Jobs and the Transportation Bill

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The news of the moment is that federal transportation money is in a tough spot, and Congress is currently batting around various transportation bills. One of them will eventually pass, and it is pretty much guaranteed to include lots of money for new freeways, new regulations that allow heavier trucks, a mandate to drill for new oil in the Alaskan wilderness, and the total removal of the paltry amount of money that was previously set aside for building and maintaining any kind of non-car infrastructure.

Reading about the bill’s latest iteration, what strikes me the most is the clear impact of the energy and trucking industries’ lobbying efforts on the proposed law — which will translate directly into shaping the landscapes we live in and travel through for the next decade.

What’s also clearly apparent is that all the smart and good things that bike advocates rightly focus on — safety, health, children, happiness, the environment, personal savings — are absolutely not at stake here. What does matter in this bill are jobs, energy, and the economy. (And maybe there’s some campaign funding to consider, but that’s pure speculation.)

I don’t want to underplay the good work of the bike lobby, but we need to take this to the next level — we need to show them the money. Bicycling is an economic issue, it’s an energy issue, and it’s a business issue for companies both large and small. Building bike infrastructure creates more jobs per dollar (particularly construction jobs) than freeway projects (so does building rail transit — and so does anything at all in transportation, really). There is a very strong argument to be made that investing in bikes directly benefits the freight industry. I could go on — and have!

There’s plenty more heavy lifting to be done. The numbers are out there, they are compelling, and there is no shortage of savvy organizations and people promoting bicycling on a federal level. The bike lobby may never have the money and clout of oil interests, but we have a potentially bigger base of support with a more personal interest. This federal funding cycle might be a lost cause, but in the bigger picture, we can absolutely do this.

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