose 50% of the money, and at the MPO level so the funded projects are good ones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>