Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

GOP House leader Eric Cantor doesn't like Capital Bikeshare

August 29, 2011 - 09:03 AM
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No bikesharing for you. (Photo: flickr/MedillDC)

Some Republicans in Congress have a problem with you and your shiny red Capital Bikeshare bikes, D.C. In 2010, the GOP launched the YouCut program, which sought input on which federally funded programs should lose funding. In 2011, the House's GOP majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia now spotlights those programs they'll potentially cut. He asks people to review the YouCut options and "vote on which spending cut you believe should be sponsored by the YouCut program," like some twisted game of Survivor.

Of the three programs Cantor points to, one is bike-sharing programs. The other two options are to eliminate grants to worsted wool manufacturers or the EPA's Science to Achieve Results program. Capital Bikeshare is less than a year old, yet its expansion and success throughout the District has already inspired examples around the country. But what Cantor poses is an existential threat to its existence.

Should the government be supporting bike commuting, storage facilities, and bike lanes? Should they support full programs like our Capital Bikeshare? Not like it has been, according to Cantor's site:

The Federal government distributed more than $53 billion in funding for highways and transit projects in FY 2011 from the federal highway and transit trust funds. Federal excise taxes on gasoline sales are supposed to support these programs, however spending has significantly exceeded gas tax revenues in recent years. One reason for the excess has been federal spending on projects that don’t involve highways or transit systems at all, including federally funded bike sharing programs. Bike sharing programs were part of the more than $1 billion the federal government spent on programs to promote biking and walking in 2010. Federal bike and walking programs received hundreds of millions of stimulus dollars in addition to an annually recurring funding base that now exceeds $600 million. Bike sharing programs involve installation of bike storage facilities throughout a metropolitan area, together with the purchase of publicly-owned bicycles that riders can use for free or a nominal fee as a method of transportation. Federally-funded bike sharing programs are currently operating in cities such as Washington DC, New York City, and Minneapolis.

I can't help but think of how Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert just defended and called on greater support for such bikesharing programs in his August 26 Washington Post op-ed. Among his points was the explicit remark that Congress shouldn't cut bikesharing and pedestrian funding. "Twelve percent of all trips nationwide happen by bike or on foot, but states spend just 1 percent of transportation funds on bike and pedestrian facilities," Alpert writes. "Yet Congress is looking at eliminating dedicated bike/pedestrian funding entirely."

The impetus for the editorial was the response to last Tuesday's 5.8-magnitude earthquake. Alpert spoke to the same point I brought up on August 24: feet and bikes won the day in the hours after the quake. As the Metro slowed down and the roadways grew congested, walking and biking proved the most effective way to navigate our confused city, and Capital Bikeshare statistics reflect that. The most egregious bit of thinking embedded in Cantor's description of bikesharing above is that these programs aren't part of our overall transit system. Has the GOP leader ever stepped out onto D.C.'s streets? Of course they are.

I question whether Cantor's YouCut program and attitude toward bikesharing reflects the views of many conservatives overall. Earlier this summer, I discussed the politics of mass transit and noted a Yale poll from this year that suggested 74% of Republicans support bike paths and installing bicycle lanes. I suspect there's a strong divide between elected officials and the average citizen. The elected officials and strongly partisan, those who might be more likely to respond to Cantor's call for cutting votes, don't favor bikes in quite the same way. And they're eyeing your red bikeshare stations.

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