My 10-year-old nephew was practicing his fourth-grade class’s original “Northwest Ordinance” song last night, bringing forward a dim memory of the legislative act that led to the formation of such states as Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota. After a short visit to the North Star State last weekend, during which BikeMN (a.k.a. Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota) Executive Director Dorian Grilley introduced me to the amazing team strongly advocating for increased active transportation funding in Minnesota, I have been struck by the parallels in the challenging situations that these nascent states addressed 230 years ago and those that are being creatively approached today.
Transportation funding discussions have stalled out during state legislative sessions over the past three years, and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton ultimately decided not to call a special session—realizing that neither the House nor Senate was going to budge on key issues. So it is encouraging to see Rep. Jeff Howe (R-District 13A) and Sen. David Senjem (R-District 25)—with support from state elected officials from both sides of the aisle—introducing bills (HF 1959 and SF 1753) that would provide an additional $15 million annually to support pedestrian, bicycle and other non-motorized transportation activities. Notably, only 20–30 percent of these types of infrastructure projects currently planned can move forward with existing funding sources, limiting the mobility and opportunities of many citizens.
Minnesota has long been on the cutting edge with regard to supporting the needs of its collective citizenry, highlighted by such transformational initiatives as the ‘Minnesota Miracle of 1971,’ a bipartisan effort that led to sweeping changes in the financing of schools and local governments to remove egregious disparities, promote equality and ensure that all residents had access to quality education.
The active transportation legislation currently being proposed emphasizes the need to provide assistance to communities that are “historically and currently underrepresented in local and regional planning, including communities of color, low-income households, people with disabilities, and people with limited English proficiency.” There is also a recognition in the bill that nonmotorized transportation infrastructure projects represent “betterments and capital improvements” in line with Minnesota Constitution provisions that direct the legislature to maintain a healthy transportation system.
The innovative nature of Sen. Senjem’s bill SF 1753, co-authored by Sens. Rob Dibble (DFL-District 61), Michelle Fischbach (R-District 13) and Jeremy Miller (R-District 28), is further highlighted by the proposed funding mechanism that would dedicate the existing sales tax on bikes and bike parts to support active transportation infrastructure; this complements the precedent set in bill HF 638—authored by Rep. Howe—which would dedicate the sales tax on motor vehicle parts to the highway user fund to fix Minnesota’s aging transportation infrastructure. SF 1753 also provides a novel way to address active transportation funding needs in tough political circumstances or when broader transportation revenue legislation has reached an impasse.
Among the other exciting initiatives currently gaining traction in the 2017 Minnesota legislative session are the proposed $6 million increase in funding for Safe Routes to School and a bonding bill that includes several trail projects that would expand recreational opportunities and promote sustainable economic development.
The chorus of Ms. Juergens students’ “Northwest Ordinance” song ends with “making our nation a better place,” which is certainly what these efforts are promoting in the form of improved health and safety, increased economic activity and better environmental conditions. If passed, these bills will result in a higher overall quality of life for all Minnesotans, creating models that could significantly benefit Americans in many other states as well!
Are you a Minnesota resident? Write your legislators today—and speak out for trails, walking and biking! Tell your legislators why they should support dedicated funding for active transportation!