Monday, February 02, 2009

Ice Adds Frustration as Does the News

A nice respite from the cold weather, but ice and snow are still on the roads leading away from New York. So what's a cyclist to do, but hit the gym, run, or worse, read the news.

The papers have been flush with news about the proposed $819 billion economic stimulus plan being considered by U.S. lawmakers. The first version was passed by the House of Representatives today and will go on to the Senate, where more changes are expected to be made before it is approved.

As part of that package, a number of municipalities and counties have submitted their wish lists for resurfacing roads. And in fact, in his acceptance speech, President Barack Obama specifically mentioned rebuilding of our infrastructure--and roads--as a priority.

And even though today the new employee cycling compensation plan went into effect country wide, where employers can give their employees riding to work by bike, a $20 per month check, was a positive, the overall message is--cycling comes dead last in the list of priorities. (See below for a synopsis of the bicycle commuter incentive as summarized by Maggie Clark at CUNY on the 5BBC listserv.)

What's coming first? Well, roads and highways; solar panels and alternative energy funding and tax breaks; and energy efficient cars are even getting more emphasis and money.

But what about subsidies for developing more cycling paths and byways that have connectivity and ease of access, and safety? What about subsidies for bike companies to develop more advanced cycling specific add-ons like the myriad of cycling carriers available in Amsterdam, for carrying even entire little mobile stores, pets, children, and groceries? And what about subsidies for bike parking?

Watching the new Obama administration walk down the same old same old path as walked before him is more frustrating than the ice and snow on the streets. It's infuriating. What was supposed to be a liberating new administration is like walking down the path of yesterday. Funding banks that pass the money out to their already wealthy partners--the same money that could have built countless cycling infrastructures ensuring our safety and our lives--is an insult to the people who have died on our dangerous roads (among other things, like the poor who could really use a good meal right now).

The Bicycle Commuter Act:
The Bicycle Commuter Act was part of the larger set of Renewable
Energy Tax Credit Initiatives included in the Emergency Economic
Stabilization Act of 2008, a.k.a. the "Wall Street Bailout Bill,"
signed into law by President Bush in early October 2008. Section 211
of the "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008" allows for a
"qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement" for "reasonable expenses
incurred by the employee...for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle
improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used
for travel between the employee?s residence and place of employment."
"We're hearing that a lot of employers don't know anything about the
bicycle commuter provision, nor that it goes into effect at the first
of the year," said Peter Harkness, Board of Directors Chair of the
National Center for Bicycling & Walking (NCBW). "This provision is a
matter of equity; it gives bike commuters similar benefits to those
already enjoyed by those who drive or take public transit to work."
The $20-a-month bicycle commuter benefit comes in well behind the $115
mass-transit benefit already available, or the $300-plus parking
subsidies aimed at helping those who drive to work. "The original ask
was for an $80-a-month benefit," said Harkness. "But during the
compilation of the House and Senate bills, the compromise amount was
set at a maximum $20 a month. It's not a perfect program, but it's a
good start."

As told by Maggie Clarke, environmental consultant at City University of New York, on the 5BBC listserv, and at her site,

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