Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is something else. Just this past week, he tried to divert taxpayer money into parochial religious building projects, then pushed legislation declaring health insurance to be affordable for a single mom and her kid earning just $28,000 a year. Does DeMint’s honed theatrical sense demand that absurdities come in packages of three? It would seem so, after his declaration that:
When people see bike trails and hiking trails and golf courses, they know this is not designed to stimulate the economy and create jobs. It’s just basically special-interest pork barrel spending.
Senator DeMint followed up his trash talking of bicycles by offering his own legislative amendment, SA 461, on February 5:
I’ve got no defense for golf course construction. But bike trails, Senator DeMint? Bike trails? You think bike trails don’t stimulate the economy? You think building bike trails don’t create jobs? You feel so strongly about it that you act to affirmatively prohibit spending on bicycle transportation?
Ignore for the moment the trendy Richard Florida argument that cities building bicycle transportation routes will thrive because they attract people who like to use them. City-level arguments about moving people around don’t apply to national policy, which is about creating benefit for everyone.
Here’s how bicycle trails benefit the economy:
* There are more bikes than cars in the world, and the gulf is growing — in favor of bikes. People have bicycles, and to the extent that people have bicycle routes available to use them, they use their bikes for transportation more.
* People are already using their bicycles for transportation in the United States to a significant extent. The state of Wisconsin found that 89 million bicycle trips were taken during one year in that state alone.
* The bicycle trips that people take are less economically and environmentally impactful than car trips. Bicycles take up less space. They damage pavement less (New York City alone spends $800 million a year on building and maintaining roads for cars). They shove no pollutants into the atmosphere during their use. After their production and other than the occasional lubrication of a chain, they require no dependence on that “foreign oil” Jim Demint finds so dastardly.
* Bicycle use is associated with greater health, meaning greater productivity and less illness.
* Obviously the building of a bike trail creates a job, and so does its maintenance.
Whereas we now live in a Nation with 300 million people, and that number is expected to grow to 365 million by 2030 and to 420 million by 2050 with the vast majority of that growth occurring in urban areas with limited ability to accommodate increased motor vehicle travel;
Whereas since 1980, the number of miles Americans drive has grown 3 times faster than the United States population, and almost twice as fast as vehicle registrations;
Whereas one-third of the current population does not drive due to age, disability, ineligibility, economic circumstances, or personal choice;
Whereas the United States is challenged by an obesity epidemic, 65 percent of United States adults are either overweight or obese, and 13 percent of children and adolescents are overweight, due in large part to a lack of regular activity;
Whereas the Center for Disease Control estimates that if all physically inactive Americans became active, we would save $77 billion in annual medical costs;
Whereas over 753 of our Nation’s Mayors have signed onto the climate protection agreement of the United States Conference of Mayors urging the Federal Government to enact policies and programs to meet or exceed a greenhouse gas emission reduction target of a 7 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2012;
Whereas the transportation sector contributes one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and passenger automobiles and light trucks alone contribute 21 percent;
Whereas bicycle commuters annually save on average $1,825 in auto-related costs, reduce their carbon emissions by 128 pounds, conserve 145 gallons of gasoline, and avoid 50 hours of gridlock traffic;
Whereas the greatest potential for increased bicycle usage is in our major urban areas where 40 percent of trips are 2 miles or less and 28 percent are less than one mile;
Whereas in 1969 approximately 50 percent of children in the United States got to school by walking or bicycling, but in 2001 only 15 percent of students were walking or bicycling to school;
Whereas as much as 20 to 30 percent of morning traffic is often generated by parents driving their children to schools, and in the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 14;
Whereas many public agencies in cities are using bicycles to deliver critical municipal services, for example, more than 80 percent of police departments serving populations of 50,000 to 249,999 and 96 percent of those serving more than 250,000 residents now have routine patrols by bicycle;
Whereas surveys show that a majority of people want to ride and walk more but are dissuaded by concern over traffic danger and other barriers, and case studies have shown that when those barriers to bicycling are removed, people start riding;
Whereas investment used for improvements for bicyclists and promoting bicycle use resulted in the quadrupling of bicycle use in Portland, Oregon, since 1994 and a recent report to Congress on the nonmotorized transportation pilot program reveals that 19.6 percent of trips in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are made by biking and walking, reflecting the benefit of initial investments in nonmotorized infrastructure;
Whereas the American bicyclist generates enormous economic returns, in 2006, the national bicycling economy contributed $133 billion to the United States economy, supported nearly 1.1 million jobs across the United States, generated $17.7 billion in annual Federal and State tax revenue, produced $53.1 billion annually in retail sales and services, and provided sustainable growth in rural communities;
Whereas a national network of interconnected urban and rural bikeways can provide valuable community benefits, including low or no-cost recreation and alternative transportation options for people of all ages and abilities;
Whereas mountain biking is an environmentally friendly, healthy nonmotorized outdoor recreation activity that encourages young people to experience our natural world, and engenders community support for preservation of open space;
Whereas each year major charity bike rides in communities across the country raise in excess of $100 million for critical medical research to find cures for life-threatening diseases;
Whereas 57 million adults in the United States bicycle each year, and bicycling and walking currently account for nearly 10 percent of trips and 13 percent of traffic fatalities, yet less than 2 percent of Federal transportation safety funding is currently spent to make bicycling and walking safer…
And let’s not forget that little ol’ will of the American people thingamabob. A majority of the American people supports spending more on alternative transportation and less on roads. More than two-thirds of us approve of designing communities so that people use their cars less. Bicycle transportation infrastructure development isn’t just good for people; people want it.
But no, Jim DeMint doesn’t want to spend any money on building a healthy, non-polluting, inexpensive, efficient transportation system in America.
Why? As a member of the Senate committee on transportation, he should know better. What happened? Did he stumble into a screening of The Triplets of Belleville and conclude that the whole bicycling affair is French?
Contact Senator Jim DeMint via his congressional web contact form, at his DC office phone of (202) 224-6121 or at his South Carolina office phone of (864) 233-5366. Tell him that you support economic efficiency, that you support a clean environment, that you support energy independence… that you support bicycle transportation.