Can We Intersect the Politics of Bikes and the Politics of Thrift?

While we avoided a government shutdown a few weeks ago, it seems clear that the 2012 Federal budget is going to involve some heavy cost-cutting. And infrastructure dollars have been getting harder and harder to find at the local level for some time.

So I’d like to suggest that we consider promoting cycling as a “do more with less” strategy. Portland has demonstrated that if we build it (good cycling infrastructure), they WILL come.

And cycling infrastructure is some of the cheapest infrastructure available. Portland Afoot computed this very interesting comparison (via Twitter):

Regional spending per new commuter, 1995-2010: bike/ped $5,538, auto $18,072, transit $84,790. Yes, read that again. http://bit.ly/fvszwa

So can we get policy makers to shift a greater share of transportation investment toward bikes in this time of thrift?

I tried out that idea when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Portland last month for a BTA event and asked him a question about whether we could hope for a Federal program that would match bicycle expenditures they way New Starts does for transit. He bluntly told me it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. Congressman Peter DeFazio jumped in and made it clear that the battle now is to defend existing programs.

And that point is not lost on me. As the Transport Politic reports, the budget proposed by Chairman Ryan would completely eliminate the New Starts program that funds both light rail and streetcar construction (hint: urban districts are almost exclusively “D”).

But is it all pure politics, or is there some room to insert rationality and make the argument for delivery inexpensive mobility via bicycle infrastructure?

How would you frame the message?

[And to avoid being misconstrued, let me be very clear that I am not in any way advocating a reduction in transit funding.]

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