While we are all thinking about this week’s elections results, it is hard not to imagine what could be or what will be. One of the saddest losses, while not a Washington State elected official, was that of Representative James Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota. He had served 18 terms and was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Time and time again he proved to be a tireless advocate for bicycling and walking. Without his efforts, our work to get transportation dollars for bicycling and walking in the Transportation Authorization Bill would have been that much more difficult.
But the one federal program where he really left a legacy is Safe Routes to School. This program, in just 5 short years after its launch, has had a demand much greater than can be funded in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Washington State Department of Transportaton alone has received millions in federal funding for its Safe Routes to School program, from which countless students, adults, and communities have benefited. It has allowed the Bicycle Alliance, Feet First, Cascade Bicycle Club, and a myriad of state and local agencies, schools and non-profits to develop and sustain many highly successful programs. We are all working towards the goal of changing the habits of an entire generation, as Rep. Oberstar would say.
While it is easy to be saddened by the loss of this champion, let’s look back. What we see is that this isn’t just an issue owned by the Democrats. Our friends at America Bikes point out that under a Republican House, Senate, and White House a lot was accomplished.
“Safe Routes to School and the non-motorized pilot program were created, funding for Transportation Enhancements went up 35% … during one program the annual funding for bicycling and walking went from less than $400 million to more than $1 billion.”
While the economy tells us that funding may be a big issue in the upcoming years, we have a Transportation Secretary by the name of Ray LaHood who, earlier this year, announced that bicycling will be treated as an equal mode of transportation. We still have supporters on both sides of the isle and will have to work even harder. So let’s keep in mind that we have a big hill to climb, but we can do it with the help of our dedicated partners.