Oberstar’s highway bill boosts bikes

Bike enthusiasts are rejoicing over Rep. Jim Oberstar’s (D-Minn.) highway bill, which could provide more money for bike paths than ever before.

“You get on a bike and you can go anywhere,” said Oberstar, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and an avid bicyclist.

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“It was 1896 that [it was said], ‘A bicycle gives a woman freedom, independence of movement’ — that’s what it does, it gives everyone freedom and independence of movement.”

For years, bike advocates say they’ve lagged far behind cars and trucks and mass transit systems in terms of support on Capitol Hill.

Bikes, they say, have been left with only a few scraps after other modes of transportation were funded.

Oberstar’s bill seeks to chart a new course for bicyclists. The legislation encourages street designers to better accommodate bikes and would create an Office of Livability within the Department of Transportation, which may provide a steadier stream of financial support for bicycling and walking programs.

Oberstar said the United States should take a cue from Europe on how to increase bicycle use.

“We have to look to the mode of transportation as is done in the Netherlands, in Denmark, in Germany — all trips for all purposes on bicycle,” Oberstar said.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Congressional Bike Caucus, is a supporter of the bill.

A well-known bicycling enthusiast, Blumenauer often sports a bicycle lapel pin and bikes nearly everywhere he goes in Washington.

“He’s been really encouraged working on more funding,” Erin Allweiss, Blumenauer’s spokeswoman, said.

The Bikes Belong Foundation estimates Oberstar’s bill would increase funding for bicycling and walking to more than $1 billion annually.

“We think its transformational, visionary,” Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, said.

Bicyclist groups like Bikes Belong have been pushing for passage of the bill before the recess and have emphasized the importance of bicycle funding for job creation and as a way to reduce greenhouse gases and traffic congestion.

Some transportation advocates believe, however, that Congress is more likely to simply extend the current transportation bill for another year.

Bike advocates worry that with an extension, some funding for bicycling initiatives will be cut out of the bill.

“We’re concerned that could happen under an extension and we hope that in an extension [they] won’t cut back on bike spending,” said Caron Whitaker, campaign director for America Bikes.