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Is 2010 the Year for Federal Bike Aid? The Answer: A Big ‘Maybe’

9:02 AM PST on March 12, 2010

This week's National
Bike Summit
culminated in an ambitious new campaign to recruit a
million bike advocates and the
unveiling
of a new Google Maps bike feature. But in a Wednesday
session dedicated to the outlook for federal bike investments, cycling
advocates hesitated to declare that they could secure new commitments
from Washington.

profile190.jpgRep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founder of
the Congressional Bike Caucus. (Photo: NYT)

"If
Congress is going to act" on a new long-term transportation bill,
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy president Keith Laughlin said, "it's
definitely going to be our year. If we are ready."

Laughlin's phrasing was aimed at stoking cyclists' appetite for
lobbying Congress in favor of pro-bike legislation, such as Rep. Earl
Blumenauer's Active
Community Transportation Act
. But his caution also reflected the ongoing uncertainty
surrounding how lawmakers plan to pay for a new long-term
infrastructure bill expected to cost at least $450 billion.

Even if bipartisan
support
can bring the White House on board for a new bill this
year, it remains to be seen whether bike advocates can secure the $2
billion in competitive federal grants that Blumenauer has proposed.

Tyler Frisbee, an aide to the Portland lawmaker who spoke to the
Summit on her personal time, was careful to praise House transportation
committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) as a friend
of bicyclists
. But Oberstar's transport legislation, Frisbee said,
is "not the bill we want for another eight years ... cycling will be
light years behind Europe [if it passes]."

Frisbee warned fellow bike advocates that Oberstar views the
Blumenauer bill as an expansion of the Non-Motorized
Pilot Program
that directed $25 million to four trail projects in
the 2005
transportation law
. Describing her boss' legislation as separate
from that spending, Frisbee said a Senate version would be introduced
soon by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley.

Despite the hazy outlook for congressional action on transportation
reform, Rails-to-Trails is continuing to push ahead with its long-term
agenda. Laughlin said the group's 10-year goal is to help pay for bike
trails within three miles of 90 percent of American residences, while
doubling existing federal bike spending to $9 billion over six years.

"If the bill comes up for a vote, we have a fighting chance, but to
win" requires sustained and increased focus on grassroots lobbying of
lawmakers, he said.

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