|RTC's petition calls on AAA to join America's transportation future by supporting the programs that fund trails, walking and bicycling around the country.|
In a recent issue of AAA World magazine, Don Gagnon, president and CEO of AAA Mid-Atlantic, argued to restrict the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to just highways. That argument may sound reasonable on its face given the fund's name, but such a change would eliminate popular and effective programs that have been the lifeblood of our movement for two decades, helping to create more than 19,000 miles of rail-trails and many other bicycle and walking facilities around the country.
Since 1991, Congress has clearly stated that federal gas tax revenues be used for all aspects of a surface transportation system, including bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. (Read below for more on why gas tax revenues that fund the HTF should be used for walking and bicycling.)
Gagnon would have these essential components of a balanced transportation system compete against everything else the government does for extremely scarce, if not frozen, general funds. That's like, after 20 years of stellar job performance in a highly specialized field with scant job prospects, your boss fires you but says he hopes you find another job somewhere else.
RTC has called upon AAA National President Robert Darbelnet to disavow Gagnon's position and to join RTC in our campaign to increase and improve active transportation investment. Thus far, Mr. Darbelnet has not agreed to either.
Ultimately, if AAA Mid-Atlantic's position on federal transportation funding were implemented, it would be devastating to trails, walking and bicycling because effective programs would be orphaned from the rest of transportation, denying them resources and well-established implementation channels.
Upon hearing of RTC's petition, many of you contacted AAA on your own. Thank you! Below are several talking points from AAA National and/or individual clubs in response to your queries, and our corresponding thoughts.
AAA: We are not anti-bike.
RTC: We have treated AAA with professional respect and are not interested in name-calling. We are interested in resolving a critical federal policy disagreement. AAA has commendable general policy principles on its website, and local chapters have been involved in efforts to promote bicycling and walking safety. However, these efforts are overshadowed by AAA's failure to disavow AAA Mid-Atlantic's call to eliminate active transportation programs from the HTF because active transportation and safety will suffer greatly without these programs.
AAA: We will not call on Congress to de-fund trail, walking and bicycling programs. We are simply calling for a change of accounting, not actually the elimination of any programs.
RTC: AAA has yet to disavow Mr. Gagnon's desire to push trail funding out of the HTF. He assumes these investments could be covered by "general revenues," but this central assumption is disingenuous and at the heart of our policy disagreement with AAA.
The fundamental question is whether we want our transportation dollars to fund a balanced transportation system or one that is solely reliant on automobiles. "Highway Trust Fund" is a misleading name dating to the 1950s and the founding of the Interstate system. It is a transportation trust fund that has supported transit for 40 years and trails, bicycling and walking for nearly 20 years. It is not realistic to believe that programs removed from the HTF, which operate through well-established channels using agreed-upon formulas, will be resurrected through other funding channels.
AAA's position would eliminate Transportation Enhancements (TE) and other long-standing programs that build active transportation facilities such as trails. Starting over with new programs is especially impractical in the face of a possible budget freeze. Even if budgets were not so tight, to divorce active transportation funding from the transportation finance system would deny state and local officials needed flexibility to develop a healthy mix of transportation choices.
AAA: We are a federation of clubs around the country. Each club makes its own decisions independent of the others on many state and local matters.
RTC: RTC launched this national campaign to address a position AAA Mid-Atlantic has taken on a critical federal policy issue. We are aware that AAA is organized into regional offices that are the primary points of contact with members, and that regional offices can bring local and regional concerns into their communications.
However, on this critical national issue, AAA needs to speak with one voice. Consequently, RTC has asked AAA's president to state that AAA will not advocate for removal of biking and walking programs from the HTF and, thus far, he has not done so. AAA has some admirable policy principles, but travel choices and accessibility for all users cannot happen without support for the funding programs that actually make the choices and access possible.
AAA: The HTF was created to fund the interstate highway system. We should follow its original intent.
RTC: In 1991, Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act (ISTEA), which explicitly recognized the importance of—and need to fund—a multi-modal transportation system. The decades preceding ISTEA yielded little to no advancements for trails, bicycling and walking because there were no dedicated programs. AAA says it supports a multi-modal transportation system, but that is an empty gesture without HTF funding for programs—like TE—that work through established implementation channels that are unique to the HTF. AAA's position would roll back the clock to pre-ISTEA neglect of active transportation.
AAA: Extraneous spending must be eliminated from the HTF to ensure safe roadways for our users.
RTC: We share with AAA a paramount concern for improved traffic safety. We support adequate roadway maintenance and focus especially on ways to reduce crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians, who comprise around 13 percent of roadway fatalities.
Contrary to Mr. Gagnon's letter, a deteriorating highway system cannot be blamed on transportation funding flexibility. Too little is spent on active transportation to make a dent in the problem. The main culprits are lack of political will to invest more in transportation and the prioritization of road building over maintenance. Mr. Gagnon appears to assume that these dynamics cannot be changed, so he concludes that biking, walking and transit must be removed from the Trust Fund, completely missing that these investments improve conditions for all users, including drivers.
Active transportation investments cost-effectively reduce congestion and wear and tear on the roads, while increasing safety for the most vulnerable users. And even as drivers, we can find ourselves feeling unsafe as we walk from our cars to our final destinations.
Thanks to all who have contacted AAA with your concerns! These letters have put AAA chapters on notice that Gagnon's argument is controversial, and we hope they will inform AAA's federal policy position. Those supporters who write their local chapters (other than Mid-Atlantic) may receive an "it isn't me" response.
However, until regional AAAs explicitly support the funding of existing trail, walking and bicycling programs from the HTF, it is hard to tell where they stand on the issue.
Please forward any communications you have with AAA to RTC Policy Outreach Manager Kartik Sribarra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For examples of what others have written to AAA, please see our Testimonials page.
All AAA chapters and members benefit from the programs that deliver popular, cost-effective active transportation choices. Let's work together to grow these opportunities, not orphan them.
To learn more, contact Kartik Sribarra, policy outreach manager, at email@example.com.