Cyclists worry measure will diminish funding for trails
National legislation, MAP-21, increases competition for backing of alternative transportation routes

By Elise Kaplan / CJ 475 Reporter
Posted Nov. 1, 2012

Tom Trowbridge doesn't have a car, but he does have a bike. He frequently rides the Rail Runner from Santa Fe to Albuquerque and follows trails and bike lanes from downtown to Corrales, taking full advantage of the 400 miles of cycle-friendly infrastructure around the city. Albuquerque has experienced a growth of bicycle-oriented construction in the past two decades, said Trowbridge, a board member of the advocacy group BikeABQ, but national transportation legislation that passed last summer has him worried about the future.

Transportation Consolidation Proclamation
[+] Click HERE for full-screen video
By Elise Kaplan

Hear about both sides of the newly implemented transportation legislation.

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, provides funding for highways and public transportation for the next two years. The legislation, implemented Oct. 1, consolidated separate programs into one category under the title Transportation Alternatives. Trowbridge said this means trails and paths now have to compete with other programs for previously guaranteed money.

"For instance a trail like this (Paseo del Bosque) could have been rehabilitated or constructed from scratch using transportation enhancement funds — that is gone," Trowbridge said. "So there's a lot more competition for a lot less money and that's going to make it tough."

Previously, the state set money aside under the Surface Transportation Enhancement Program for bike and pedestrian projects, but MAP-21 consolidates these programs under the heading of Transportation Alternatives.

"Now you can transfer funds from Transportation Alternatives into the other funding categories for highways so you don't have to use it all for transportation alternatives," said David Pennella, the transportation program manager at the Mid-Region Council of Governments. "Also, that same pot of money is still being used for the Safe Routes to School program, and everything else that was consolidated. So it didn't necessarily cut money for bicycles but it did cut money, in the sense that states do not have to use the money for bicycle-enhancement programs."

Bicycling infrastructure projects that were previously slated are still eligible for funding despite the changes MAP-21 brings, Pennella added. Projects with high priority levels (such as trails linking one area of town to another) will now have to compete with mass-transit enhancements, such as bus shelters and landscaping.

For many states, the decision to put more funding into alternative transportation (including bike trails and public transit) receives low-priority status because the majority of residents commute by car. Aaron Sussman, a transportation planner for Mid-Region Council of Governments, teaches transportation planning at the University of New Mexico and said that even cities like Portland, Ore., that have invested billions of dollars in bicycle infrastructure only see 6 percent of residents commuting that way.

"Obviously, anytime you get somebody out of a car and onto a bicycle there are clear environmental benefits from that," Sussman said. "The question then becomes what kind of balance you should have knowing that in most cities bicyclists are a really small percentage of total users. But, you want to create a space that allows people to pursue that activity. How does that fit into the larger mix?"

Compared to other mid-sized Southwestern cities, slightly more Albuquerque residents take public transit or bike to work, but still represent only 4 percent of the population, Sussman said.

"The thing to keep in mind with all this is something like 91 percent of Albuquerque residents get to work in a car and the vast majority of those are people driving to work by themselves," he said. "So, there are some significant obstacles to overcome."