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Chicago lacks funding to improve biking & walking conditions

Thu, Mar 1, 2012

According to a report released by the national advocacy organization, Alliance for Biking & Walking, Chicago ranked 46 out of 51 large cities in the US for per capita spending on improving walking and bicycling in 2010. Ironically, the Biking and Walking in the U.S.: 2012 Benchmarking Report also ranks Chicago in the top one-third of large cities for bicycle and pedestrian safety, commuter usage, education and advocacy. In a city known for biking and walking, the problem remains a lack of money for improvements and expansion. Funding for such programs lacks not only in Chicago, but on the federal level.

“Currently, the federal transportation bill only dedicates 1.6 percent to improving biking and walking,” said Ron Burke, executive director for Active Transportation Alliance, one of Chicago’s leading advocacy groups. “And, unfortunately, this is in jeopardy. Next week the U.S. House will vote on a new federal transportation bill that slashes two critical funds for biking and walking. We’re urging everyone to contact their representatives now.”

Though Chicago sits at the low end of the rankings for funding, new investment in these vital transportation modes under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office shows hope for changes in upcoming years. According to Emanuel’s administration, the city will execute a master pedestrian and bicycle plan, including new plazas and open walkway spaces, a 100-mile network of protected neighborhood greenways and bike boulevards, a comprehensive bike sharing program, and the completion of Bloomingdale Trail and the Navy Pier Flyover that will improve the Lakefront Trail between the Chicago River and Navy Pier.

“The City of Chicago is now more aggressively seeking funding, and we’ll work with city officials to get as much as possible,” Burke said. “Funding for Chicago 2012 and beyond should significantly increase, due in a large part to the Emanuel administration’s bold transportation plans.”

Though the city shows hopeful signs for the future, federal budget cuts could hinder this progress. If Chicago could adopt a more integrated model, similar to Minneapolis, which ranked second in per capita funding, the city could take further action to become a leader in active transportation.

“Minneapolis is one of four pilot communities receiving millions of National Transportation Pilot Project money that has dedicated and focused significant resources to bike and pedestrian networks – and it is working,” Burke said. “Chicago could make huge leaps in getting more people to walk, bike and take transit with increased transportation funding.”

This Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program, started in 2009, allotted $25 million each to four pilot cities in order to demonstrate how bicycling and walking can carry a significant part of the transportation load and offer alternative transportation solutions. The projects completed through this program include personal travel planning incentives, leveraging for further funding, building bicycle boulevards and tunnels separate from car traffic, and partnerships with law enforcement for safety regulation.

Chicago could incorporate many of these initiatives into the city’s biking and walking programs, and the newly invigorated plans under Emanuel’s administration mirror many of the successes from the pilot program cities. But if federal funding drops for active transportation, these plans may not come to fruition.

“A much greater investment is needed in biking and walking to increase active transportation,” said Jeffrey Miller, Alliance for Biking & Walking president and CEO. “The Benchmarking Report shows that biking and walking are smart and cost-effective solutions that will pay for themselves many times over in healthcare savings and impact on local economies.”

Chicago ranks above the national average for commuters who bike or walk to work, with 5.8 percent walking and 1.1 percent cycling. Further, it ranks 12th among large cities for the number of active transportation commuters. But as a leading city for biking and walking, these numbers cannot continue to grow without sufficient funding.

“Active Trans will continue to build a movement of supporters—people who will call upon elected officials to increase funding for walking and biking,” said Burke. “We hope to generate significant calls to House Representatives to preserve and increase biking and walking funding in the new federal transportation bill.”

Written by Ann Wanserski
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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