FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ken Bryan, Florida Director
CONGRESSMAN MICA CHALLENGED ON TRANSPORTATION POLICY
Volusia, Putnam counties pass resolutions supporting federal investment in walking and biking
FLORIDA Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is pushing to eliminate dedicated federal investment in trails, biking and walking. As committee chair, Rep. Mica one of the most influential leaders in federal transportation policy, yet his positions have already proven out of step with what Floridians want and need—including his own constituents.
First, on April 21, in a direct response to Rep. Mica's proposal to discontinue dedicated funding for biking and walking, the Volusia County Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting continued federal investment in Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails, the federal programs that form the core of support for safe biking and walking.
Then, on May 24, the Putnam County Board of Commissioners voiced its own opposition to Rep. Mica's proposal by unanimously passing a resolution supporting these core federal programs.
Commissioners representing all five Putnam County districts—including longtime trail supporter Chairman Brad Purcell—signed off on the resolution, which states that "integrated trails and intermodal pathways provide the people of Florida with a choice of transportation modes while reducing demand and maintenance on the state's highways and local road systems. The continued funding, construction and maintenance of integrated trails and intermodal pathways is critical to the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Putnam County."
Following a similar measure from Volusia County and a strong motion and letter of support from the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Putnam's resolution increases a groundswell of support and sends a clear message that many Floridians—including businesspeople, residents and local governments—believe active transportation is a key investment in the state's future. Other agencies are currently considering taking similar action in support of trails, walking and bicycling.
Pat Northey, vice chair of the Volusia County Council, says trails are an essential community asset and central to the area's ability to attract tourists. She points to the Bike the Beach, Spring-to-Spring Trail and East Central Regional Rail Trail as examples of local and regional trails with notable economic, social and environmental benefits. And, she says local voters made clear their preference for transportation and recreation facilities—beyond roads—by passing two special taxing referendums in 2000.
"The people down here are taxing themselves to pay for these amenities," she says. "This is not just about providing trails and pathways for people to get around in this county—this is an economic engine."
Also, in terms of public safety, the stakes couldn't be higher in Florida. Released this week, the 2011 Dangerous by Design report found that between 2000 and 2009, 5,163 Floridians were killed in traffic accidents while walking. This total represents more than 10 percent of the 47,700 pedestrians killed nationwide, making Florida the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians.
Published by Transportation for America (T4A), a nonprofit transportation research and advocacy group, the Dangerous by Design found that an overwhelming proportion of pedestrian fatalities occur on roads lacking safe sidewalks, crosswalks and signals. Yet Rep. Mica's proposed federal policy changes would cut programs proven to reduce the number of preventable pedestrian deaths, including the Safe Routes to School program.
At present, only a tiny portion of federal surface transportation investment—about 1.5 percent, or a penny and a half on the dollar—is dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian improvements. But these projects reap an enormous return on investment in terms of economic development, community health and safety benefits. Rep. Mica's plan, though, would give state highway departments the authority to spend every dollar of their transportation trust fund allocation on roads, potentially eliminating the main funding sources for essential pedestrian and bicycle facilities, including TE and the Recreational Trails Program.
"The federal TE, SRTS and Recreational Trails programs provide the investment in trails and safer streets that we need to make Floridians safe when they get out from behind the wheel," says Ken Bryan, Florida state director for Rails to Trails Conservancy. "Volusia and Putnam counties and other Florida communities see firsthand that these programs must be explicit priorities if we are to stem the tragic carnage on Florida roads."
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with more than 150,000 members and supporters, is the nation's largest trails organization dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines and connecting corridors. Founded in 1986, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's national office is located in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. For more information visit www.railstotrails.org.