Why Congress' Fiscal Cliff Antics Could Mean a Tough Battle for Biking & Walking

Mary Lauran Hall is communications manager at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. This post was cross-posed from the Alliance's blog. 

It should come as no surprise to those who track politics in the U.S. that biking and walking advocates can expect to fight hard to defend active transportation funding in 2013. In yesterday’s federal policy webinar with the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, Caron Whitaker of the League of American Bicyclists taught us that Capitol Hill’s recent dangles off the so-called “fiscal cliff” could put biking and walking funds at risk this year.

Fiscal what? For the unacquainted, lawmakers in Congress recently engaged in political brinksmanship to avoid a series of deep automatic cuts to government programs and steep increases in taxes that would have lent a dour note to the new year.

Caron noted that just a month ago, many government watchers were feeling optimistic that the White House and Congress could strike a “grand bargain” to tackle the nation’s fiscal instability. A successful deal would resolve the nation’s most pressing money issues and would free the new 113th Congress to focus on governing rather than on avoiding fiscal collapse.

Instead, though, Congress and the White House approved a band-aid two-month deal that temporarily delays fiscal deadlines until early spring.

Approval ratings for biking and walking are way up. Approval ratings for Congress? Not so much, and it’s not hard to see why.

Congress’ decision to punt rather than compromise could put lots of funding in danger — including biking and walking funds. If Congress does not make a fiscal deal, lawmakers will be eager to find opportunities to slash spending. Each upcoming deadline — sequestration, the debt ceiling, and a new budgeting process — represents a potential battle to protect biking and walking funding from the chopping block.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take heart in the knowledge that biking and walking advocates have come out on top in similar fights over the past several years.

Caron offered a few prime examples. In 2009, the full Senate faced a vote to cut a key federal biking and walking funding program. We got organized, rallied supporters around the country, and successfully voted down that amendment in the full Senate. Two years later, the Senate debated cutting Transportation Enhancement funding. We mobilized, to show elected officials why these funds matter, and the amendments to defund biking and walking died.

How do we win? Caron emphasized that we can protect biking and walking by doing what we do best: mobilizing popular support.

Here are Caron’s top suggestions of how biking and walking advocates can save bike/ped funding in 2013:

  • Organize local events to show politicians a popular bike/walk facility, a booming bicycle-friendly business district, or infrastructure that has provided great safety benefits. For guidelines to organize “show me” events, see America Bikes’ tips in the Resource Library.
  • Send a delegation to the National Bike Summit in March. Be prepared to discuss the economic benefits of biking and walking back at home and ask your elected official to visit a bike or walk facility at home.
  • Show elected officials why biking and walking benefit their local constituency. For members of Congress, economic messages are especially effective.

Thank you to everybody who joined the federal policy call and to Caron for lending her expertise. Alliance members can access Caron’s presentation in the Alliance Resource Library.

To participate in our next federal policy webinar with APBP, join the Alliance for Biking & Walking today.

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