The following is the Editor’s Letter appearing in the October 2012 print edition of Silent Sports.
It’s always been an uphill battle for us nonmotorized trail advocates. But I think we can safely say, at least here in Wisconsin, we’ve taken two steps forward and one step back, rather than the other way around. If that those metaphors of self propulsion sounds strained, if not cautiously optimistic, allow me to explain.
In late August, Congress finally passed a new national transportation bill titled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21). A tiny fragment of that behemoth legislation is called Transportation Alternatives, which is a consolidation of the previously separate bicycle funding programs Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to Schools and the Recreational Trails Program.
Here’s the bad news: MAP-21 now allows states to transfer 50 percent of their funding for Transportation Alternatives to any other use without explanation. And governors can choose, from one year to the next, to decline Recreational Trails Program money altogether. Dedicated funding for Safe Routes to Schools was also been eliminated, although Transportation Enhancement grants can pay for those programs.
Here’s the good news: Although federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects was cut by about 30 percent, it was not zeroed out. And while states are now allowed to divert or decline much of the money that remains, state officials can be persuaded to not do so. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, in fact, has announced he will seek continued federal support for the construction of recreational trails in his state, to the tune of about $2 million a year. He said that is a small investment in bicycling that results in a $2 billion annual return for Wisconsin.
Also encouraging is what’s happening over the southern border. Soon after MAP-21 passed, the League of Illinois Bicyclists and the Active Transportation Alliance met with state transportation officials. “They asked the DOT to fully utilize funding for biking and walking under the new Transportation Alternatives program — and signs are good that Illinois will do just that. But their campaign is far from over,” the League of American Bicyclists reported.
NRTCC to you and me
Back up north, specifically in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, the first convening of the Wisconsin Nonmotorized Recreation and Transportation Trails Council took place on August 16. Five years has passed since the introduction of legislation to create the council and two years since it emerged from the Legislature and former Gov. Jim Doyle signed it into law. Walker has since appointed its 10 members, including yours truly. (A full listing of the council members can be found in the “Sounding Alarm” column in the August issue here and at dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/trails/nrttc.html.)
Although this is promising news and the council is eager to get to work, we’re back to square one when it comes to funding. The original bill creating the council also included an annual appropriation of “either $10 million or 1 percent of motor fuel taxes” to pay for nonmotorized trail maintenance. Although a reasonable rationale was made for that funding approach, it came as no surprise when lawmakers stripped it out. That left the future council to puzzle out how to pay for fixing deteriorating yet popular trails. So at its first meeting, the nonmotorized trails council organized itself around this No. 1 challenge.
Working in concert with the council’s Funding Committee will be the Outreach Committee which I chair. I will be spearheading an effort to identify any and all groups in Wisconsin involved and/or interested in developing and maintaining trails for bicycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding and paddling (let us not forget “water trails”).
That will include mountain biking clubs, Nordic skiing clubs, organized equestrians, friends groups for specific parks and trails and all the groups that include “silent sports” in their name. The council will be meeting quarterly and will surely want to meet with representatives of these groups. Maybe a coalition can be built – one with a voice that takes less than five years to be heard in the halls of government.
If you’re involved with such a group, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lets keep taking steps forward together.