Should the Federal Government Subsidize Biking?

Recently, a reader of my previous blog post on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision to put biking and walking on a “level playing field” noted that really DOT’s decision was an effort to balance transportation policy. Biking and walking make up 10 percent of trips, he noted, while federal funding for biking and walking projects is just 1.2 percent. I’m pretty sure he was referring to the 2010 biking and walking benchmark report published by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

First, let me point out I’m not opposed to biking or walking. I have a bike and use it for running errands as well as recreation. My first preference is to walk whenever I can.

But I think the reader’s point raises an important point: Should the federal government be subsidizing modes of travel that are not national or even regional in scale or scope? The federal government entered into transportation subsidization in earnest with the Interestate Highway System in the 1950s. But, the goal was to create a national network of roads that links cities across regions. Bike paths and walking paths are local and, at their grandest scale, multi-jurisdictional (and rarely regional). So, why are the feds subsidizing them to begin with?

With scarce dollars for infrastructure, and transportation funding shortfalls registering in the hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps the federal government should focus on transportation projects with national and interstate significance.

State governments and local communities should be the ones to pony up for bike and walking path. I don’t see a justifiction for the people in Texas to subsidize a bike path in my home town in Ohio. That’s especially true if my community has made a policy decision not to fund them.