While selected members of Congress and their staff meet around the clock to hammer out the details of a new transportation bill, we've been asking staff and legislators to preserve the bipartisan Cardin-Cochran agreement. As the transportation conference continues, this compromise is our best hope to save funding for biking and walking in the new transportation bill.
But what is the Cardin-Cochran agreement, anyway? And why is it our best option?
In current transportation law, three programs dedicate federal transportation funds for biking and walking. These programs—Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails—are extremely popular with local governments and the public. They ensure that a small portion of federal transportation dollars—less than two cents per dollar—goes to building sidewalks, bike lanes, and bikeways to make biking and walking more accessible.
In the original Senate transportation bill, these three programs were combined into one program called "Additional Activities." An expanded list of activities—including environmental mitigation and some road projects—were also eligible for Additional Activities funs.
In other words, without some amendment to the Senate language, funds that had previously been dedicated to biking and walking could be used for costly environmental mitigation, or even for building more highway lanes.
Due to concerns about this language, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) offered an amendment to ensure that cities and counties have an opportunity to use Additional Activities funds for biking and walking projects, if they choose to do so.
Because of broad bipartisan support in the Senate, the Cardin-Cochran amendment was accepted as a manager's amendment into the Senate transportation bill, MAP-21, during consideration by the full Senate.
How does the Cardin-Cochran agreement work?
Flow chart explaining how funding would reach local governments under the Cardin-Cochran agreement
If Cardin-Cochran becomes law, state departments of transportation (DOTs) will make Additional Activities funds available to local governments and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in two main chunks.
Fifty percent of the funds will be allocated, based on population, to large MPOs and rural areas. MPOs will then distribute those funds through a competitive grant program for projects in their communities.
With the remaining 50 percent of Additional Activites funds, the state DOT will hold its own competitive grant process for projects. Local governments, school districts, and others will be eligible to compete for this funding.
These safeguards will ensure that communities of every size benefit from making their own localized transportation decisions for safe streets. After all, local schools and local officials know the needs of their streets best. These local communities are in the best position to utilize federal funds to make streets safer and more accessible for walking and biking.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) with Angela Fox of the Crystal City BID, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), and Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists at an America Bikes press conference in March
A True Compromise
The Cardin-Cochran compromise is just that: a compromise.
The agreement is not perfect for bike advocates. If we had it our way, the new transportation will would have more dedicated funding for biking and walking. The Cardin-Cochran agreement does not dedicate federal funds for sidewalks and bikeways.
But this compromise is good for bike advocates because it creates a mechanism for local governments to compete for federal funds for smaller biking and walking projects. We've heard again and again that local governments want this funding. We believe that cities and towns and school systems will compete for federal funding successfully if given the opportunity.
On the flip side, the Cardin-Cochran compromise incorporates some conservative principles to accomodate members of Congress who have traditionally opposed funding for biking and walking.
Bike/ped opponents often opine that too much money is mandated towards biking and walking. States only spend federal dollars on biking and walking, they say, because they can't spend it on what they really need. Under the Cardin-Cochran agreement, local governments can apply to use Additional Activities funds for multiple purposes; the bipartisan agreement does not remove any of MAP-21's original eligibilities for Additional Activites. Local governments will have the choice of how to spend it. Again, we believe that cities and towns will choose to spend the funds on biking and walking, because we consistently hear that local governments want these programs.
Bike/ped opponents tend to believe that government closest to the people governs best. The Cardin-Cochran agreement gives more control to local officials, who know the needs of their communities best.
Under Cardin-Cochran, biking and walking projects will need to compete for Additional Activities funding. If lawmakers like Senator Inhofe (R-OK) are right—if nobody wants bike paths and bike lanes—then no communities will apply and no federal funds will be used for biking and walking.
We believe that biking and walking are popular enough on the local level that these projects will be able to compete successfully.