Friday, March 11, 2011

New Yorkers ask Capitol Law Makers to Retain Bike Funding

Thursday, March 10, 2011
Cyclists from all over the U.S. converged on Washington this week to discuss the state of cycling at the National Bike Summit. And their message to lawmakers on Thursday was, if you have to cut any budgets, don't cut ours.

And while the headlines grabbed the hearings by Peter King (R-Dist 3, Long Island), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, about the radicalization of American Muslims, people were dying on our roads and highways in droves.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) Chairman of House Homeland Security 
In New York State alone in 2009, there were more than 5,600 accidents between cyclists and motorists, resulting in 29 deaths of people on bikes, and the death of one motorist.

In that same year, the last year for which statistics are available, more than 14,800 pedestrians were injured by cars, and 302 people were killed by motorists, according to the New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles.

King's district on Long Island hosts some of the most dangerous roads for cycling and walking in the state. Long island also hosts many roads where motorized traffic comes to a grinding halt every day at rush hour, costing the area millions of dollars in gas costs, business lost, and lost hours of a person's life.

Obesity costs the United States $147 billion dollars, and New York State $7.6 billion a year according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

The problem of obesity is reaching epic proportions for children and adolescents, whose numbers have tripled over the past three decades. Currently, a third of New York State's children are obese or overweight.

Being severely overweight has serious health consequences: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a shortened life span.

Hazelhoff and McCorkell waiting to meet with an aide from Rep. Rangel's office (C) BBB
But these killers are semi invisible to both the media and lawmakers because the deaths and costs occur daily and on a constant basis, and don't carry the shock or the marketing capital of a terrorist strike.

This is the battle that cycling advocates have to face when bringing their message to the steps of the Capitol: though bicycling efforts may be boring to you, they are very important to us.

And with cost-cutting a major message of members of Congress, cycling advocates like Charlie McCorkell, pounded the pavement to ask our elected officials to please keep federal funds where they are, and if you have to cut, cut from other budgets that offer less bang for the buck.

McCorkell owns the Bicycle Habitat bike store in New York City and has been active in bicycle advocacy since his early 20's when he worked with Transportation Alternatives to make cycling more accessible in the city. He rode his Soho S fixed gear Trek a little over a mile in the pouring rain to the Rayburn building:"It took half an hour for my pants to dry," he said.

Dressed uncharacteristically in a tie and formal shirt, he walked down the flag-decked halls of the Rayburn Building to visit the offices of Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Charlie Rangel.

With him was Aja Hazelhoff, a representative from the New York City based advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives: she was armed with statistics and numbers about how much cycling contributes to the economy, and how much more we will be able to achieve by backing alternative transportation measures.

Seated on the standard issue leather couches and arm chairs in Jerrold Nadler's office (D- Dist 8), the two spoke with James Owens, Nadler's legislative assistant, an elegant red-haired man who sported a beard and was immaculately dressed in a pressed glen plaid suit.

Mind you, congresspersons and their aides hear all kinds of things all day from constituents, special interest groups, advocates and lobbyists, and competition for ears and eyeballs is fierce. Hazelhoff and McCorkell had but 15 minutes to get across the idea that a cyclist only requires only 1.5 percent of federal transportation dollars, when 12 percent of all trips are made on a bike or two legs.

The Hallway to Rep. King's office (c) BBB
For one, Hazelhoff and McCorkell were looking for continued support for the $117 million that pays for Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS),  helps build bike trails and pathways, and supports cycling education and advocacy. With a push for cost-cutting in federal spending, all of those programs face the hachet.

Hazelhoff explained it makes more sense to continue to fund cycling spending at the same level, because the more people you have on a bicycle, the more money you save in health costs, gas costs, and in highway maintenance.

BBB was there and could not help asking Owens for assistance in supporting the bike lanes in New York City--at least in terms of backing the efforts of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan publicly in light of recent negative feedback from various local communities.

Back in hallway I was chided for speaking out about an issue that wasn't in Nadler's district, though the bike lanes in his district along Ninth Avenue, could always become an issue if the backlash spread through the city. Already on Columbus Avenue between 86th and 72nd Sts., retailers who have not seen the value of the bike lanes recently installed there have complained vocally to the city's local lawmakers. Clearly though, the Capitol is not for neophytes like BBB.

On to the next office of Rep. Charlie Rangel, we were waiting outside in the hallway while scores of other special interest groups passed, some from CARE, others wearing white medical jackets representing the pharmaceutical industry, and still others in amalgam groups of five or seven, in ties and jackets, skirts and heels clicking down the stone hallways, coming to have their voices heard.

Nancy Maier, publisher of joined Hazelhoff and McCorkell for the meeting with Marion "Butch" Johnson, an amiable Congressional Fellow from Rangel's office (D-Dist. 15).  He listened attentively as McCorkell described the 200,000 bicycle commuters in New York, and how cycling has had a "vast economic impact" on the city.
Two delegates from Bike Summit getting their shoes shined in the Cannon Bldg Basment
Both Nadler and Rangel supported the Transportation Enhancements bill which provided monies for cycling and cycling infrastructure improvements, so their empathy was a given: but could we depend on them to fight for level funding? Rangel, noted Hazelhoff, was one of the first in Congress to adopt a Safe Routes to School Program in his district (he has two now.)

Steve Faust, a transportation planning guru came into the meeting 5 minutes late and asked for continued help on specific projects like the Putnam Line, a rail to trail project in which has never been completed, and talked up a storm about the Kingsbridge Bike Park which had been opened by the NYC Parks Dept. in upper Manhattan.

The Cannon Building at Capitol Hill
Maier added that this was one park that really serviced kids in the community and kept them from getting into trouble otherwise.  Faust also put in a word for what he said was his "lifelong" fight, to add a bike lane to the Verazzano Bridge--- a bridge that is parenthetically many miles away from Rangel's district.

Never mind that, the personal messages provided some color for the legislative aides that need something to go back to the Congressman about. When Hazelhoff mentioned the Tour de Bronx, Johnson asked her what date it was so Rangel could attend. Inviting our representatives to specific events is an important element of showing them virtually how the cycling community works.

Neither New York nor New Jersey were fully represented at the Bike Summit, so some of our group had to deliver the message to representatives outside of our own districts. I delivered messages to Rep. Maurice Hinchey who represents an area upstate where my family spends their summers, Steve Israel (D-Dist 2), and Peter King (R-Dist 3).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer. I wanted to let you know it was a pleasure for my father Robert and I to met you just today at Nyack Beach (Hook Mountain). You're blog is very interesting! Hope to see you again soon!
Sabrina Tenteromano