The release of Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget proposal doesn't bode well for the future of non-automotive forms of transportation. The highway-centric bill cuts $388 billion from the overall transportation budget, slashes funding for rail, and passes the buck on a much-needed gas tax increase. Most worrisome, it singles out bike paths as an example of wasteful spending.
It's a good bet, then, that the ongoing debate over a Brooklyn path will seem quaint in comparison to the battles that loom in the coming year. As debate ramps up, who in Congress will ensure that non-automotive forms of transportation have a seat at the table?
For the better part of the last decade, a few veteran Democrats -- notably former Rep. James Oberstar and Rep. Earl Blumenauer -- have rallied Congressional support for bike infrastructure.They have had remarkable successes, but fresh voices are sorely needed. Oberstar lost his seat in 2010, and there's only so much one man -- even somebody as energetic as Blumenauer -- can do.
The need for a powerful advocate from the GOP is particularly urgent. Oberstar's replacement as the chair of the House's transportation committee, Florida Rep. John Mica, shares little of Oberstar's enthusiasm for bicycle infrastructure. Ray LaHood, the head of the Department of Transportation, has become an unexpected Republican ally for cyclists, but rank and file Republicans don't respect him given his role in the Obama Administration.
Meanwhile, support for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, which has every reason to be bipartisan, has sadly become a partisan issue that struggles to attract Republican support. This is an odd because bicycling, as one Republican at this year's National Bike Summit put it, for him is "about freedom, business, and preserving small-town America."
Still, there are glimmers of hope. There are more than two dozen Republican members of the Congressional Bike Caucus. And there must be many more reasonable politicians in the GOP just waiting for the political cover to get involved.
All they need is a super member willing to lead them. Local bike advocates: Know anybody who might fit the bill?