In the coming weeks, a select committee of 34 Congressional representatives from the House and Senate is meeting to decide the future of America’s transportation system.
As a member of that influential transportation conference committee, U.S. Representative Bill Shuster (PA) is charged with the responsibility of negotiating the next multi-year federal transportation bill. What emerges from this high-stakes conference will shape federal policy for decades—either by continuing to promote trails, walking and bicycling as part of a balanced transportation system, or by reverting to an outdated and inefficient system that only funds highways.
Last week, during his official conference statement, Rep. Shuster regrettably chose the latter, in fact specifically calling out “bike paths” as wasteful, even dangerous.
“Coming from Pennsylvania with 5,000 deficient bridges,” he said, “it’s unconscionable for me to go to my state and say you have to spend it [transportation dollars] on bike paths when you could cause death to people on the roadways if we’re not able to spend those dollars, those precious dollars, on rebuilding the bridges.”
We’ve heard this ridiculous comparison before, that investing in trails, walking and bicycling comes at the cost of keeping our bridges in good repair. It’s a false choice, pitting trails against bridges, made all the more unconscionable—to borrow Mr. Shuster’s ill-chosen word—by the fact that bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in Pennsylvania have been on the rise. In 2010, 148 pedestrians and 21 cyclists lost their lives on roads, up from both previous years.
Adding to the tragic irony of Rep. Shuster’s position is that Transportation Enhancements (TE)—one of the federal programs he is proposing to undercut—often funds bridge repair and other projects that directly save the lives of pedestrians and bicyclists. Are these lives not worth equal consideration to Rep. Shuster?
Equally absurd is that core federal programs supporting trails, walking and bicycling—TE, Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to School—represent less than 2 percent of surface transportation spending, yet Mr. Shuster wants to scapegoat these highly cost-efficient programs for the decay of our country’s bridges and roadways. Countless communities in Pennsylvania can attest to the enduring economic, social and health benefits of rail-trails and other bicycle and pedestrian facilities, which makes Mr. Schuster’s position all the more baffling.
Even if he is not your district’s representative, Mr. Shuster is the sole member of the conference from Pennsylvania, and therefore your only voice in the negotiation. We encourage you to call his office today, because Mr. Shuster needs to hear from his fellow Pennsylvanians exactly how wrong he is.
You can reach him at his Somerset, Pa., office at 814.443.3918, or his Washington, D.C., office at 202.225.2431.
There’s no time to waste with the conference under way. Speak up now!
Thank you for your support.